Federal budget today, rapid tests important, if imperfect : In The News for April 7

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 April 7 …

What we are watching in Canada …

The federal Liberals are set to unveil their latest spending plan today that aims to balance promises made to voters in last year’s election campaign, in the pact with the NDP, and recently to Canada’s global defence allies.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is scheduled to table the budget in the House of Commons this afternoon.


The economy has fared better than anticipated over the past few months, which along with higher prices for oil is expected to pad the government’s bottom line and help offset any new spending to be announced.

Outstanding promises from the Liberals’ campaign platform amount to about $48.5 billion in net new spending, once taking into account new revenues from things like an expected tax on excess bank profits.

Among the promises are measures aimed at addressing housing affordability concerns that have been rising alongside prices and rent since the September vote.

But billions more could be heaped onto federal books to pay for pharmacare and dental care as part of a deal to have New Democrats prop up the minority government, and more for the military as part of an agreement with NATO allies to more quickly ratchet up defence spending.


Speaking Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the budget would show the country’s debt remains affordable, with debt declining over the coming years as a percentage of the national economy.

Also this …

The NDP says it is confident the Liberals will honour spending pledges made in the agreement it struck to support Justin Trudeau’s minority government.

Daniel Blaikie, the New Democrats’ finance critic, says today’s budget will be the first test of the NDP-Liberal pact, and his party will be watching closely to make sure the Liberals deliver on their promises.

They include funding for dental care for low-income families, a $500 top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit, and a big injection of cash in Indigenous housing.


The NDP also wants to see an extra tax on the profits of big banks and insurance companies, and a scaling back of subsidies for oil and gas companies.

The NDP agreed to prop up the minority Liberal government until 2025, including voting for its budget so it passes through the Commons.

But the Tories have warned the NDP-Liberal pact could lead to a huge increase in public spending.

And this too ..

Experts say rapid antigen tests are emerging as an important tool as Canada’s pandemic strategy shifts from public health vigilance to an emphasis on personal responsibility.

But they warn that rapid test results should be read with caution because of limitations on diagnostic accuracy and precision.

A professor of biomedical engineering and immunology at University of Toronto says rapid tests are an easy and convenient way to help Canadians make better choices about their health and the safety of others.


But Omar Khan says rapid tests work best when paired with public surveillance strategies that can track the spread of variants to help inform health policy.

Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal cardiologist with a degree in epidemiology, says it takes more than one rapid test to rule out infection because of high rates of false negatives.

Labos says potential sources of error include improper technique, testing too early in the illness for viral levels to be detectable and preliminary data suggesting rapid tests are less sensitive to the Omicron variant.

In February, the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table published findings from an analysis of preprint studies suggesting that the pooled sensitivity of rapid antigen tests for detecting Omicron infections is about 37 per cent, compared to 81 per cent for the Delta variant.


Health Canada says on its website that it has “no evidence” that variants affect the ability of agency-approved tests to confirm COVID-19 cases, but notes that these new devices are still being investigated.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate is expected to confirm Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson on Thursday, securing her place as the first Black woman on the high court and giving President Joe Biden a bipartisan endorsement for his historic pick.

Three Republican senators have said they will support Jackson, who would replace Justice Stephen Breyer when he retires this summer. While the vote will be far from the overwhelming bipartisan confirmations for Breyer and other justices in decades past, it will still be a significant bipartisan accomplishment for Biden in the narrow 50-50 Senate after GOP senators aggressively worked to paint Jackson as too liberal and soft on crime.


Jackson, a 51 year-old federal appeals court judge, would be just the third Black justice, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, and the sixth woman. She would join two other women, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, on the liberal side of a 6-3 conservative court. With Justice Amy Coney Barrett sitting at the other end of the bench, four of the nine justices would be women for the first time in history.

“After a bruising hearing in which Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee aggressively interrogated Jackson on her sentencing record, three GOP senators came out and said they would support her. The statements from Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney all said the same thing — they might not always agree with Jackson, but they found her to be enormously well qualified for the job.


Biden, a veteran of a more bipartisan Senate, said from the beginning that he wanted support from both parties for his history-making nominee, and he invited Republicans to the White House as he made his decision. It was an attempted reset from three brutal Supreme Court battles during President Donald Trump’s presidency, when Democrats vociferously opposed the nominees, and from the end of President Barack Obama’s, when Republicans blocked Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland from getting a vote.

Before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Jackson said her life was shaped by her parents’ experiences with lawful racial segregation and civil rights laws that were enacted a decade before she was born.


