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Alberta bets on infrastructure spending, corporate tax cuts to spur recovery

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Alberta will increase spending on infrastructure projects, cut its corporate tax rate, establish a new investment agency and introduce a series of targeted incentives for industry as part of a plan to restart its battered economy.

Premier Jason Kenney, flanked by Finance Minister Travis Toews, said his government would spend $10 billion on projects that will immediately create jobs, including health-care facilities, pipelines, schools, drug treatment centres and more.

Of that, $6.9 billion was already earmarked in the spring budget and it’s unclear just how much of the $3 billion left over is new spending that hasn’t previously been announced. 

CBC News is awaiting further clarification from the government.

The province did say at least $600 million will be new, large-scale projects that will start construction this summer, but no details were immediately available.

‘Largest infrastructure build’ in provincial history

Kenney said his United Conservative Party government anticipates the creation of 50,000 jobs tied directly to the projects across the province, which has been devastated by oil price wars and the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the plan represents the “largest infrastructure build in Alberta history.”

In addition to the spending, Kenney also said his government would speed up the implementation of corporate tax cuts, slashing the rate to eight per cent from 10 per cent starting on July 1. That’s 1.5 years ahead of schedule. 

The government claims the cuts will create an additional 55,000 jobs by 2022 and attract $4 billion in investment annually, starting in 2023.

Critics, including the opposition NDP, dispute those kinds of predictions and have railed against an earlier two per cent cut in the rate brought in shortly after the UCP took power. 

Incentives and more

The plan will offer incentives for the tech sector and startups to employ workers and will funnel $175 million into the Alberta Enterprise Corporation to provide venture capital to startups. 

In addition, a new agency, Investment Alberta, will set up international offices and pitch Alberta to potential investors.

Sector-specific initiatives to spur diversification will be unveiled in the coming days and weeks.

There will also be a number of initiatives aimed at reducing regulations and red tape. 

Kenney said the moves represent a “plan for a generation of growth” and that if the government does not act quickly, the “fiscal challenges will become insurmountable.”

“Our future is truly at stake,” he said. 

Economic hits

The province, whose economy has been pummelled since a global oil price crash in 2014, has seen its deficit balloon from a projected $7 billion to $20 billion this year.

Alberta’s most recent budget was based on oil fetching $58 US per barrel, a forecast critics called rosy at the time, and was rushed through the legislature by the UCP as a battle between Saudi Arabia and Russia cratered the price and the global pandemic settled on Alberta. 

Economists are predicting a severe recession in the once-booming province and even Kenney has warned of “a great fiscal reckoning” to come in a province that has tied its fortunes to the swings of its main commodity.

Kenney warned unemployment could reach 25 per cent.

In March, Kenney announced a 12-member economic advisory panel, including former prime minister Stephen Harper, to provide guidance on the relaunch.

A timely gamble

Ron Kneebone, an economist at the University of Calgary and the Calgary School of Public Policy, says Alberta has a long history of “losing all sorts of revenue on short notice” and trying to find a way to make up that shortfall. 

“This reaction is a little bit different because I think the premier is admitting that things are not going to come back and be the same as they were,” he said, highlighting moves to shift the province away from oil and gas over the long term.

Kneebone said the government is gambling that it can reduce taxes and invest in infrastructure in order to attract investment that will help the economy rebound.

He said it’s the right time for that gamble, with a relatively strong balance sheet providing some wiggle room.

“We have time to see if that happens, maybe five years from now we might have to rethink it.”

Opposition reaction

NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley accused the government of handing more taxpayer money to “already profitable” corporations at the expense of regular Albertans. 

She said the previous round of tax cuts did not deliver new jobs or new investments. 

“It will put incredible pressure on the treasury and will underlie the attack on working Albertans that we already know is coming,” she said. 

The government is doing a bait and switch, Notley said, putting less money toward diversification than what was in place under the NDP and that was cut shortly after the UCP took power. 

While she did say the infrastructure spending can be an effective stimulus measure, and highlighted her government’s spending in that area, Notley said it does not represent a long-term vision for recovery. 

She pointed to cuts in post-secondary education as a sign the government is not actually interested in investing in innovation.

“What needs to happen is there has to be a much more ambitious approach to diversifying the economy, and that’s not in here.” 

CEO laments loss of tax credits

Keith Warner, the CEO of video game developer New World Interactive that opened a Calgary office under previous tax incentives offered under the NDP, said there is nothing that interests him in Kenney’s announcement. 

He says he used the previous tax credits to recruit talent to the Calgary office and can’t afford to do that without the incentive and that he’s not doing any hiring in the province. 

