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

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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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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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