B.C.’s farm flood disaster and an electric vehicle mandate: In The News for Dec. 10

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Published December 10, 2021 at 4:30 am

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 Dec. 10 …

What we are watching in Canada …

ABBOTSFORD — The vice-chair of the B-C Dairy Association says the recent flooding of farms in the Fraser Valley may be a turning point for those farmers who were rethinking their jobs.

Sarah Sache says farmers on the Sumas Prairie had low stores of feed already because of the previous scorching summer and what they did have was damaged in the flooding.

The storms in mid-November swamped dozens of dairy, poultry, pig and berry farms in the Sumas Prairie area of Abbotsford, B-C.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham has said 628,000 chickens, 420 dairy cattle and roughly 12,000 hogs died in the Sumas Prairie after historic flooding left some properties two and a half metres under water.

Gary Baars, who owns a dairy farm in the region, says flooding and inflation have reduced profit margins.

He says many are in debt in the dairy industry and he can see some farmers deciding to change careers.

The federal and provincial agriculture ministers will be touring a poultry farm today that was flooded last month and are expected to address recovery and rebuilding efforts for farmers.

Also this …

OTTAWA — Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault says he wants a national mandate that would force auto dealers to sell a certain number of electric vehicles to be in place by the end of next year.

Road transportation accounts for one-fifth of Canada’s total greenhouse-gas emissions. As Canada charts a path to net zero by 2050, eliminating carbon dioxide from passenger cars is a big part of the process.

The federal government wants half of all new passenger cars sold in Canada to be zero-emission vehicles by 2030, and reach 100 per cent by 2035.

Canadians bought more electric vehicles in the last two years than the previous eight combined, but still only three per cent of new cars registered were battery-electric or plug-in hybrids.

The Liberals promised during the election campaign to bring in a sales mandate to meet those goals. Guilbeault said he wants that to happen by the end of 2022, or early 2023 at the latest.

“This (mandate) will not come into effect in the next few months but it will come into effect very soon,” he said. “We’re at three, maybe four per cent. We have to get the 50 (per cent). It’s a lot of heavy lifting.”

Guilbeault launched consultations on how to develop that mandate this fall. A new discussion paper for those meetings seeks input on how the mandate should work, the effect on the Canadian auto industry, and whether there should be an interim target before 2030.

And this …

OTTAWA — It’s one down and two to go with only a week left for the federal Liberal government to win parliamentary approval of priority legislation before an extended Christmas break.

The government has managed to win approval for one of three bills it wants to be passed before Parliament takes a six-week holiday break on Dec. 17.

But it’s uncertain the other two will make it through all the legislative hoops in time to meet the government’s self-imposed deadline.

The fate of Bill C-2 — which would create targeted support programs for sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and a new lockdown benefit for individuals thrown out of work due to the pandemic — seems particularly iffy.

The minority Liberals appear to have a better shot at Bill C-3, which won unanimous approval in principle Thursday with support from all parties.

That two-pronged bill would create 10 days of paid sick leave for federally regulated employees and create new criminal offences aimed at cracking down on harassment or intimidation of health-care workers who have faced anti-vaccination or anti-abortion protests outside hospitals and clinics.

A third priority bill — banning the discredited practice of conversion therapy aimed at altering a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity — was fast-tracked without debate or votes through the House last week and through the Senate earlier this week. It received royal assent on Wednesday and is now the law of the land.

Bills C-2 and C-3 are currently before the Commons finance committee and human resources committee respectively. Neither committee has a deadline for scrutinizing the bills and returning them to the Commons for final debate and votes.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court has ruled against an effort by former U.S. president Donald Trump to shield documents from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

The three-judge panel said Thursday there was a “unique legislative need” for documents that the committee has requested but whose release Trump has sought to block through executive privilege.

The appeals court ruled that the injunction that has prevented the National Archives from turning over the documents will expire in two weeks, or when the Supreme Court rules on an expected appeal from Trump, whichever is later.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

CAMEROON — The U.N. humanitarian chief is warning that Afghanistan’s economic collapse “is happening before our eyes” and urged the international community to take action to stop the freefall before it leads to more deaths.

Martin Griffiths said in an AP interview that donor nations need to agree that in addition to emergency humanitarian aid they need to support basic services for the Afghan people including education, hospitals, electricity and paying civil servants.

And he said they must inject liquidity into the economy which has seen the banking system almost shut down. Griffiths said: “We’re seeing the economic collapse being exponential.”

On this day in 1949 …

The Supreme Court of Canada became the country’s final legal authority and court of highest appeal. An amendment to the Supreme Court Act was passed by Parliament and given royal assent, abolishing appeals to the judicial committee of the Privy Council of Britain except for those begun before the bill became law.

In entertainment …

CHICAGO — Jussie Smollett’s conviction for lying to police about a racist, homophobic attack came nearly three years after his report of a horrifying hate crime quickly became part of a polarized political landscape, with people — including the president of the United States — weighing in from all over.

A prosecutor said Thursday’s verdict was “a resounding message by the jury that Mr. Smollett did exactly what we said he did” — recruit two brothers to fake an attack so it could be recorded by a surveillance camera and posted on social media for publicity.

The brothers testified the former “Empire” actor paid them $3,500 for the hoax and gave them lines to yell, including about “MAGA country,” an apparent reference to then-President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

The report made headlines around the world and prompted a massive manhunt in Chicago, with roughly two dozen police joining the investigation. It also drew criticism from Trump, who called the police department’s handling of the case “an absolute embarrassment to our country.”

Smollett, who is Black and gay, maintained throughout the nearly three-year legal battle that he was attacked in downtown Chicago in January 2019 by people who yelled racist and anti-gay slurs and put a noose around his neck.

His attorney declared Smollett’s innocence again Thursday after the jury found him guilty on five of six counts of disorderly conduct for lying to police. Nenye Uche said Smollett would appeal the conviction.

The jury convicted the 39-year-old on five counts of disorderly conduct — for each separate time he was charged with lying to police in the days after the alleged attack. He was acquitted on a sixth count, of lying to a detective in mid-February, weeks after Smollett said he was attacked.

Judge James Linn set a post-trial hearing for Jan. 27, and said he would schedule Smollett’s sentencing at a later date. Disorderly conduct is a class 4 felony that carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if convicted, Smollett would likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.

ICYMI …

UNDATED — Experts and global health leaders say it’s still too soon to tell whether the Omicron variant will significantly threaten immunity gained from current COVID-19 vaccines as calls grow in some corners for expanded booster shots.

Pfizer released a press release Wednesday saying that while two doses of its vaccine appear to be less effective against the new threat, a booster dose may offer important protection by raising antibody levels.

Pfizer’s data, which hasn’t been reviewed by the scientific community, also suggested that two doses of the vaccine should still protect against severe disease with Omicron, since the variant’s mutations don’t appear to hamper T-cell defences that fight the virus after infection sets in.

The Omicron variant, discovered late last month, carries an unusually large number of mutations on its spike protein, which is what the current mRNA vaccines target.

Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist in Winnipeg, said the extent of those changes are still unknown. But even significant mutations likely won’t hamper vaccine effectiveness entirely.

While some Canadian experts urge jurisdictions to accelerate third-dose rollouts to larger portions of the population — most provinces allow boosters for older or immunocompromised people and health-care workers six months after their second dose — Omar Khan, a biomedical engineering expert with the University of Toronto, said more research is likely needed before expanding eligibility to everyone.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2021

The Canadian Press

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