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The pandemic probe and two Toronto byelections: In The News for Oct. 26

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. 26 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

OTTAWA - Opposition parties are poised to approve a parliamentary probe of the Trudeau government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic despite growing objections from industry and experts.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Canada is the latest to express concerns about the probe, which is the subject of a Conservative motion that will be voted on in the House of Commons today.

The motion would order the government to turn over to the Commons health committee all records on a raft of issues related to the government's handling of the pandemic.

That includes the purchase of personal protective equipment, medical devices and pharmaceuticals, and in a letter to Health Canada, Pfizer says it wants to know how its commercial secrets will be protected.

The motion is expected to pass with support from the NDP and Bloc Québécois, who insist there is sufficient protection for industry while accusing the Liberals of stirring fears.

Unlike a similar Conservative motion defeated last week that would have created a committee to look into the WE controversy, the government has said the health committee motion will not be a confidence vote. 


Also this ...

TORONTO - Voters in two Toronto ridings head to the polls today in the first electoral test of the federal Liberal government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both ridings — Toronto Centre and York Centre — are longtime Liberal strongholds and are widely expected to remain that way after the byelections.

But political strategists will be watching carefully to see what impact, if any, the government's handling of the pandemic has on the ruling party's share of the vote.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals captured more than 50 per cent of the vote in both ridings during last fall's general election, even as their support slumped nationwide, leaving them with just a minority of seats in the House of Commons.

Toronto Centre was left vacant by former finance minister Bill Morneau's resignation in August amid reports of tensions between him and Trudeau over massive spending on pandemic relief.

York Centre was left vacant last month by Michael Levitt's resignation to become CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies.


And this ...

VANCOUVER - The B.C. Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing evidence this week in the extradition case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Five days of evidentiary hearings are scheduled starting today on whether her arrest and detention was conducted lawfully.

Meng is facing fraud charges in the United States but denies allegations she misrepresented the company's relationship with Skycom Tech, putting HSBC at risk of violating U.S. sanctions in Iran.

In addition to the claim of abuse of process based on her arrest, Meng's lawyers are also arguing the U.S misled Canadian officials in its summary of allegations made against her.

Meng's 2018 arrest at Vancouver's airport at the behest of the U.S. has strained relations between Canada and China.



A new study is urging blanket hepatitis B vaccinations for Ontario newborns and better screening for pregnant women who may unknowingly spread the virus.

Children in Ontario and several other provinces don't get their hep B shot until Grade 7, but research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests earlier vaccinations could help avoid the spread of hundreds of infections.

Analysis of provincial data between 2003 and 2013 found 139 Canadian-born children under the age of 12 with the virus. Researchers suspect the number is actually higher because most kids are never tested, and few display symptoms.

Meanwhile, study co-author Mia Biondi says separate data shows 62 per cent of pregnant women who test positive are not further tested to see if antivirals could prevent transmission to their baby. 


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

With nine days before Election Day, more Americans have already cast ballots in this year's presidential election than voted early or absentee in the 2016 race as the start of in-person early voting in big states led to a surge in turnout in recent days. 

The opening of early voting locations in Florida, Texas and elsewhere has piled millions of new votes on top of the mail ballots arriving at election offices as voters try to avoid crowded places on Nov. 3 during the coronavirus pandemic.  

The result is a total of 58.6 million ballots cast so far, more than the 58 million that The Associated Press logged as being cast through the mail or at in-person early voting sites in 2016.  

Democrats have continued to dominate the initial balloting, but Republicans are narrowing the gap. GOP voters have begun to show up as early in-person voting, a sign that many heeded President Donald Trump's unfounded warnings about mail-voting fraud.


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

A strengthening Tropical Storm Zeta is expected to become a hurricane today as it heads toward the eastern end of Mexico's resort-dotted Yucatan Peninsula and then likely move on for a possible landfall on the central U.S. Gulf Coast at midweek. 

Zeta, which on Sunday became the earliest ever 27th named storm of the Atlantic season, was centred about 420 kilometres southeast of Cozumel island late Sunday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It had maximum sustained winds of 95 kph.  

Though nearly stationary, the storm was expected to begin advancing on a path that would take it over the Yucatan Peninsula late today. 

It would then head into the Gulf of Mexico and approach the U.S. Gulf Coast by Wednesday.  

Officials in Quintana Roo state, the location of Cancun and other resorts, said they were watching the storm. They reported nearly 60,000 tourists in the state as of midweek. 

The state government said 71 shelters were being readied for tourists or residents who might need them.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2020.

The Canadian Press