With her parents and family sitting behind her, she told the panel that her “path was clearer” than theirs as a Black American. Jackson attended Harvard University, served as a public defender, worked at a private law firm and was appointed as a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission in addition to her nine years on the federal bench.

“I have been a judge for nearly a decade now, and I take that responsibility and my duty to be independent very seriously,” Jackson said. “I decide cases from a neutral posture. I evaluate the facts, and I interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case before me, without fear or favour, consistent with my judicial oath.”

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine was bracing to battle for control of its industrial east and appealing for more help from the West after Russian forces withdrew from the shattered outskirts of Kyiv to regroup.


Authorities were urging people to immediately evacuate from the Donbas region before Russia intensifies its offensive. In Brussels, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged NATO to provide more weapons for his war-torn country to help prevent further atrocities like those reported in the city of Bucha.

“My agenda is very simple, it’s weapons, weapons and weapons,” Kuleba said as he arrived at NATO headquarters Thursday for talks with the military organization’s foreign ministers about Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion.

“We know how to fight. We know how to win. But without sustainable and sufficient supplies requested by Ukraine, these wins will be accompanied by enormous sacrifices,” Kuleba said. “The more weapons we get and the sooner they arrive in Ukraine, the more human lives will be saved.”


NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged members to provide more weapons and not just defensive arms. Some NATO members worry that they may be Russia’s next target but the alliance is striving to avoid moves that might pull countries directly into the conflict.

“NATO is not sending troops to be on the ground. We also have a responsibility to prevent this conflict from escalating beyond Ukraine, and become even more deadly, even more dangerous and destructive,” Stoltenberg said.

Growing numbers of Putin’s troops, along with mercenaries, have been reported moving into the Donbas. “Later, people will come under fire,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in urging civilians to evacuate from the mostly Russian-speaking industrial region, “and we won’t be able to do anything to help them.”


In his nightly address Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also warned Russia’s military is gearing up for a new offensive in the east.

Ukraine, too, was preparing for battle, he said.

“We will fight and we will not retreat,” he said. “We will seek all possible options to defend ourselves until Russia begins to seriously seek peace. This is our land. This is our future. And we won’t give them up.”

On this day in 1977 …

The Toronto Blue Jays played their inaugural regular season game. After a pre-game snowstorm at Exhibition Stadium, the Blue Jays got two home runs from first baseman Doug Ault in beating the visiting Chicago White Sox 9-5.

In entertainment …

TORONTO — “Canada’s Drag Race” slayed the reality categories at the Canadian Screen Awards with six wins, including best reality series.


Trophies were handed out Wednesday night at virtual ceremonies celebrating the best in reality, lifestyles, animation, and kids TV programming.

Crave’s drag queen competition also claimed titles for best directing, best writing, best reality picture editing and best non-fiction casting, while “Canada’s Drag Race Anniversary Extravaganza” was named best variety or entertainment special.

TVOKids’ “Paw Patrol” was named the top preschool show and won best sound for animation, while TVOKids’ “All-Round Champion” claimed best children’s or youth non-fiction program, and YTV’s “The Hardy Boys” won best children’s or youth fiction program.

Other winners included CBC’s 2021 Juno Awards broadcast, named best live special, and CTV Comedy’s “Corner Gas Animated,” named best animated series and best direction, animation.


A series of nightly CSA awards shows will lead to Sunday’s marquee celebration, set to air on CBC and CBC Gem. The Indigenous thriller “Night Raiders” and CBC’s genderfluid millennial dramedy “Sort Of” are among the leading contenders.

Awards shows on Thursday will honour drama and comedy crafts as well as scripted programs and performances; while the Friday presentation is focused on cinema.

Did you see this?

OTTAWA — Canada’s treatment of Ukrainians fleeing war has been distinctly different to those fleeing other humanitarian crises, the House of Commons immigration committee said Wednesday, and MPs want that to change.

The committee voted Tuesday to issue a public statement, urging the government to provide the same special immigration measures it extended to Ukrainians to refugees from other regions.


The statement reads that “time is of the essence,” and said the committee calls on the immigration minister to ensure Canada’s response to humanitarian crises in other regions “are treated with the same vigour as Ukraine.”

Canada has expedited immigration applications from Ukraine and created an extraordinary program to allow Ukrainian citizens and their families to come to Canada and work or study for three years while they decide their next steps.

The program does not apply to non-Ukrainians who fled the country.

Canada has received 112,000 applications from people fleeing Ukraine and has so far approved more than 26,500, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said at a press conference Wednesday.

The MPs on the committee say the measures should also be available to Afghans who are still in their Taliban-controlled home country, and refugees from other regions facing humanitarian crises such as Yemen, Myanmar and China.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2022.


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