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No dead North Atlantic right whales were found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this year

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Rules put in place by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to protect marine wildlife seem to have paid off, as no North Atlantic right whales were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this year.

There were 12 whales found dead in the area in 2017.

But those regulations also resulted in financial hits for the fishing and cruise ship industries.

Last March, the DFO announced the closure of certain fishing areas due to the presence of the whales, which are an endangered species.

Those measures forced half of the Gaspé lobster fishermen to shorten their three-week season. Some fishermen found the new rules excessive. 

The prefect of the regional municipal county of Rocher-Percé, Nadia Minassian, called the measures “draconian and uncompromising.”

“They did not listen to fishermen in our industry,” she said earlier this year.

The Quebec government then committed to paying for training for factory workers and fishermen so they can qualify for employment insurance.

Up to $500K in fines

The new rules also require boaters to maintain a 100-metre buffer zone from a whale, although that distance can vary. Orcas, for example, require a 200-metre buffer zone.

Under the Fisheries Act, those who break the rules could face penalties of $100,000 to $500,000. Repeat offenders may be subject to higher fines or even imprisonment, according to DFO.

In July, Gaspé fishermen recorded a 25 per cent decline in catches, and continued to criticize Ottawa’s decisions.

Alain Rebaud, a lobster fisherman from Percé, Que., said the area targeted by the DFO’s measures was too large.

“The quadrilaterals were too big, then they closed the fishing, and the day they closed it, there were no more right whales in the quadrilateral,” Renaud said.

Fishing boats docked at the Grande-Rivière wharf. (William Bastille Denis/Radio-Canada)

The cruise ship industry also suffered cuts as a result of the speed reduction rules imposed by Ottawa.

Nine stopovers were cancelled in the Gaspé region, and the industry wasn’t able to get the financial assistance it requested from Quebec or Ottawa.

Stéphane Ste-Croix, head of Escale Gaspésie, a cruise ship company, said it appears their concerns fell on deaf ears.

Whale camera?

Some fishermen are now hoping a thermal camera that spots whales, currently being developed by the Merinov marine research centre, will solve their problems.

“We could detect right whales on the coasts to try to prevent entanglements,” said Chloé Martineau, a researcher for Merinov, which is funded by the Quebec government.

“We could put this technology on boats to avoid collisions.”

Fishermen say the device could help strike a balance between protecting right whales and preserving their livelihood.

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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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