Keith Warner, of video game developer New World Interactive, said there’s nothing that interests him in Kenney’s announcement and he would prefer to see an investor tax credit reinstated. (Audrey Neveu/CBC)

He is expanding in Montreal where he plans to more than double his staff. Quebec offers a 37.5 per cent tax credit.

Warner says he’s not looking for venture capital, like what would be offered through Alberta Enterprise, and would prefer to see an investor tax credit reinstated.

In the meantime, he’s raising all his investments for his U.S.-based parent company.  

The case in Calgary

Calgary, where Kenney made the announcement Monday, has been particularly hard hit since 2014 by an oil price downturn that refuses to rebound.

Its downtown vacancy rate has been hovering around 25 per cent for years, leaving a big hole in the tax base that is only expected to grow. 

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said the city will require particular aid from the province and the federal government in order to ride out its current storm, but he wasn’t sure just what Monday’s announcement meant for the city. 

He estimates Calgary could receive between $300 and $400 million, but said he really won’t know until more details are provided about what’s being offered to municipalities for projects. 

“What we want to do is, we want to make sure if there is money coming for Calgary that it goes to stuff that creates jobs right now because that’s what’s needed.”

Kenney said on Monday that the government will aggressively market Calgary, Edmonton and other municipalities as attractive places to set up shop and will be targeting everything from technology companies to the finance powerhouses that call Toronto’s Bay Street home. 

He said there is plenty of top-tier real estate that is available and cheap in a territory with less traffic than Toronto and lower taxes as well. 

Nenshi, who has been beating the drum for companies to relocate to Calgary, said corporate tax cuts don’t automatically create jobs or lure big companies to a new home. 

“Literally no one has asked me about corporate taxes while I try to lure them here.” 



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COVID-19 on P.E.I.: What’s happening Saturday, July 11

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The Charlottetown Farmers’ Market is open for its second weekend as an open-air market.

About 30 vendors are set up around the perimeter of the parking lot on Belvedere Ave. Customers are asked to park across the street at UPEI.

The market is also operating on reduced hours, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Despite physical distancing rules, there are still plenty of fun things to do this weekend, including the Cavendish Beach Drive-In Concert Series that begins Saturday. 

Fabric stores on P.E.I. are seeing an increase in business as more people are making their own face masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Health PEI told employees in an email earlier this week that all staff who come in contact with patients and who aren’t able to physically distance must now wear medical masks. Officials say the province has enough masks to last eight or nine weeks, if staff use an estimated 100,000 masks per week.

Education Minister Brad Trivers gave more details to CBC News on how schools will operate in the fall — students will not be required to physically distance in classrooms or on buses, he said, but may have to wear face masks in hallways.

The Education Department is considering adding mobile classrooms at some schools including Montague Consolidated and Eliot River Elementary, since the schools need extra room for spacing due to COVID-19 restrictions. (John Robertson/CBC)

Nurses on P.E.I. said they are are starting to feel the pressure of there not being enough of them to go around, says the president of the P.E.I. Nurses’ Union.

The P.E.I. Humane Society says dog bites are on the rise this year, and believe it’s likely linked to more people staying at home because of the pandemic. 

P.E.I. has had a total of 33 COVID-19 cases, with 27 considered recovered.

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Today’s coronavirus news: Texas sees deadliest week of the pandemic; Australia approves experimental drug to treat severe cases of COVID-19; Dozens of US Marines in Japan’s Okinawa get coronavirus

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The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Saturday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

8:41 a.m.: Dozens of U.S. Marines have been infected with the coronavirus at two bases on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa in what is feared to be a massive outbreak, Okinawan officials said Saturday, demanding an adequate explanation from the U.S. military.

Okinawa prefectural officials said they could say only that a “few dozen” cases had been found recently because the U.S. military asked that the exact figure not be released. The outbreaks occurred at Marine Corps. Air Station Futenma, which is at the centre of a relocation dispute, and Camp Hansen, Okinawan officials said.

Local media, citing unnamed sources, said about 60 people had been infected.

“Okinawans are shocked by what we were told (by the U.S. military),” Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told a news conference. He questioned disease prevention measures taken by the U.S. military and renewed his demand for transparency regarding the latest development.

8:01 a.m.: “Working in an industry where you aren’t properly represented or embraced, there is always a constant fight. For me personally, I think the challenge I have felt is one that is mental,” Toronto-based fashion designer Spencer Badu says.

These are some of the lessons on how to be vulnerable, voice his emotions and find a larger purpose in his identity the 27-year-old has learned amid the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing global protests against anti-Black racism. “Internalizing and suppressing the trauma is part of the Black experience,” he adds.

He has to deal with both the feeling of sorrow and pain from seeing his Black brothers and sisters being killed on the streets and the feeling of pressure to be creative and constantly moving toward the future and trying to inspire change.

