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An Edmontonian sent a Hawaiian to Alaska: How the cross-border pizza party took off

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Edmontonian Michael Cormier was on the phone with a pizza joint in Anchorage, Alaska, last Thursday, valiantly trying to fend off a recommendation to order a Reindeer Pizza.

The air traffic controller was placing an order for pies to be sent to colleagues working at Anchorage’s Ted Stevens international airport, a cheesy show of support for the American air traffic controllers are contending with a government partial shutdown. 

But that act of comfort food solidarity has since snowballed across the country, with operators across the country delivering slices across the border as a show of support for their American colleagues.

“I knew there was a shutdown and I heard they weren’t getting paid,” Cormier said in an interview Monday with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM. “I didn’t believe it.

“And I thought well, it would be nice if I could just do something to show them that not everybody has forgotten that they’re out there working when other people aren’t, so I arranged them some pizza.”

It took a while for Cormier, an air traffic controller with Nav Canada in Edmonton, to find a place that would accept a Canadian credit card and get the idea cleared with airport security, but soon his colleagues were chowing down on some fresh pies. 

“I’m sort of a pepperoni guy but he picked Hawaiian, meat lovers and some sort of barbecue chicken,” Cormier said  CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM. 

“We actually had to talk them out of ordering a reindeer pizza. It sounded a little bit too exotic to me.”

With few other U.S. government services running due to the shutdown, some 10,000 American air traffic controllers have been working without pay since late December.

Their union filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington on Friday, asking for an order compelling the government to pay them what they’re owed.

In addition to Anchorage, Cormier collected enough to buy pies for controllers in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Then, as they say in airport lingo, it took off from there.

The next thing we knew, our members were buying pizzas left, right and centre.-Peter  Duffey

Peter Duffey, the head of the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association, said other facilities across Canada decided to join in.

“The next thing we knew, our members were buying pizzas left, right and centre for the colleagues in the U.S,” Duffey said Sunday in a phone interview.

“As it stands right now, I believe we’re up to 36 facilities that have received pizza from Canada, and that number is growing by the hour.”

Duffey estimated that as of Sunday afternoon, some 300 pizzas had been received by American controllers, many of whom took to social media to express their gratitude.

Duffey said many union members had been looking for a way to show solidarity with their American colleagues, who have been working without pay due to the partial shutdown.

“Air traffic control is a very stressful job,” he said.

“They say you have to be 100 per cent right, 100 per cent of the time. People just don’t need to be reporting to work with the added stress of worrying about how to pay their mortgages and grocery bills on top of it.”

Cormier said there’s a bond between Canadian and American air traffic controllers since the two work closely together to manage cross-border airspace.

Air traffic controllers provide essential services and are unable to suspend work or take any other job action during the government shutdown, he said. He wanted them to be recognized for working hard without a paycheque.

“Not a lot of people were aware they were working and it’s not the kind of job where they could slack off,” Cormier said.

“They were doing the job the same as they did every day of the year, 24 hours a day and somebody should actually notice what they were doing.

“That was the whole idea. If you worked with someone and you knew they weren’t getting paid, wouldn’t you buy them lunch?”

With files from the Canadian Press 

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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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