Worker aid bill passed and U.S. debate: In The News for Sept. 30

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Sept. 30 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

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The House of Commons has unanimously passed legislation authorizing new benefits for workers left jobless or underemployed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the process, the minority Liberal government has survived its first pandemic-era confidence test, assuring at least for now that there will be no election as COVID-19 cases spike dangerously across the country.

Bill C-4 passed in the House of Commons in the wee hours of the morning Wednesday, after a day of political manoeuvering and just four-and-a-half hours of debate on the actual contents of the legislation.

In the end, Conservative MPs, who had protested loudly against fast-tracking of the bill and used procedural tactics to hold it up, voted for it. So did Bloc Quebecois MPs, who had also opposed fast-tracking.

It must still be passed by the Senate, which is scheduled to gather Wednesday to deal equally quickly with the bill.

Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez had announced earlier Tuesday that the House of Commons vote would be a confidence measure, meaning the minority Liberal government would have fallen if the bill had been defeated.

There was never much chance of that, however, since the NDP had promised to support the bill, having won two key changes to it.

The bill replaces the now-defunct $500-per-week Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which came to an end last weekend after helping almost nine million Canadians weather the impact of the pandemic.

In its place, workers impacted by the pandemic will have access to a more flexible and generous employment insurance regime and, for those who still don't qualify for EI, a new Canada recovery benefit. The bill also creates a new sick leave benefit and another new caregiver benefit for those forced to take time off work to care for a dependent due to the pandemic.


Also this ...

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says Indigenous communities have been facing an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases during the last few weeks.

Miller says 673 COVID-19 cases have been reported in First Nations communities in all, and about 130 of them are active cases now.

He says Indigenous communities were successful in facing the first wave of COVID-19 with measures that limited the spread of the virus.

The measures included closing communities to outsiders, imposing local restrictions on gatherings and making sure that people were observing basic health and hygiene protocols.

Reopening schools and businesses and places where physical distancing is not possible are all factors in the rise.

Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says First Nations communities are among the most vulnerable populations in Canada and need more assistance to keep them safe.

"First Nations face unique realities that require unique approaches," Bellegarde said. "Those living in poverty or in rural areas need more support and resources, including social and health supports for families."

Dr. Evan Adams, the deputy chief medical officer of health at Indigenous Services Canada, said the biggest concern is ensuring that the more than 650 Indigenous communities are ready for potential COVID-19 outbreaks.

His home community on Vancouver Island, the Tla'amin Nation, had a cluster of over 30 cases.

"It is scary for them and it's scary for us," he said. "We want them to be prepared and not scared."

Miller said the federal government has provided a total of $2.2 billion for Indigenous communities. "That has been deployed according to a formula based on population and community wellness."


What we are watching in the U.S. ...

A confident and combative Donald Trump wasted little time testing the limits of Joe Biden's patience Tuesday in a bitter, angry and chaotic war of words and recriminations during the first in-person confrontation of the 2020 presidential election.

Within the first 15 minutes of the televised debate, hosted by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, Trump had picked fights with the exasperated moderator as well as Biden, who could only grin ruefully and shake his head in disbelief.

Before long, Biden looked and sounded fed up as Trump, visibly in his element, needled him incessantly about his power to control the Democratic party and the influence of the "radical left."

"Will you shut up, man?" a frustrated Biden finally pleaded. "This is so unpresidential."

The other 75 minutes didn't get much better.

Throughout a night long on insults, short on substantive discussion and punctuated by all three men shouting over each other, Biden did his best to ignore his antagonist and address voters directly, speaking into the camera.

"Everything he's saying so far is simply a lie," he said. "I'm not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he's a liar."

But he wasn't always able to resist rising to Trump's bait.

"The fact of the matter is I beat Bernie Sanders. I beat him a whole hell of a lot," Biden said when the president called him a proxy for the progressive Vermont senator who challenged him for the nomination.

"I'm here standing facing you, old buddy."

On the subject of the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden accused Trump of keeping to himself what he knew about the outbreak's potential severity.

"He knew all the way back in February how serious this crisis was. He knew it was a deadly disease," Biden said.

Trump, as he often does, insisted that by closing U.S. borders to travellers from China, he prevented an even greater tragedy.

"If we would have listened to you, the country would have been left wide open, millions of people would have died," he said.


What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

Leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia brushed off the suggestion of peace talks Tuesday, accusing each other of obstructing negotiations over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, with dozens killed and injured in three days of heavy fighting.

In the latest incident, Armenia said one of its warplanes was shot down by a fighter jet from Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey, killing the pilot, in what would be a major escalation of the violence. Both Turkey and Azerbaijan denied it.

The international community is calling for talks to end the decades-old conflict between the two former Soviet republics in the Caucasus Mountains region following a flareup of violence this week. It centres on Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian government since 1994 at the end of a separatist war.

The UN Security Council called on Armenia and Azerbaijan Tuesday evening to immediately halt the fighting and urgently resume talks without preconditions. The UN's most powerful body strongly condemned the use of force and backed Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ earlier call to stop the fighting, deescalate tensions, and resume talks "without delay."

Azerbaijani President Ilkham Aliyev told Russian state TV channel Rossia 1 that Baku is committed to negotiating a resolution but that Armenia is obstructing the process.


On this day in 2011 ...

In a precedent-setting ruling on the division of federal and provincial powers, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled against Ottawa's effort to close British Columbia's right to operate a supervised injection site for drug addicts.



Fredericton city council is considering ending the custom of opening public meetings with a poem after the city's poet laureate read lyrical verses about abortion during a meeting Monday night.

Poet laureate Jenna Lyn Albert triggered the controversy when she read, "Those Who Need to Hear This Won’t Listen," a poem about a personal experience with abortion written by Ottawa-based writer Conyer Clayton.

Some councillors said the poem was overly political and inappropriate, others said it reflected the mood among residents and was timely given the expected closure of one of the province's few abortion providers.

"I'm terribly concerned that we are now politicizing poems," Coun. Dan Keenan said during Monday's meeting. "I completely agree with freedom of speech and the right for people to say what they want to say but that was never the intention for this forum."

Keenan said he felt the council should reconsider whether its meetings should begin with a poem, lamenting how the custom has become a form of "political activism."


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2020

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