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Thousands could be without power ‘for days’ after severe B.C. windstorm

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Thousands of people living on B.C.’s South Coast could be without power for days after an intense windstorm hammered the region throughout the day Thursday, possibly turning deadly on Vancouver Island.

Environment Canada said gusts hit up to 100 km/h across Metro Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the Fraser Valley. At one point, more than 330,000 people were without power.

As of early Friday morning, BC Hydro said 150,000 customers were still in the dark.

More than 230,000 homes have lost power as another “significant” windstorm batters B.C.’s South Coast, also leading to widespread ferry closures and shutting down access to parts of Vancouver’s Stanley Park for the sake of public safety. 2:07

The utility called it “one of the most severe storms BC Hydro has experienced in years,” adding that it could be days before power is fully restored to everyone.

A couple of uprooted trees fell onto two homes on East 12th Ave. near Fraser Street in Vancouver on Thursday, prompting an overnight closure. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

They tweeted overnight that while they were making progress responding to outages on the mainland, the brunt of the damage was taken by Vancouver Island.

They also said crews would be on early ferries Friday morning to get to the hardest-hit spots on the island.

One killed, another injured in storm

The BC Coroners Service said a person was killed by a falling tree in Duncan on Vancouver Island, although it is unclear if the tree fell because of the strong winds.

In Surrey, a worker was injured and taken to hospital when a tree went down near Pacific Academy school. WorkSafeBC is investigating the incident.

Public infrastructure damaged

In White Rock, about 50 kilometres from Vancouver, the landmark pier was partly destroyed by powerful waves.

Video from the shoreline shows waves ripping out a large section of the 104-year-old structure, leaving a man trapped on the far end. He was later rescued by helicopter.

City officials said more details on clean-up and repair plans would be released Friday.

A person had to be rescued from the White Rock pier after it was partially destroyed in Thursday’s windstorm. (Max McGratten)

Rail line damaged

The waves in White Rock also cut rail service that runs along its shoreline.

Amtrak passenger service to Seattle has been cancelled, along with up to 17 freight trains that run along that route every day.

A Royal Canadian Air Force helicopter rescued a man from the White Rock pier on Thursday afternoon after a storm broke the pier apart. (Tom Ewasiuk/Twitter/@residualimage)

Burlington Northern railway owns and maintains the line. Gus Melonas, a company spokesman in Seattle, said crews worked overnight Thursday to stabilize the storm-damaged rail bed.

Melonas said there are problem areas all through to Bellingham, Wash. Burlington Northern hopes to reopen the line Friday.

The storm also forced the closure of several public parks, including Vancouver’s Stanley Park, out of concern for public safety.

Several public trails and viewpoints leading to the beach in South Surrey and White Rock were also shut down.

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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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