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Ottawa throws lifeline to 50 Million Tree Program cut by Ontario government

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The federal government is putting up $15 million over four years to rescue the 50 Million Tree Program which was cut by the Ontario government of Premier Doug Ford in its last budget, CBC News has learned. 

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna made the announcement today in Ottawa, saying the new cash will extend the program for at least another four years.

She said in a statement to CBC News on Tuesday evening that preserving the program will mean cleaner air, a healthier environment and good local jobs.

“While Mr. Ford cuts programs that support tree planting … and tackling climate change, we will continue to invest in a clean future for our environment, our economy and our kids,” she said.

The 50 Million Tree Program had an annual budget of $4.7 million and had planted more than 27 million trees across the province since 2008. Its goal was to have 50 million planted by 2025.

But a day after Ontario’s budget was delivered, Forests Ontario, the non-profit group that oversees the program, was told funding for it was being eliminated.

This new funding will essentially support the planting and growth of 10 million trees, bringing the program’s total to 37 million. Support for the program beyond that target is not part of this announcement.

Rob Keen, CEO of Forests Ontario, said it takes three to four years for a tree to go from seed to planting.

Every year, the four key nurseries in Ontario participating in the program cultivate 2.5 million seeds between them, which they nurse over three years until they are ready to be planted in their permanent settings.

The funding cut left 7.5 million saplings at various stages of growth in limbo, with nursery owners unsure how they were going to fund their crops until they were ready to plant.

Sustaining the program

Nurseries have been asking if they should be planting seeds to be ready for 2023, Keen said.

“If you don’t have the funding in place … nurseries are not going to plant.”

The new funding “is fantastic because it provides that assurance that there’s going to be funding in there to use up the stock that is currently in the ground and plant some more stock,” he said.

Ed Patchell, CEO of the Ferguson Tree Nursery in Kemptville, Ont., also welcomes the funding. He told CBC News he has three million trees at his nursery at various stages of growth. He said he was unsure what to do with them but is pleased they will now be guaranteed a permanent home when they are ready to plant.

“I think it’s great that the feds have stepped up. I would like to see the province step up, to see a value in the program and contribute as well, but we’ll see what happens,” he said.

While nurseries now have the confidence to plant a crop now for delivery in 2023, Keen said it remains unclear if there will be funding next year to plant again.

About 40 per cent forest cover is needed to ensure forest sustainability, Keen said, and the average right now in southern Ontario is 26 per cent, with some areas as low as five per cent.

“The 50 Million Tree Program has been great, but we need to plant one billion trees to really get the forest canopy up in southern Ontario,” he said.

Balancing the budget

Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski told CBC in a statement that his government is focused on balancing the budget to “protect critical public services like health care and education.”

“In order to do this we have to maximize value for the taxpayer dollar,” he said. “We remind other levels of government that there is only one taxpayer, and that we have committed to balancing Ontario’s budget in a responsible manner.”

“Previous governments who did not share this commitment to fiscal restraint are responsible for saddling Ontario with a $347,000,000,000 debt.”

Yakabuski said that the 50 Million Tree Program only plants 2.5 million trees per year, while the forestry industry plants about 68 million trees annually.

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Record one million job losses in March: StatCan

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OTTAWA — More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in the month of March, Statistics Canada is reporting. The unemployment rate has also climbed to 7.8 per cent, up from 2.2 percentage points since February.

Canada’s national statistics agency released its monthly Labour Force Survey on Thursday, using March 15 to 21 as the sample week – a time when the government began enforcing strict guidelines around social gatherings and called on non-essential businesses to close up shop.

The first snapshot of job loss since COVID-19 began taking a toll on the Canadian economy shows 1.1 million out of work since the prior sample period and a consequent decrease in the employment rate – the lowest since April 1997. The most job losses occurred in the private sector and among people aged 15-24.

The number of people who were unemployed increased by 413,000, resulting in the largest one-month increase in Canada’s unemployment rate on record and takes the economy back to a state last seen in October, 2010.

“Almost all of the increase in unemployment was due to temporary layoffs, meaning that workers expected to return to their job within six months,” reads the findings.

The agency included three new indicators, on top of the usual criteria, to better reflect the impact of COVID-19 on employment across the country.

The survey, for example, excludes the more commonly observed reasons for absent workers — such as vacation, weather, parental leave or a strike or lockout — to better isolate the pandemic’s effect.

They looked at: people who are employed but were out of a job during the reference week, people who are employed but worked less than half their usual hours, and people who are unemployed but would like a job.

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Employee at Ottawa’s Amazon Fulfillment Centre tests positive for COVID-19

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OTTAWA — An employee who works at Amazon’s fulfillment centre on Boundary Road in Ottawa’s east-end has tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon says it learned on April 3 that an associate tested positive for novel coronavirus and is currently in isolation. The employee last worked at the fulfillment centre on March 19.

Two employees told CTV News Ottawa that management informed all employees about the positive test in a text message over the weekend.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft wrote “we are supporting the individual who is recovering. We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

The statement also says that Amazon has taken steps to further protect their employees.

“We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC.”

CTV News Ottawa asked Amazon about the timeline between when the company found out about the positive COVID-19 case and when employees were notified.

In a separate email to CTV News Ottawa, Crowcroft said “all associates of our Boundary Road fulfillment centre in Ottawa were notified within 24 hours of learning of the positive COVID-19 case.”

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Ottawa facing silent spring as festivals, events cancelled

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This is shaping up to be Ottawa’s silent spring — and summer’s sounding pretty bleak, too — as more and more concerts, festivals and other annual events are cancelled in the wake of measures meant to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The province has already banned gatherings of more than five people, and on Monday officials announced city parks, facilities and services will remain shut down until the end of June, nor will any event permits be issued until at least that time.

“This leaves us with no choice but to cancel the festival this year,” Ottawa Jazz Festival artistic director Petr Cancura confirmed Monday.

This was to be the festival’s 40th anniversary, and organizers announced the lineup for the June 19-July 1 event the day after Ottawa’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. 

The Toronto and Montreal jazz festivals had already pulled the plug because of similar restrictions in their cities, so Cancura said the writing was on the wall.

“We have a few contingency plans to keep connecting with our audience and working with our artists,” Cancura said.

People holding tickets to the 2020 festival can ask for a refund or exchange for a 2021 pass.

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