Quebec basic income program begins, but advocates say many low income people excluded

For the first time in many years, Monique Toutant thinks she might be able to buy herself some better groceries and a few new clothes.

As a longtime social assistance recipient, the 62-year-old Quebec City resident is used to pinching pennies, buying the strict minimum at the grocery store and saving for months for every purchase. She calls it “everyday stress.”

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“Will I have enough money to get through the month? Will I have enough money to eat well? Will I have enough money because I have a doctor’s appointment in two days and I have to pay a bus ticket?” she said in a phone interview.

Toutant, who can’t work because of acute rheumatoid arthritis that prevents her from sitting or standing for long periods, is facing a little less hardship after her monthly cheque rose by more than $300 to about $1,548 at the beginning of January with the launch of the Quebec government’s basic income program.

The program, aimed at 84,000 Quebecers with a “severely limited capacity for employment” such as a chronic illness or mental health condition, will provide an increase of more than 28 per cent for a single person, the government says. Just as importantly, they will also have the ability to earn about $14,500 a year in wages — up from $200 a month — and have up to $20,000 in savings, all without losing benefits. They will also be able to live with a partner who earns a small paycheque without seeing their benefits clawed back.

The program, which will cost about $1.5 billion a year, allows recipients “to benefit from one of the highest disposable incomes for people on social assistance in Canada,” the province’s Labour and Social Solidarity Department said in an email.

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Anti-poverty activists are praising the program as a good step toward helping people meet their basic needs, but say strict eligibility criteria exclude many of the province’s lowest-income residents.

Jean Lalande, a spokesman for a welfare rights committee in Montreal’s Pointe-St-Charles, said the program addresses some of the problems with traditional welfare, which discourages people from taking steps to improve their situations by cutting benefits as soon as someone tries to get a job or save money.

However, he believes it should be offered to all of those on social assistance, including those earning the minimum welfare amount of $770 per month, who sometimes spend 80 or 90 per cent of their income on rent.

Lalande, as well as Serge Petitclerc of the Collectif pour un Québec sans pauvreté, said the rules for admission to social assistance are already very restrictive, and it can take years to have people’s health conditions formally recognized. By the time people are approved for higher benefits, their physical and mental health is likely to have further declined due to the effects of extreme poverty, they said.

Even Quebecers who are recognized as having a severely limited work capacity aren’t included unless they have been in that situation for five and a half of the last six years.

Sylvain Caron, 64, has serious mobility issues that the government has acknowledged prevent him from working. But because the severity of his condition has only been recognized for two and a half years, he is only eligible for a program that pays about $300 a month less than basic income.

Caron, who lives in Rawdon, north of Montreal, and works with Petitclerc’s group, said the extra money from the new program might have allowed him to pay an expensive car bill. Instead, he had to sell the vehicle and rely on adapted transit — resulting in a “loss of autonomy” in his rural area.

William Moore, 58, is also excluded. The Montreal man has been unable to work since 2013, when his body broke down after a life of physical labour jobs, resulting in back and knee problems.

Despite having been out of work for 10 years and being convinced that another job will kill him, his work constraints are considered “temporary,” meaning he receives about $930 a month. Moore, who volunteers with anti-poverty groups, believes all poor people should get enough money to meet their basic needs.

“It would change everybody’s life for the better, because a lot of people are suffering and can’t survive,” he said.

The Quebec government, for now, doesn’t appear to be considering expanding eligibility. It notes there are other programs in place to help those living in poverty who aren’t eligible for basic income, including some to help people re-enter the workplace.

“The most sustainable way out of poverty is through employment,” the Labour department said.

Francois Blais, a former cabinet minister who helped draft the basic income project under the previous Liberal government, said it was always a “targeted” measure to help a group that disproportionately lives in poverty and is unlikely to be able to return to the job market.

While he respects the arguments for expanding the program to all social assistance recipients, he says it would be hard to do without bringing in a wider basic income program that would also apply to low-income working people.

Blais, now a professor at Université Laval, is a proponent of such a change, which he says could eventually come through boosting refundable tax credits for low-income people. For now, the basic income program is a “good start,” he said.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

Western University study shows vaping education led students to quit

A new study from Western University in London, Ont., shows that university students who were regularly vaping wanted to cut back after learning about the threat the habit could pose to their health.

The study was conducted by PhD candidate Babac Salmani and health sciences professor Harry Prapavessis.

