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‘Shelves will be empty:’ Supply of food in question after fire at Iqaluit store

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  • IQALUIT, Nunavut — Grocery retailers were moving Thursday to ensure critical supplies remained available in Nunavut’s capital after a fire destroyed significant parts of Iqaluit’s largest retail store.

    Another outlet stepped up to say it would accept a freighter-load of supplies originally intended for Northmart, where the fire broke out late Wednesday.

    “We have committed to the full freighter of inventory that was already in transit,” said Duane Wilson of Arctic Co-operatives, which owns Iqaluit’s other grocery store. “That’s probably (already) on the ground.

    “There’s going to be inventory in the community. There’s no immediate cause for panic.”

    Wilson added that Arctic Co-operatives will also increase its regular Friday air freight shipments to Iqaluit.

    The Northmart store offered everything from clothes to furniture to snowmobiles, as well as places to eat or sit for a coffee.

    “It’s the hub of the community,” said resident Mike Hadfield.

    “You go every day. There’s always something that you need.”

    When he heard about the fire, he headed to the Arctic Co-operatives store to stock up.  

    “I went down there to make sure I got my milk and bread and cream and eggs, perishables to last me a week. Within 10 minutes of me leaving the store, I drove by again and you couldn’t find a parking spot within three blocks.

    “Their shelves will be empty by the end of the day.”

    Mayor Madeleine Redfern said the blaze started at the back of the building and had already destroyed the warehouse and several other facilities.

    “From what I’m seeing of the residents’ reactions, everyone is in shock and disbelief … very concerned,” she said. “We initially hoped the fire could be put out very quickly. Everyone is just waiting to see what the final outcome will be.”

    Redfern said a number of people work at the store, so “it’s a significant employer and a provider of products.”

    A nearby elders care home was evacuated as a precaution and Iqaluit residents were being asked to conserve water so that emergency crews would have an adequate supply for firefighting efforts.

    A school across from the store was closed for the morning.

    Most perishable food is flown year-round into the city of 7,700, while non-perishable food items and hard goods come in by sea.

    “The issue is ensuring that the other retailers are able to bring in enough supplies on an ongoing basis,” Redfern said. “In these situations, it’s important that we work together for the common good.”

    By late morning, most of the flames had been extinguished, although black smoke continued to billow, Hadfield said. Onlookers crowded the street.

    “There’s a lot of people gathered.” 

    A spokeswoman for the government said the territory was looking into whether it has a role in keeping Iqaluit fed.

    “The (territory) is working closely with the city of Iqaluit to provide any and all support. Cold and heated storage (is) available for food storage if and when needed,” said Nasra Esak of Community and Government Services.

    The Health Department was working to ensure people get their medications.

    The RCMP were investigating the cause of the fire.

    — By Ken Trimble and Bob Weber in Edmonton

    The Canadian Press




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    National

    Air force getting more planes but won’t have pilots, auditor warns

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  • OTTAWA — Auditor general Michael Ferguson fired a bullet at the Trudeau government’s plan to buy second-hand Australian fighter jets on Tuesday, revealing the air force doesn’t have enough people to fly the planes it already has.

    Ferguson said military commanders first alerted the government to the personnel shortage in 2016, when the Liberals were planning to spend billions of dollars on 18 new Super Hornet jets to supplement Canada’s aging CF-18 fleet.

    But the government brushed aside those concerns and pressed ahead with the purchase while providing only minimal increases to training and other measures to make sure the Canadian Forces had the pilots and technicians to use the new planes, Ferguson said.

    The Liberals eventually scuttled the Super Hornet plan due to a trade dispute between Super Hornet-maker Boeing and Montreal rival Bombardier, and are now planning to buy 25 used Australian jets for $500 million.

    But the auditor general’s report said the military’s firm assessment – and his own – is that the result will be the same: planes we can’t use.

    “The (Defence) Department stated that it needed more qualified technicians and pilots, not more fighter aircraft,” the report reads: “In our opinion … without more technicians and pilots, the effect on fighter-force operations will be small.”

    Ferguson, whose previous report on fighter jets in 2012 helped blow up the Harper government’s plan to buy a fleet of F-35 jets without a competition, backed up his most recent assessment with some stark numbers.

    For example, in the last fiscal year, 28 per cent of fighter pilots flew fewer than the minimum number of hours needed to keep their skills and 22 per cent of technician positions in CF-18 squadrons were empty or filled by inexperienced staff.

    And between April 2016 and March 2018, the air force lost 40 trained fighter pilots and produced only 30 new ones. Since then, another 17 have left or said that they planned to leave.

    The auditor general’s findings are likely to add fuel to the fire that has been smoldering around the Liberals when it comes to fighter jets, with opposition parties and defence analysts criticizing how the government has handled the file.

    Many have been calling for years for the Liberals to launch an immediate competition to replace Canada’s CF-18s, which are already 35 years old, but the government has insisted on taking its time.

    The government is expected to formally launch a $19-billion competition for 88 new fighter jets next spring, but a winner won’t be picked until 2021 or 2022. The first new fighter jet won’t arrive until 2025.

    In the meantime, despite plans to spend upwards of $3 billion over the next decade to keep them in the air, Ferguson warned the CF-18s and used Australian fighter jets will become increasingly obsolete.

    The $3 billion does not include any actual upgrades to the planes’ combat systems, which have not had significant overhauls since 2008.

    “Without combat upgrades, the CF-18 will be less effective against adversaries in domestic and international operations,” the auditor general’s report reads.

    “Flying the CF-18 until 2032 without a plan to upgrade combat capability will result in less important roles for the fighter force and will pose a risk to Canada’s ability to contribute to NORAD and NATO operations.”

    Unlike in his previous report, in which he raked defence officials over the coals for misleading parliamentarians and ministers about the F-35, Ferguson said most of the current problems are out of the military’s hands.

    That includes the government’s controversial decision in September 2016 to increase the number of aircraft the air force needs to keep ready for missions.

    “It was a significant change as it came at a time when the Royal Canadian Air Force was already facing low personnel levels, was managing an aging fleet and had not yet identified a replacement fleet,” the auditor general’s report reads.

    “The change reduced operational flexibility and would require National Defence to increase the number of available aircraft by 23 per cent.”

    The Liberals have defended the move as necessary to ensure Canada meets its domestic and international obligations, but critics have said it just provided policy cover for the planned purchase of Super Hornets without a competition.

    Ferguson’s report did not delve into the justification for the policy change nor did it review the competition to replace the CF-18s.

    The Canadian Press


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    Canada’s embassies and diplomats unprotected despite warnings, auditor reports

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  • OTTAWA — Canada is not properly protecting diplomats and staff who face security threats at Canadian missions abroad, including many in locations at high risk of terrorist attacks, violence and espionage.

    Federal auditor general Michael Ferguson’s report on security at Global Affairs Canada’s embassies and consulates found “significant” failings in many places that need immediate attention.

    Physical security, such as barriers, video surveillance, alarms and X-ray machines were missing or not working properly.

    Assessments of threats and vulnerabilities at many of Canada’s missions were also woefully out of date and, for a few, missing entirely.

    Construction projects to upgrade security in most of Canada’s missions were at least three years behind, mainly because of poor oversight.

    The AG found many of these problems had been flagged years ago, but recommended steps to address these deficiencies were not in place.

    The Canadian Press


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