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Feds should have put $912M into Canada Summer Jobs program: Opposition

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OTTAWA — Federal opposition parties are demanding to know why the Liberal government created a $900-million program to help students find volunteer positions rather than putting the much-needed funds into an existing summer jobs program.

The call for answers comes as the government tries to chart a way forward for the new Canada Student Services Grant, which has been in limbo after WE Charity withdrew from administering the program amid controversy over its links to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family.

The Liberals have billed the grant program as a way to reward tens of thousands of students who want to help with the COVID-19 pandemic and can’t find paid work. Participants were told they could earn up to $5,000 toward their education costs by volunteering the maximum 500 hours.

Opposition parties say the Liberals could have accomplished the same task without controversy by putting the money into the Canada Summer Jobs program, through which thousands of positions for students are subsidized by the federal government every year.

“The government chose specifically to ignore the opportunity of the Canada Summer Jobs and instead went for this,” Conservative economic development critic Dan Albas said of the Canada Student Services Grant.

“It makes no sense … They put a ton of money — $912 million — towards an untested concept when they have a ready-to-go program.”

The Liberals have expanded the summer-jobs program by increasing the wage subsidy available to companies and not-for-profit groups to 100 per cent of the local minimum wage, expanding what types of positions qualified and extending the eligible work period to early next year.

They also injected an extra $60 million to create 10,000 more positions than last year for students. The move brought the total budget for the program to $323 million and the expected number of summer jobs to 80,000.

The opposition says the available funding is not enough to cover demand in a normal year. The federal Employment and Social Development Department itself says on its website that in 2019, “requests for funding totalled more than three times the program budget.”

Neither the government nor WE have said how many volunteer positions they were expecting to fill through the $912-million grant program. There has been criticism that participants receive only $10 per hour — less than the minimum wage in any province.

There have also been questions about many positions advertised as available through the volunteer scheme, including thousands for students to shoot videos, make websites and create other content in placements apparently created by WE to meet the requirements of the volunteer program.

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said that stands in contrast to the summer jobs program after the government asked members of Parliament across the country to identify potential positions in their ridings in the spring — many of which did not get funding.

“We had really legitimate organizations ready to hire students to do legitimate work, and all of that was sidelined,” Angus said. “These were a lot more credible positions than making a video showing how to do exercises.”

The Liberals have indicated they plan to move ahead with the volunteer program despite WE’s withdrawal, saying the federal Employment Department has taken over and is looking at ways to make it happen.

But the Conservatives, NDP and Greens all say the government should learn its lesson and put the money into the Canada Summer Jobs program, which is already managed by the government and has a history of success.

That starts with revisiting what the Tories and New Democrats suggested was the large number of summer jobs requested by businesses and not-for-profits and not funded because of a shortage of money.

“The government should be focused on a program that is transparent, that is fair, that is broadly supported by all parties, and that already has a number of applications that have been ranked and have not been filled just because there’s not enough money,” Albas said.

Green MP Elizabeth May said organizations that applied for positions through the student-volunteer program should also be allowed to transfer their requests to the summer-jobs program.

And if that is not possible, Angus said, the government should be looking at taking the money and putting it into direct financial support for students, including by adding the funds to the Canada Emergency Student Benefit for those unable to find work due to COVID-19.

“They have two options: One is to put that money into Canada Summer Jobs and one is to put it straight into the support for university students so they have the funds necessary to go to school and cut out all these schemes they worked out with WE,” he said.

“I think they need to move on this immediately. The summer is getting close to half over. It may be at this point too difficult to get the Canada Summer Jobs up, but there are a lot of organizations that we submitted names for.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, meanwhile, repeated a call on Tuesday for Trudeau to step aside in favour of his deputy Chrystia Freeland while the WE affair is fully investigated. But Blanchet said that based on what’s known now, he doesn’t believe the Liberal government should fall over it.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2020.



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Why 1 small Regina school insists on daily temperature checks, 4-day weeks and mandatory masks in class

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David Vanderberg says his school’s back-to-school plan exceeds the minimum safety standards set out by Saskatchewan health officials “because the bar is not set very high.” 