It involved showing undergraduate students, most of whom were regular vapers, an eight-minute video featuring healthcare professionals and people who used to vape talking about research and risks.

The control group for the study watched a video about nutrition instead.

“Immediately after watching the intervention, they’re like ‘I want to stop,'” said Salmani. “That’s really important to us is the consistency in that intention. It maintained a level of strength in terms of people wanting to stop vaping.”

Vaping is popular among youth, with Statistics Canada reporting 29 per cent of Canadians aged 15 to 19 and roughly half of those between 20 and 24 have tried it.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Extreme cold weather alert issued for parts of B.C. Interior

An extreme cold weather warning is in effect for Elk Valley and Yoho Park.

According the Environment Canada the alert went into effect Sunday morning and is expected to remain in place until Monday.

“A cold arctic air mass has settled over the BC interior resulting in extreme wind chill values near minus 35 this morning,” reads the alert.

Conditions are expected to moderate by Sunday afternoon as temperatures rise, however wind chill values near minus 35 will return overnight into Monday morning.

People are advised to watch for cold related symptoms including, shortness of breath, chest pain, muscle pain and weakness, numbness and colour change in fingers and toes.

Environment Canada warns, If it’s too cold for you to stay outside, it’s too cold for your pet to stay outside.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Fire at exotic animal rescue kills dozens of animals in Surrey, B.C.

An overnight fire at Urban Safari Rescue Society in Surrey, B.C., has killed an unknown number of exotic animals, officials said.

A smoldering overnight fire between Friday and Saturday has resulted in the deaths of dozens of exotic animals in Surrey, B.C.

The fire happened at Urban Safari Rescue Society when officials say the power went out and then came back, created a power surge that sparked a fire.

Staff are still assessing the damages and loss of life, but did say they lost many animals including turtles, geckos, snakes, and all of their mammals.

“We are still figuring out who is alive. We are dealing with secondary loss as well due to damage to their lungs and respiratory systems,” said Pamala-Rose Combs said, a staff member at the rescue.

Surrey firefighters were called to the scene early Saturday.

“We had 18 firefighters respond. They made entry to the building and found moderate smoke,” Surrey Fire Assistant Chief Greg McRobbie said. “Crews stayed on scene and helped move some of the cages outside.”

The surviving animals have been temporarily fostered out.  Volunteers are needed to help clean the cages and rebuild after the fire.

The rescue was home to roughly 350 animals, staff said.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Wanted driver attempts to flee from police, crashes into tree: WPS

Winnipeg police say a wanted driver attempted to flee from them and crashed into a tree.

On Sunday, at 12:27 a.m. an officer saw what they say is a known-wanted man driving an SUV in the 100 block of Alfred Avenue.

The police unit pulled in front of the SUV with emergency lighting activated in an attempt to stop it.

Then police say the driver immediately tried to reverse but could not put the vehicle in gear, causing the engine to rev at high RPM.

Officers then got out of their vehicle and gave numerous loud commands to the driver. However, the driver then placed the SUV in drive and accelerated toward them.

Police say this caused both officers to jump out of the way to avoid being hit. Then the driver crashed into a tree and ran away.

Police then chased him through the snow. During the foot pursuit, he tossed an item that police say was later found to be a BB air pistol, designed to look like a Taurus PT92 handgun.

Officers caught up with the suspect near Harry Lazarenko (Redwood) Bridge, at which point he became combative and resisted arrest.

After a short struggle, officers were able to gain control and take him into custody.

Then police say a search of the man and the SUV led to the seizure of two ounces of methamphetamine (estimated street value of $1,200) and $4,590 in cash.

Consequently, a 35-year-old man has been arrested and charged and he has been detained.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

France's plan to raise pension age 'no longer negotiable', prime minister says

WATCH: Paris streets filled by thousands protesting France's proposed pension reforms: 'Continue the fight'

France’s prime minister insisted Sunday that the government’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 is “no longer negotiable,” further angering parliamentary opponents and unions who plan new mass protests and disruptive strikes this week.

Raising the pension age is one part of a broad bill that is the flagship measure of President Emmanuel Macron’s second term. The bill is meeting widespread popular resistance –more than 1 million people marched against it earlier this month– and misunderstanding about what it will mean for today’s French workers.

In an interview with France-Info radio broadcast Sunday, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the age “is no longer negotiable.”