Another huge test in the recent months — the COVID-19 pandemic — which slowed down and shuttered businesses across the country. “I’ve been on a constant grind and the pace of fashion is ruthless. We’re a small team so the work can get really exhausting.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Evelyn Kwong on how a young Black fashion designer is channelling his energy into his craft amid a pandemic.

7:31 a.m.: On June 30, North York General Hospital marked a milestone: After 100 days there were no COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit.

That morning, staff gathered to quietly celebrate and reflect on the harrowing weeks of treating the sickest coronavirus patients. The hospital, at Leslie Street and Sheppard Avenue East, was among the first in the GTA to see a wave of critically ill patients with the virus; at its peak, the community hospital had 12 COVID patients in its 21-bed ICU.

Now, during this lull, staff are taking some much-needed time off, though they are not letting down their guard. There are still six COVID patients in the hospital who could require intensive care, and they know new patients can be admitted any time.

Read the Star’s Megan Ogilvie’s latest on a hospital staff’s fear of a second wave of COVID-19.

7:19 a.m.: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says “things will get worse” in the state as more than 10,000 patients are now hospitalized with the coronavirus.

The deadliest week of the pandemic yet in Texas continued Friday with 95 new deaths.

On the Texas-Mexico border, Starr County Judge Eloy Vera says his rural community is trying to get a refrigerated trailer because the local funeral home can’t keep up with more than two bodies a day.

Texas members of Congress are asking the Trump administration for a field hospital in the Rio Grande Valley. They warn in a letter sent Friday to the health and human services secretary Azar that there is “no indication that case counts will level out soon.”

7:15 a.m.: Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration has given provisional approval to the drug remdesivir, an experimental medicine that has shown promise in the recovery time of the most seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

The approval comes as Australia is seeing a sharp increase in coronavirus infections in the state of Victoria, which reported a record 288 new confirmed cases Friday.

Authorities say remdesivir will be available only to patients who are severely ill, require oxygen or high-level support to breathe, and are in hospital care. It is the only drug licensed by both the U.S. and the European Union as a treatment for people with severe illness from the coronavirus.

With a population of 26 million, Australia has recorded more than 9,000 coronavirus cases, with 107 deaths.

7:11 a.m.: South Korea has reported 35 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its caseload to 13,373 infections and 288 deaths.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday that 13 of the new cases were in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, which has been at the centre of a virus resurgence since late May.

Infections were also reported in other major cities such Daejeon and Gwangju, where patients have been tied to various places, including churches, a Buddhist temple, churches, nursing homes and a sauna.

Fifteen of the new cases were linked to international arrivals as the virus continues to spread in Asia, North America and elsewhere.

7:08 a.m.: New coronavirus cases have dropped sharply in China, and authorities are turning their attention to concerns that the virus could spread through imported food.

Those worries have risen since a June outbreak in Beijing that was linked to the city’s largest wholesale market.

Testing has been stepped up on incoming food shipments, and on Friday customs officials said they are halting imports from three Ecuadorian shrimp producers after tests showed the virus present in recent shipments.

Authorities say the coronavirus was detected on the outer packaging of the shipments July 3. The inner packaging and the shrimp themselves tested negative. Products from the three companies received after March 12 have been ordered to be returned or destroyed.

7:03 a.m.: India’s coronavirus cases have passed 800,000 with the biggest spike of 27,114 cases in the past 24 hours, causing nearly a dozen states to impose a partial lockdown in high-risk areas.

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The new confirmed cases took the national total to 820,916. The Health Ministry on Saturday also reported another 519 deaths for a total of 22,123.

A surge in infections saw the cases jumping from 600,000 to more than 800,000 in nine days. The ministry said the recovery rate was continuing to improve at more than 62%.

Eight of India’s 28 states, including the worst-hit Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and New Delhi, account for nearly 90% of all infections.

6:06 a.m.: At least two doctors in Syria’s opposition-held northwest have been infected with the coronavirus, according to a monitoring group Saturday, raising the total number of cases in the overcrowded rebel enclave to three.

The Syrian opposition and militant groups control the Idlib area, which is home to more than 3 million people, most of them displaced by the war and living in tent camps and overcrowded facilities. Local health facilities have been targeted in Syrian government attacks that have recently displaced nearly a further million people.

The Early Warning and Alert Response Network, which reports on the virus, said the two doctors had been in touch with patient zero, another doctor who works in a hospital in Idlib. The first case was reported on Thursday and the hospital where the doctor works has since suspended its operations and quarantined patients and support staff to carry out testing.

12:47 a.m.: In his push to get schools and colleges to reopen this fall, President Donald Trump is again taking aim at their finances, this time threatening their tax-exempt status.

