Crown Bank Is Overwhelmed

A Crown bank tapped by cabinet to issue pandemic relief credit says it is overwhelmed. The admission follows complaints loan applicants to the Business Development Bank of Canada have been buried in paperwork: “So far it is pretty bad.”

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Gave Their Pay Raises Away

Two Ontario MPs are donating their 2020 pay raise to the Salvation Army and a local women’s shelter. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation urged all parliamentarians to follow suit in donating a $2.5 million pandemic pay raise to charities: “People are losing their jobs.”

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Feds Admit Supply Shortage

The Public Health Agency for the first time is acknowledging “imminent shortages” of pandemic supplies. The Agency did not explain why it ignored a 2011 auditors’ report to stock up: “Yes, there are imminent shortages or issues in the hospitals.”

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Second Wave May Be Worse

A second wave of Covid-19 infections could be much worse than current rates, suggests federal research into Canada’s last major pandemic. The Public Health Agency has acknowledged successive waves may see the pandemic continue into next winter: “It’s definitely months — many months.”

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See Worst Recession Since ’83

Canada may see three million unemployed by Labour Day, fully fifteen percent of the workforce, says the Parliamentary Budget Office. It would be the highest jobless rate since the 1983 recession. The Bank of Canada would not comment on whether a deep recession is already underway: “It’s just a number.”

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Score-Settling In The Senate

The leader of the largest group in the Senate is accused of political score-settling in the midst of a pandemic. The chamber rejected oversight hearings on federal pandemic programs after Senator Yuen Pau Woo (B.C.) refused to allow ex-Liberal Caucus members a seat on committees: “I control the largest group.”

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Sunday Poem: “Still Life”

 

Google Street View

takes me places.

 

It’s my first visit to the city.

 

Wide roads, bustling with cars,

trams,

pedestrians.

 

Modern high-rise buildings,

tall enough to impress,

not so tall as to intimidate.

 

Cleanliness.

 

I zoom into stores’ showcases,

wonder about the bikes

along the sidewalks

(so many of them are unchained!)

 

A young couple

is standing by the counter

at the ice cream and doughnut shop.

They seem to be talking to each other,

perhaps discussing the selection.

 

A beauty salon, or a spa,

offers hair removal, massage, yoga.

 

In a narrow alley,

potted plants in front of every door.

Small restaurants advertise their menus

in colourful pictures.

 

It’s partially cloudy,

but the sunlight is bright.

I see a woman

holding an umbrella

to protect from the rays.

 

On the walls of the YMCA –

an illustration of Noah’s Ark, with

silhouettes of people and animals

saved from the catastrophe.

 

It’s a nice, ordinary day,

in Hiroshima, 2014.

 

(Editor’s note: poet Shai Ben-Shalom, an Israeli-born biologist, examines current events in the Blacklock’s tradition each and every Sunday)

Review: “Can I Help You, Eddie?”

Take the story of one battalion raised in one city, multiply it 100,000 times, and you have a haunting account of the catastrophe of the First World War. Historian David Campbell chronicles such a story with encyclopedic research and a filmmaker’s eye for poignant detail, like the Battle of Passchendaele reduced to a terrified pack mule drowning in mud:

“The more we pulled on him the worse it was, and the poor thing kept sinking down and down, inch by inch, and we were frantic. We couldn’t stop it and finally the transport officer of the 18th Battalion decided there was only one thing to do…When his head was just above the mud the officer had pulled his revolver out of his holster, and the mule turned his head, and I will never forget the look on that poor brute’s great big brown eyes when he looked at the officer, and the officer shot him, and then cried like a kid. Some of us, too.”

It Can’t Last Forever chronicles the life and death of the 19th Battalion of Hamilton, Ont., raised in 1914 and disbanded in 1920. The Battalion saw action from the 1916 Battle of Ypres – the troops called it “Wipers” – to the last day of the war on November 10, 1918. Campbell tells their story by the numbers: 3,076 casualties; 264 cases of venereal disease; 18 Battle Honours; eight recipients of the Distinguished Service Order; five commanding officers; and one soldier executed for desertion, Private Harold Lodge, 20, who left a heartbroken mother on Dunne Avenue.

Volunteers with the 19th were mainly single, English-born, at least 5 foot 3, without any military training. Many were happy to get regular meals and a private’s pay, $1.10 a day. When they left Hamilton in 1914, the town band played Tipperary as the train pulled out of the station. The first commanding officer was John McLaren, a former Hamilton mayor who tried to jolly weary soldiers on a 17-mile march by remarking, “Only 500 yards further, boys.”

It Can’t Last Forever documents the lives of these boy soldiers as they became survivors, then ruthless combat veterans. By the Battle of Amiens in 1918, infantrymen would shoot German prisoners rather than send them back of the lines. “My nerves are gone,” wrote one veteran; “The war has made me ten years older.”

Combat life was comprised of monotonous food – soldiers ate a lot of plum and apple jam in WWI – and long periods of tedium interspersed with outbreaks of terror.  The enemy were called “Heinies”; German mortar rounds were nicknamed “flying pigs”. Soldiers cursed their five-pound hobnail boots, and Canadian-made Ross rifles that jammed in combat, and learned that death was random. “Two chaps behind me were blown to pieces,” recalled a soldier at the Battalion’s first action. “It was a horrible place.”

The first infantryman killed in action with the 19th was George Durand, 21, a machinist, shot in the head by a German sniper. The oldest member lived to 106. One veteran, Ed Youngman, remembered the bravest man in his unit, a small, meek fellow the Battalion cruelly nicknamed Lizzie.

At the Battle of Vimy, Youngman recalled he was trying to quiet a panicked mule under heavy shellfire as one by one, other mule drivers passed him pale with fright. Then along came Lizzie, “the butt of all our jokes”, he wrote: “He was the only little fellow who had the guts to say, ‘Can I help you, Eddie?’ He held the mule and his own; I don’t know how he did it”. “For me, he was one  of the bravest men who ever lived.”

It Can’t Last Forever is a tragic and beautiful book.

By Holly Doan

It Can’t Last Forever: The 19th Battalion and the Canadian Corps in the First World War, by David Campbell; Wilfrid Laurier University Press; 680 pages; ISBN 0781-7711-22368; $39.99

Gov’t Was Told To Stock Up

A feared shortage of pandemic supplies comes nine years after federal auditors specifically warned the Public Health Agency to stock up. A 2011 audit noted the Agency spent nearly twice as much leasing warehouse space than it did buying needed supplies: ‘It is an insurance policy.’

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Loophole In Quarantine Rules

MPs yesterday questioned an airport loophole in a quarantine rule that allows international arrivals to immediately board domestic connecting flights. Health Minister Patricia Hajdu suggested passengers carry masks in case they’re stricken with the coronavirus mid-flight: “You can’t go to the grocery store but you can sit beside someone on an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Vancouver?”

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Reset Immigration Levels: MP

Cabinet should reset immigration targets now a third higher than they were in previous recessions, an MP said yesterday. The Department of Immigration only two weeks ago set the highest immigration targets in more than a century: “Those ballpark figures should not be taken as a realistic target anymore.”

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Felon Gets Pandemic Break

A federal judge has cited the coronavirus pandemic in urging the Canada Border Services Agency to release a convicted carjacker from detention. Justice Alan Diner of the Federal Court questioned whether jails were safe from Covid-19: “These are unprecedented times.”

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Gov’t Can Nationalize Banks

Parliament yesterday passed a bill granting cabinet emergency powers to nationalize private financial institutions. Canada has not seen a bank run since the 1985 recession in Alberta: “We unfortunately do not know either the depth or the duration of this challenge.”

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