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Reshaping COVID benefits, Rogers rumble and film set tragedy: In The News for Oct. 22

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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 Oct. 22 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

OTTAWA — The federal government has unveiled a $7-billion redesign of pandemic aid for businesses and individuals that kicks in Sunday, which would cut support to almost 900,000 workers and potentially put thousands of jobs at risk in the near-term.

The Liberals have long said the federal wage and rent subsidies, along with benefits like the Canada Recovery Benefit, were always designed to be temporary to get the country through the economic crisis COVID-19 caused. 

After a last-minute extension this summer, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday most would not be given an extra month of life past Oct. 23, but reshaped until late November.

The country is in a different phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, Freeland said, noting the labour market has recovered all the jobs lost last year and vaccination rates are rising. 

But unemployment remains high, companies face labour shortages and some sectors are further from recovery, which is why aid is being redone and targeted based on need.

"The best possible support for a Canadian is actually a job," Freeland said, "and that's what these programs are designed to really promote."

Wage and rent subsidies for businesses will be more generous and targeted to still-hurting tourism and hospitality sectors, so long as they can prove a prolonged and deep revenue loss.

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Also this ...

TORONTO — Edward Rogers is out as board chair of Rogers Communications Inc., a move that comes as the latest development in a boardroom drama that has prompted the departure of a senior executive and the launch of an executive oversight committee.

In a statement yesterday, the company said John A. MacDonald will take over as chairman of the Rogers board of directors. 

Edward Rogers, who has served on the Rogers board since 2012, will remain on the board as a company director.

Rogers Communications has been embroiled in an executive power struggle which developed after Edward Rogers tried to put former chief financial officer Tony Staffieri into the role of CEO and replace other members of the leadership team, according to media reports. Staffieri left the company effective Sept. 29, with Paulina Molnar named interim CFO. 

Thursday, the board announced it has formed an executive oversight committee "to establish clear protocols for interactions between the chair and members of management" and said it would undertake a comprehensive corporate governance review. 

Joe Natale, president and chief executive of Rogers, publicly addressed the feud for the first time during the telecom company's quarterly earnings call Thursday morning.

Natale said he continues to have "strong unequivocal support" from the family-controlled firm's board of directors. 

The statement comes after media reports describing an attempted ousting of Natale by board chair Edward Rogers. The attempt was blocked by other members of the board, including Rogers' sisters and mother, multiple reports say.

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And this ... 

Canadian Blood Services is taking steps to allow more men who have sex with men to donate blood and plasma.

The agency plans to submit a request to Health Canada later this year to remove the requirement that men abstain from having sex with other men for three months before donating. 

Canadian Blood Services plans to move to sexual behaviour-based screening for everyone, not just gay and bisexual men.

In the meantime, it has launched a pilot project in London, Ontario, and Calgary that allows men who have had sex with another man in the past three months to donate plasma, so long as both partners have been monogamous. 

Jason Goncalves was able to donate plasma in his hometown of London recently, thanks to the project. 

It's the first time he has been able to give plasma since high school.

He says he wasn't thrilled about having to answer questions about his sex life with his husband, but he's willing to do it if that's what it takes.

Goncalves says he believes any step forward is a good step. 

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

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to hold Steve Bannon, a longtime ally and aide to former president Donald Trump, in contempt of Congress after he defied a subpoena from the committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. 

The House vote was 229-202 with all but nine GOP lawmakers who voted saying “no."

Now the U.S. attorney's office must decide whether to prosecute. 

The congressional committee has vowed to move swiftly and forcefully to punish anyone who won’t co-operate with the probe.

The partisan split over Bannon's subpoena — and over the committee's investigation in general — is emblematic of the raw tensions that still grip Congress nine months after the Capitol attack.

Democrats have vowed to comprehensively probe the assault in which hundreds of Trump's supporters battered their way past police, injured dozens of officers and interrupted the electoral count certifying President Joe Biden's November victory. 

Republicans, however, say it is a waste of time. Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, leading the GOP opposition on the floor, has called the probe an “illicit criminal investigation into American citizens.” 

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

PORT-AU-PRINCE — The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang that Haitian police say kidnapped 17 members of a missionary group is seen in a new video saying he will kill them if he doesn’t get what he is demanding. 

The video posted Thursday on social media shows Wilson Joseph dressed in a blue suit, carrying a blue hat and wearing a large cross around his neck. 

He also threatens Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the chief of Haiti’s National Police while speaking in front of coffins holding several members of his gang who were recently killed. 

Authorities have said the gang is demanding $1 million per person in the kidnapped group, though it wasn’t immediately clear that included the five children among the 16 Americans and one Canadian.

