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Minister ignores suggestions to fix free flag program — despite century-long wait list





Despite a wait list exceeding the lifespan of even the healthiest Canadians, the minister in charge of doling out free flags that have flown from the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill is ignoring her own department’s advice about how to fix the program.

The Canadian flag on the Peace Tower in Ottawa is changed every weekday and since 1994, Canadians have been able to apply to receive one of the flags free of charge. That allows for 248 flags per year from the tower to be mailed out to Canadians. 

But the program has become victim of its own success, with more and more people adding themselves to the wait list. According to Public Services and Procurement Canada, as of mid-October, there are currently 22,650 people waiting for a Peace Tower flag, which the department now estimates will take approximately 114 years to clear.

The flags on Parliament’s East and West Blocks are also available: that wait list is 99 years long. Peace Tower flags are larger and cost about $140 each, while the East and West Block ones cost $40.

According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian man can expect to live just shy of 80 years now and the average woman nearly 84. As of the last census in 2016, there were just 8,320 people over the age of 100 in the country.

Plans for change

The department sent the minister a briefing note last July, which CBC obtained through access to information. It listed several options for changes to the program hoping to make it more reasonable. At that time, the wait for a Peace Tower Flag was 101 years. 

“While successful, the initiative as presently structured has become unsustainable,” reads the briefing note.

Parliament Hill maintenance worker Robert Labonté prepares to ascend the stairs of the Peace Tower with a fresh flag in 2014. A worker changes the flag every weekday and sends one out to Canadians. (CBC)

The proposed solutions in the briefing note have been redacted, but the department stressed they needed a new approach.

“The initiative has reached a critical point where a decision is required,” officials wrote.

Despite those pleadings Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough decided against any changes.

“There are currently no plans to change the Parliament Hill Flag Initiative,” said her press secretary Ashley Michnowski in an email to CBC.

CBC sent several follow up emails and phone calls, but received no response as to why the minister decided to leave the program as is.

People receiving Peace Tower flags today asked for them in 2005. The department said if someone on the waiting list dies it is currently the responsibility of the executor of their estate to notify the department.


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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches





Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year





Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend





OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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