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Father dead, son missing after avalanche in B.C.’s Purcell Mountains

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One man is dead and his son is missing after their snowmobile group was caught in an avalanche on Mount Brewer in the Purcell Mountains, near the community of Invermere, B.C.

A total of nine snowmobilers from Calgary were near the southeast side of Mount Brewer on Saturday. The slide was between 200 and 400 metres wide and ran onto a small lake.

Columbia Valley Search and Rescue responded and found a 51-year-old man from Calgary under two metres of snow. He was flown to hospital in Invermere, where he was confirmed dead.

The man’s 24-year-old son, who is also from Calgary, is still missing. A statement from RCMP said it’s believed he was swept into the lake.

A preliminary release from Avalanche Canada said rescuers picked up a transceiver signal on the lake where the avalanche ended. The agency also said the 51-year-old had activated his avalanche airbag, but it didn’t stop him from being buried. 

The RCMP’s Underwater Recovery Team searched the area on Sunday without success. The team was sent to the scene again on Monday.

RCMP said the other seven snowmobilers in the group were unhurt. Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said the avalanche may have been triggered after one of the snowmobilers was highmarking — an activity where a snowmobiler tries to ride as far as possible up a steep hill, then turn and come back down without rolling or stalling.

Skier killed farther west

The snowmobiler’s death is the second avalanche death in B.C. in as many weeks.

Earlier this month, a 42-year-old skier was killed in an avalanche in the backcountry near Pemberton. Friends found him after he was buried in the area near Pebble Creek on Jan. 3, but he couldn’t be revived.

The avalanche danger rating in the area was “extreme” at the time.

Columbia Valley Search and Rescue found one of the snowmobilers buried under two metres of snow with his avalanche airbag activated. The 51-year-old Calgary man was pronounced dead in hospital. (RCMP)

The Purcells have been seeing poor conditions since the fall, according to Avalanche Canada.

“The conditions in the Purcells, in particular, have been problematic for quite a while now,” said Karl Klassen, warning service manager for the Revelstoke-based agency.

“We suspect the layer that is creating the larger avalanches in this region formed in October. It’s been a problem ever since then, but it’s come alive lately as we’ve had more snow pile up on that layer.”

Klassen said that weak snowpack combined with a recent clear, warm spell has created a dangerously delicate environment.

“It’s very sensitive to triggering in the Purcells right now,” he said. “The danger ratings in the Purcells have been elevated for the last several days at least.”

Saturday’s avalanche bulletin for the Purcells warned that warm air and sunshine could make slides “more likely” and cautioned backcountry users to avoid alpine terrain entirely.

On Monday, an updated bulletin said “people have recently triggered large avalanches within the weak Purcells snowpack.”

An annual report from Avalanche Canada said there were 102 avalanche-related deaths in B.C. between 2009 and 2018.

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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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