“We feel as though we’ve got one chance to get this right,” said Vanderberg, the principal of Regina’s Prairie Sky School.

The school, which falls under the category of “qualified independent schools” that receive half of their funding from the province, only has about 80 students total, spread across Grades 1 to 8. 

When Prairie Sky’s students return to class next month, they will have their temperatures checked daily by the front gate and be required to wear masks inside the classroom (though much of the school’s teaching happens outside, Vanderberg said). 

Kindergarten students will be exempt from that rule, but will need to wear face shields.

The school will also cut its schedule to four days a week, down from four and a half. 

“[That’s] one less day in the week that that potential transmission could occur,” Vanderberg said. 

Responding to ‘a complete lack of leadership’

Prairie Sky School released its plan on Tuesday, the same day the province outlined minimum standards for mandatory masking and clarified that individual school boards would decide when to make the move to “Level 2” and require masks. 

Vanderberg said Tuesday was the earliest his school could publicly release its plan because the province approved the plans for public and separate school divisions first and did not approve Prairie Sky School’s plan until Monday.

He said the province’s larger back-to-school strategy “demonstrates a complete lack of leadership.”

Principal David Vanderberg says the province’s back-to-school strategy ‘demonstrates a complete lack of leadership.’ (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

“It is putting the onus of student safety and staff safety on individual school boards and individual schools as opposed to taking the responsibility for that as a Ministry of Education and as the government of Saskatchewan,” Vanderberg said. 

Carla Beck, the Saskatchewan NDP’s education critic, has criticized the province’s a-la-carte approach, saying it leaves school divisions open to “political fallout.” 

Education Minister Gord Wyant has defended the choice, saying what works for a small school may not be appropriate for a larger one. 

Not all families on board with masking

Vanderberg said a minority of families have requested to withdraw their child from the school because of the masking policy, but that other families want in because of the plan.

“The best we can do is say that we can put you on the waiting list,” he said. 

Vanderberg said the school has tried to keep the conversation around masking “as fact-based as possible.” 

“Overwhelmingly the response from the education community, the American medical community, in Saskatchewan and elsewhere in Canada has been that masking, when social distancing is not a possibility, is effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “So that’s what we’re going with.”

According to the minimum Level 2 standards released by the province Tuesday, Saskatchewan students in Grades 4 to 12 at schools using that level will need to wear masks in hallways, buses and other high traffic areas. Inside classrooms, however, “masks may be required….where it is not possible to maintain physical distancing or where students are outside of the cohort within their classroom.”

Vanderberg said the province allowed schools go over and above the minimum standards, so that’s what Prairie Sky School did. 

(Prairie Sky School)

Vanderberg acknowledged daily temperature checks will require a robust supply of thermometers. 

“But that’s our job. And that’s important. And we’re going to find the money,” he said. 

The school pays for the other half of its budget through fundraising and scholarships.

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Most B.C. parents in favour of face masks in class, but divided on back-to-school plans, poll finds

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Most parents in B.C. are in favour of sending their children to class with a face mask to wear, but are split on what should happen after school bells ring in September, a new poll suggests.

About half (49 per cent) of British Columbians surveyed by Insight West were in favour of the provincial government’s plan to reopen schools, while 42 per cent oppose it.

The poll confirms what Premier John Horgan already suspected — not everyone is pleased with the back-to-school plans, said the market research firm’s president Steve Mossop in a news release .

“Our latest poll on the state of readiness of parents and the general public to go back to school shows a significant level of fear and uncertainty,” reads his statement.

The poll suggests parents appear to be divided on three key facets: their comfort level with sending their kids back to class, their take on the idea of possibly wearing masks and their preferences between online and in-person learning.

If given a choice, four out of ten parents (41 per cent) prefer a mix of online and in-person classes, just over a quarter (27 per cent) would put their kids back in a full-time classroom setting and 27 per cent prefer all learning takes place online, according to the poll.