Retirement at 64 and a lengthening of the number of years needed to earn a full pension “is the compromise that we proposed after having heard employers’ organizations and unions,” she said.

A union-led online petition against the retirement plan saw a surge in new signatures after Borne’s comments. France’s eight leading unions are in discussions Sunday about a joint response to her remarks, according to officials with the FO and CFDT unions.

Lawmaker Manuel Bompard, whose France Unbowed party is leading the parliamentary push against the reform, called for “the biggest possible” turnout for upcoming strikes and protests.

“We have to be in the streets Tuesday,” he said on BFM television Sunday.

The government says the reform is necessary to keep the pension system solvent as France’s life expectancy has grown and birth rates have declined.

“Our aim is to ensure that in 2030 we have a system that’s financially balanced,” Borne said.

Unions and left-wing parties want big companies or wealthier households to pitch in more to balance the pension budget instead.

Borne suggested openness to adjustments on how the reform addresses time that people take out of their careers to bear children or pursue education. The plan’s critics say women are unfairly targeted; Borne disagreed, but said, “We are in the process of analyzing the situation.”

The bill goes to a parliamentary commission on Monday, and to a full debate in the National Assembly on Feb. 6. Opponents have submitted 7,000 proposed amendments that will further complicate the debate.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

54-hectare wildfire project underway in Lake Country, B.C.

A 54-hectare Wildfire Risk Reduction project is underway near Spion Kop in Lake Country.

According to BCWS it’s being done through the Crown Land Wildfire Risk Reduction funding stream.

“The provincial government has made significant investments to help communities and land managers mitigate wildfire risks and create more fire-resilient landscapes,” said BCWS.

The Okanagan Shuswap Natural Resource District is burning approximately 1,600 piles of wood debris on the west side of Highway 97 and above Carrs Landing Road.

The project aims to remove fuels available for wildfire consumption. Unmanaged fuels increase wildfire risk and the potential for intense wildfire behaviour, says BCWS.

Burning began in January and is expected to continue until spring depending on site, weather, venting and snow conditions.

Burning will only proceed if conditions are suitable and allow smoke to dissipate. Smoke and/or flames may be visible from Lake Country and surrounding areas.

For any concerns, contact the Okanagan Shuswap Natural Resource District at 778-943-7086 instead of the 1-800 Provincial Wildfire Reporting Centre.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Man seriously injured in Cole Harbour stabbing

Global News at 6 Halifax from Jan. 27, 2023.

Halifax District RCMP say a 21-year-old man was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries after he was stabbed at a business in Cole Harbour.

Police and EHS were called to the scene on Cole Harbour Road at around 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

“Police learned the victim came into a retail business and was shortly followed in by another man who then exited the business only to return with a woman,” RCMP wrote in a release.

“The man then stabbed the victim, and he and the woman immediately left fleeing in a vehicle they arrived in.”

The victim was taken to hospital by ambulance.

RCMP say investigators don’t believe this was a random act.

Anyone with information is asked to call Halifax District RCMP at 902-490-5020 or Crime Stoppers.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Fence post thrown at TransLink bus in downtown Vancouver

Metro Vancouver Transit Police are investigating after a five-foot metal fence post was allegedly thrown at the windshield of a city bus on Friday night.

They say the impact shattered the glass near the driver’s side of the bus.

Police say the driver was able to pull over safely and no one on the bus, including an estimated 25 passengers, were injured.

The transit police say the Vancouver Police Department responded to a similar call about another vehicle in the area, but it is too early to determine if the two incidents are connected.

They say a suspect has not yet been identified.

Police say that they have not noticed an increase in incidences like this, but it is concerning due to the safety risk it poses to bus drivers, passengers, and others on the road.

“We commend the bus operator for his quick thinking and ability to safely pull the bus over, which prevented passengers from being injured,” Metro Vancouver Transit Police said in a statement on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2023.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

Man, 20, charged after allegedly setting fire to Hamilton university residence room

Police in Hamilton have charged a 20-year-old for allegedly setting fire to a residence room at McMaster University.

Hamilton police said a fire alarm was reported at 1820 Main Street West on Saturday at around 2 p.m. Both firefighters and police officers responded, and no injuries were reported.

However, on Sunday, a 20-year-old man was charged with arson — disregard for human life in relation to the incident.

Police named the person they arrested as Ruomu Ba.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Det. Srg. Lockley by calling 905-546-3833 or to make an anonymous tip through Crime Stoppers.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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