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Also this ... 

BERLIN — The head of environmental group Greenpeace has warned against efforts by countries and corporations to “greenwash” their ongoing pollution of the planet at the forthcoming U.N. climate talks. 

The summit in Glasgow is expected to see a flurry of new commitments from governments and businesses to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. 

But climate campaigners say behind-the-scenes lobbying before the talks could hamper efforts to achieve an ambitious deal. 

Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said leaked documents show how some countries tried to water down a U.N. science panel report on global warming. 

She said Thursday that this shows some governments' public support for climate action is undermined by their actions behind closed doors.

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And this ... 

LONDON — Buckingham Palace says Queen Elizabeth II spent a night in a hospital after being advised by her doctor to rest. 

The palace says the 95-year-old British monarch went to hospital for “preliminary investigations.” 

It said she returned to her Windsor Castle home at lunchtime on Thursday, “and remains in good spirits.” 

On Wednesday, the queen canceled a scheduled trip to Northern Ireland. 

The palace said she had “reluctantly” accepted medical advice to rest for a few days. It did not elaborate. 

Britain’s longest-lived and longest-reigning monarch, Elizabeth is due to celebrate 70 years on the throne next year.

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On this day in 1945 ...

The Canadian Citizenship Act received its first reading in the House of Commons. The law was enacted on June 27, 1946, and came into force Jan. 1, 1947. Under the law, all Canadians, whether or not they had been born in Canada, became citizens. Canada became the first Commonwealth country to create its own class of citizenship separate from that of Great Britain.

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In entertainment ...

SANTA FE, N.M. — A prop firearm discharged by veteran actor Alec Baldwin, who is producing and starring in a Western movie, killed his director of photography and injured the director Thursday at the movie set outside Santa Fe, authorities said.

Santa Fe County Sheriff’s officials said Halyna Hutchins, director of photography for the movie “Rust,” and director Joel Souza were shot.

Hutchins, 42, was airlifted to University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead by medical personnel, authorities said.

Souza, 48, was taken by ambulance to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, where he’s undergoing treatment for his injuries.

Production has been halted on the film.

A spokesperson for Baldwin said there was an accident on the set involving the misfire of a prop gun with blanks.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported the 63-year-old Baldwin was seen Thursday outside the sheriff’s office in tears, but attempts to get comment from him were unsuccessful.

The International Cinematographers Guild confirmed that the woman fatally shot was Hutchins, a cinematographer.

“The details are unclear at this moment, but we are working to learn more, and we support a full investigation into this tragic event,” guild president John Lindley and executive director Rebecca Rhine said in a statement.

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And this ...

WARSAW, Poland — The Canadian winner of a major international piano competition says the COVID-19 pandemic helped him concentrate on music.

Bruce Xiaoyu Liu, 24, of Montreal, was named Thursday as the winner of the US$45,000 first prize in the 18th Frederic Chopin piano competition, which has launched many pianists' global careers.

“I still wouldn’t call myself (a) professional pianist," the Paris-born musician said.

He sees his win as a “huge responsibility to continue this shape that I have and to be able to constantly keep finding freshness despite all this noisy world.”

Liu said the pandemic and the resulting postponement of the event — held every five years — from 2020 helped him peacefully concentrate on music and refining his playing. 

Liu said his victory is a “life-changing event."

Liu started piano lessons at the age of eight, but had other hobbies and practised little. But he won prizes from junior competitions that made him concentrate on music. He loves Baroque and French music. 

“But still I devote a lot of time to other passions” like carting, swimming, reading, he said. “I’m not a really nerdy guy.”

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ICYMI ...

HONG KONG — Travel-starved, sleep-deprived residents might find a new Hong Kong bus tour to be a snooze as they are offered a five-hour ride on a double-decker bus that is meant to appeal to people who are easily lulled asleep by long rides.

The 76-kilometre trip was inspired by the tendency of tired commuters to fall asleep on public transit.

“When we were brainstorming new tours, I saw a social media post from my friend saying that he was stressed out by his work, he couldn’t sleep at night,” said Kenneth Kong, the marketing and business development manager of ulu travel, the organizer of the bus tours.

“But when he was traveling on the bus, he was able to sleep well. His post inspired us to create this tour that lets passengers just sleep on the bus.”

Tickets cost between US$13 to $51 per person, depending on whether they choose seats on the upper or lower deck. A goodie bag for passengers includes an eye-mask and ear plugs for better sleep.

The first “Sleeping Bus Tour” last Saturday sold out entirely. 

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2022

The Canadian Press