The poll suggests about half of parents (51 per cent) feel very or somewhat comfortable sending their kids back to the classroom, while another 30 per cent are not very comfortable and 19 per cent are not comfortable at all.

Parents also expressed concerns about isolating their children without any in-class learning and shortcomings in the quality of online learning.

Seventy-one per cent of respondents agree with the statement “if there is not in-class learning, I worry about my child(ren)’s socialization” and about two-thirds (63 per cent) concur that in-class learning is necessary because online instruction provides a “poor quality” of education.

Parents expressed concern

About half of parents (49 per cent) say they do not know how they will manage remote learning and a similar proportion (46 per cent) do not have childcare in place if their kids stay home, the poll suggests.

Parents were also split on whether their children would be safe from exposure to COVID-19 if they return to classrooms full time.

Four out of five of parents (80 per cent) agree they need more information about how the plan will work, and seven out of every ten (70 per cent) say the provincial government is not being strict enough with the rules around reopening schools.

Meanwhile, the majority of respondents (85 per cent) praise the government’s overall handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

Masks in schools

In an interview on Wednesday, Mossop said he was most surprised about the overwhelming support for masks in schools, which presents a stark contrast to what he has observed anecdotally while visiting malls and in transit.

“[It’s] what people do versus what they say,” he said, adding there was less controversy in the responses this time around compared to another poll from about a month and a half ago.

The latest online study sampled 825 B.C. residents from Aug. 5 to Aug. 9, according to the release. A comparable margin of error for a study this size would be +/- 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

According to the B.C. government’s website, schools will be reopening with in-class instruction within learning groups, capped at 60 students for elementary and middle schools, and 120 for high schools.

The website states students and staff will not be required to wear face masks while at school.

It advises young children should not use masks and recommends staff and older students wear non-medical masks in situations outside their learning group and where physical distancing is not possible for an extended period of time. 

“Wearing a mask is a personal choice that will always be respected,” reads the website.

Non-medical masks will be provided upon request.

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Some Yukon students should wear masks on buses, says chief medical officer

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Yukon’s chief medical officer is recommending that some students wear protective face masks on school buses this year, and in other situations where physical distancing is not possible.

Dr. Brendan Hanley’s recommendation is aimed at students aged 10 and older, but not mandatory.

“I make this recommendation based on emerging evidence that older children may be just as likely to transmit COVID-19 as adults,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday.

He said masks will be provided to students by the Yukon Department of Education. He also said mask use inside schools will be decided by officials at each individual school.

“The general approach, though, will be toward usage in corridors and in movement between rooms, but not in classrooms where children will already be well-spaced,” he said.

Hanley also said Wednesday that he still not in favour of making masks mandatory for all Yukoners.

Watch Wednesday’s news conference here:

Operational plans for each school

Classes begin at Yukon elementary and secondary schools on Aug. 20.

On Wednesday, Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said all schools have now developed their own operational plans for the coming year. 

“Planning for this school year has been challenging, and different than other years. It has taken a tremendous amount of effort from individuals across the territory,” McPhee said.

The Yukon government earlier set out new health and safety measures for schools to follow when students head back to class. It includes hand washing and physical distancing requirements, as well as staggered breaks and pick-up and drop-off times.

Most Grade 10 to 12 students will only go to class part-time in Whitehorse, in an effort to keep student numbers low and maintain physical distancing. Elementary school students and high schoolers outside Whitehorse will go to school full-time, with those enhanced safety measures.

The operational plans for each school spell out how those safety measures will be observed. For example, at F.H. Collins Secondary School in Whitehorse, students in Grades 8 and 9 will be put in “pods” to limit movement in the building. That means they will remain in the same class most of the day.

McPhee said operational plans can be found on each school’s website. 

She said that all plans will be monitored through the coming weeks and adjusted if necessary.

“We are completely invested in this school year being successful for students,” she said.

Some parents and teachers have been vocal about their concerns for the school year. Some, including hospital workers, have opted to home-school their kids to keep them safe, while others say they can’t afford that option.

Parents of high school students in Whitehorse have also raised concerns about their reduced class time, saying it could lead to added stress and poor grades.

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