Trump said on Twitter on Friday he was ordering the Treasury Department to re-examine the tax-exempt status of schools that he says provide “radical indoctrination” instead of education.

“Too many Universities and School Systems are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education,” he tweeted. “Therefore, I am telling the Treasury Department to re-examine their Tax-Exempt Status and/or Funding, which will be taken away if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues. Our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated!”

The Republican president did not explain what prompted the remark or which schools would be reviewed. But the threat is just one more that Trump has issued against schools as he ratchets up pressure to get them to open this fall. Twice this week Trump threatened to cut federal funding for schools that don’t reopen, including in an earlier tweet on Friday.

Friday 11:54 p.m.: Health officials are reporting eight cases of COVID-19 linked to public gatherings in Kelowna, British Columbia, during and around the Canada Day long weekend.

The Interior Health Authority says people who attended private gatherings, restaurants and bars from June 25 to July 6 in downtown and waterfront areas of the city may have been exposed to the illness.

Six of the eight cases are people who don’t live in the region and public health contact tracing is underway.

Officials are urging anyone who took part in such gatherings during this time period to closely monitor themselves for symptoms.

Friday 6 p.m.: Ontario’s regional health units are reporting 38,470 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, including 2,752 deaths, an increase of 118 cases since Thursday evening, according to the Star’s latest count.

The rate of new infections has fallen sharply in the province over the last two months and has remained low so far in July.

Over the last seven days, the province’s 34 health units have reported an average of 130 new infections per day, well down from a sustained peak of nearly 600 cases per day, seen in late April.

Friday’s low total included two days’ worth of data in Toronto, which nevertheless reported a low 42 new cases.

Starting this week, Toronto Public Health switched to reporting cases only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. As such, the provincewide count of COVID-19 cases reported each day is likely to be higher than typical on those days.

Another 10 new fatal cases were reported Thursday, seven in Toronto and one each in York, Waterloo and Niagara Regions. During the worst of the province’s epidemic, the health units reported as many as 94 deaths in a single day.

Earlier Friday, the province reported 117 patients are hospitalized, including 34, who are in an intensive care unit, of whom 24 are on a ventilator. These numbers are themselves near the lowest the province has reported since first publishing hospitalization data in early April.

The province says its data is accurate to 4 p.m. the previous day. The province also cautions its latest count of total deaths, 2,710, may be incomplete or out of date due to delays in the reporting system, saying that, in the event of a discrepancy, “data reported by (the health units) should be considered the most up to date.”

The Star’s count includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases. This means they have symptoms and contacts or travel history that indicate they very likely have the disease, but have not yet received a positive lab test.

Click here to read more of Friday’s coverage.



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COVID-19 on P.E.I.: What’s happening Friday, July 10

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Health PEI told employees in an email earlier this week that all staff who come in contact with patients and who aren’t able to physically distance must now wear medical masks. Officials say the province has enough masks to last eight or nine weeks, if staff use an estimated 100,000 masks per week.

Also on Friday, the government announced details on the reopening of a testing site for truckers and other essential workers in Borden-Carleton. It’ll open at noon on Monday, July 13 and will be open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.

Education Minister Brad Trivers gave more details to CBC News on how schools will operate in the fall — students will not be required to physically distance in classrooms or on buses, he said, but may have to wear face masks in hallways.

Trivers was also part of an announcement Friday afternoon that federal, provincial and municipal governments will spend about $10 million for a new sports and community complex to replace the aging North Star Arena in North Rustico. The governments say this is the first of several announcements on the way to create jobs and boost the economy in the wake the COVID-19.

The unemployment rate for P.E.I. climbed to 15.2 per cent from 13.9 per cent in May, and more women were unemployed than men, according to Statistics Canada. 

The Education Department is considering adding mobile classrooms at some schools including Montague Consolidated and Eliot River Elementary, since the schools need extra room for spacing due to COVID-19 restrictions. (John Robertson/CBC)

Nurses on P.E.I. said they are are starting to feel the pressure of there not being enough of them to go around, says the president of the P.E.I. Nurses’ Union.

The P.E.I. Humane Society says dog bites are on the rise this year, and believe it’s likely linked to more people staying at home because of the pandemic. 

If you’re having trouble getting a face mask following the Chief Public Health Office’s strengthened recommendation for them, the Rotary Club gave some away free Friday.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison gave an unscheduled briefing Thursday at noon to announce P.E.I. has one more case of COVID-19, a young man who was a close contact of someone from an existing cluster, bringing the active number of cases on P.E.I. to six.

P.E.I. has had a total of 33 COVID-19 cases, with 27 considered recovered.

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More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.

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