Alberta's COVID crisis and calls for a new defence minister: In The News for Sept. 24

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Sept. 24 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

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EDMONTON — The head of Alberta's health system says the COVID-19 hospital crisis has become so dire, a key reason the system hasn't collapsed is because patients are dying.

"Each day we see a new high (total of critically ill patients)," Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, said Thursday.

Yiu said hospitals have admitted two dozen or more critically ill COVID-19 patients on average each day since Sunday.

"It's tragic that we are only able to keep pace with these sort of numbers because in part some of our ICU patients have passed away," she said. "This reality has a deep and lasting impact on our ICU teams."

There were 310 patients Thursday in intensive care, the vast majority of them with COVID, and the vast majority of the COVID patients are not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all.

Alberta normally has 173 ICU beds, but has doubled that number to 350 by taking over extra spaces, such as operating rooms, and reassigning staff.

The result is non-urgent surgeries have been cancelled en masse across the province, including transplants, tumours, cancer operations and surgeries on children.

Physicians are being briefed in case resources get so short, they have to decide on the spot which patients get life-saving care and which don’t.

Yiu said it's a fluid situation and they're still determining when and how doctors will be asked to make those life-and-death decisions.

The United Conservative Party government has reached out for medical help from other provinces and from the federal government.

Bill Blair, the federal minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, said Ottawa can help by providing more critical care medical staff and by having the military airlift patients to other provinces.

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Also this ...

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau's Liberals have picked up one more seat in Quebec, pushing them slightly ahead of the Bloc Quebecois in the province.

Brome-Missisquoi is the only riding so far to change hands since Monday's preliminary election results, which did not include some 850,000 mail-in ballots.

Once election officials finished counting postal votes in the riding Thursday, Liberal Pascale St-Onge edged ahead of the Bloc's Marilou Alarie by just 186 votes.

That leaves the Liberals leading or elected in 34 of Quebec's 78 seats, to the Bloc's 33 and also puts them slightly ahead in terms of the popular vote.

The Conservatives are leading or elected in 10 Quebec ridings and the NDP in just one.

Nationally, the Brome-Missisquoi victory puts the Liberals at 159 seats, although one of them was won by a disavowed Liberal candidate — Kevin Vuong in Toronto's Spadina-Fort York — who will now have to sit as an Independent MP.

Late Thursday, Taleeb Noormohamed was declared the winner in Vancouver Granville by 436 votes over Anjali Appadurai of the NDP.

With the mail-in ballot count still continuing in three tightly-contested ridings Thursday evening, the Conservatives stood at 119 seats, the NDP at 25 and the Greens at two.

However, recounts are expected in a clutch of close-run ridings, where a handful of votes separates the victor from the loser.

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And this ...

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being urged by several experts on sexual misconduct in the military to name a new defence minister as he sets about building a new cabinet following Monday’s federal election.

The calls are based on a belief that Harjit Sajjan has lost credibility when it comes to addressing what senior commanders themselves have described as an existential crisis within the Canadian Armed Forces.

"It’s just not imaginable," Maya Eichler, head of the Centre for Social Innovation and Community Engagement in Military Affairs at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, said of Sajjan returning to the position he has held since 2015.

"It would show the government to be completely out of touch with how people feel about the issue and the kind of bold action that is needed."

Yet while Eichler believes it is time for a woman to take over as Canada’s next defence minister, she and others warn such an appointment must include the right person and the necessary support to help them succeed in the role.

"Like any discussion about picking someone for a position of power based on their sex, it is crucial to ensure that the person selected is set up for success and not failure," Eichler said.

Among the names being bandied around as possibilities to succeed Sajjan are Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough and Public Procurement Minister Anita Anand, both of whom have played key roles in Ottawa’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The only woman to have served as Canada’s defence minister was Kim Campbell, who held the post for six months in 1993 before serving for five months as Canada’s only female prime minister to date.

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What we are watching in the U.S. ...

ATLANTA — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has endorsed COVID-19 booster shots for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans.

The move opens a major new phase in the U.S vaccination drive against the coronavirus.

A panel of advisers made the recommendation Thursday and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on it shortly afterward.

The advisers said boosters should be offered to people 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 who have risky underlying health problems.

The extra dose would be given once they are at least six months past their last Pfizer shot.

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Also this ...

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on legislation that aims to guarantee every woman’s right to an abortion.

Democrats are holding the vote today in response to a new Texas law greatly restricting abortion access.

But House passage of the bill is likely to be mostly symbolic, as Republican opposition will doom the bill’s chances in the Senate.

Democrats say they will do all they can to codify the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

They say abortion rights are under threat after the Supreme Court allowed a Texas law that would ban most abortions in the state to take effect.

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What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

SEOUL — Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister says North Korea is willing to resume talks with South Korea if it doesn’t provoke the North with hostile policies and double standards.

Kim Yo Jong spoke in response to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s renewed calls for a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War this week.

She says an end-of-the war declaration can be adopted when the Koreas lift hostile policies and unfair double standards.

Her statement came days after North Korea performed its first missile tests in six months.

North Korea previously has said U.S.-South Korean military exercises and U.S.-led sanctions are examples of hostile policies against Pyongyang.

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On this day in 1950 ...

A Canadian military mission arrived in Tokyo to become the first Canadian unit dispatched in the Korean conflict.

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In entertainment ...

TORONTO — Shawn Mendes is plotting his return to Canadian concert stages as part of a massive 2022 world tour.

The Pickering, Ont.-born pop singer raised the curtain Thursday on plans for a 64-date arena tour of North America, the United Kingdom and Europe that includes stops in Vancouver, Edmonton and Montreal.

Wonder: The World Tour comes on the heels of Mendes' 2020 album "Wonder."

The 23-year-old singer will open the European leg of his tour in Copenhagen on March 14, 2022 before heading to North America in the early summer.

Shows are slated for Vancouver on July 2, Edmonton on July 5 and Montreal on Aug. 15.

No dates for Toronto or other Canadian cities were announced, though the tour's promoter says additional stops will be revealed soon.

North American tickets go on sale to the public on Oct. 7.

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ICYMI ...

A mountain goat is believed to be responsible for the death of a grizzly bear found slumped near a trail in British Columbia's Yoho National Park earlier this month.

David Laskin, a wildlife ecologist with Parks Canada, says a necropsy on the carcass found wounds consistent with the size and shape of mountain goat horns, with one under each of the female bear's armpits and one on the side of its neck.

He says other causes of death were ruled out, including human involvement.

Laskin says it's common for grizzlies to prey on mountain goats, with a tendency to attack from above, and it's not unusual that a bear might be injured in the scuffle.

But he says a goat fatally wounding a bear is "exceedingly rare."

Laskin says the adult bear was smaller in size among the population of 25 to 30 grizzlies in Yoho and Kootenay national parks, but it was not unusually small.

"It was quite interesting and it's not something we normally encounter," Laskin said in an interview. "It's still a loss of a female grizzly bear in her reproductive prime, however our grizzly bear populations are still healthy and stable in the park."

The bear was an adult but the necropsy showed no signs she had ever had cubs.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2021

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