Air Miles cancels controversial expiry policy

Air Miles is cancelling an unpopular expiry policy that was set to start at the end of this month.

“We have made the decision to cancel the expiry policy for all collectors effective immediately,” Bryan Pearson, President and CEO of LoyaltyOne, the company that runs Air Miles, said in a news release.

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“There is uncertainty with provincial governments proposing or considering legislation across Canada so we have decided to cancel the expiry policy so that all Collectors, regardless of location, can be confident that their balances will be protected.”

Air Miles has been fighting negative feedback and government legislation since it announced the program, which would have expired any unredeemed miles that were over five-years old.

READ MORE: Mounting frustration as Air Miles expiry deadline looms

The policy would have come into effect on December 31, 2016, and would have seen all reward miles older than five years expire on a quarterly basis.

The policy was being fought against in Ontario’s legislature. Bill 47, called the Protecting Rewards Points Act, is set to be voted on on Monday.

The private members bill would have protected Air Miles users whose Miles would have expired.

MPP Arthur Potts introduced the bill in October and says he’s “thrilled” with the decision from Air Miles.

“This is a great victory for Ontario, Canada actually across the whole Air Miles network,” Potts told Global News.

“I give [Air Miles] credit for doing this, I think it’s the right consumer thing to do right now.”

However, Potts noted the victory doesn’t mean the bill won’t continue to be pushed through government.

READ MORE: Most reward plans have expiry policies: Here’s what you need to know

“There are a number of provisions in it that give us regulatory authority over things like diminution of the value of points unnecessarily, and so we’ll continue go forward and we’ll see.”

The company says there are over 11 million accounts in Canada. Air Miles can be collected at stores across the country and redeemed for flights or everyday purchases like groceries.

*with a file from Anne Drewa, Global News

Dead herring washing ashore in Nova Scotia

Tens of thousands of dead herring keep washing ashore along Nova Scotia’s western coastline, a mystery for biologists trying to figure out what is killing the small, silvery fish.

The first sightings were reported two weeks ago at beaches along the eastern edge of St. Marys Bay, which separates the sliver of land known as Digby Neck from the Nova Scotia mainland.

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Since then, several reports of dead and dying herring have come in from different parts of the bay, and now dead herring are showing up farther to the east in the Annapolis Basin and near Bear River.

Biology professor Shawn Craik said local fishermen can’t recall seeing herring wash up on the beaches in such large numbers.

Craik said he was inspecting a beach with students last Friday when he spoke with an old clam fisherman who was standing among a pile of 50 or so herring.

“He was bewildered,” said Craik, an ornithologist at Sainte-Anne University in western Nova Scotia.

Craik said the fish could be succumbing to a virus, some form of pollution, parasites or a poisonous algae bloom — but lab tests have yet to determine what is going on.

“If there was a toxin getting into these fish and being passed on the scavengers, you would expect that someone, somewhere would find some dead gulls,” he said, adding that no such reports have come in.

A spokesman for the federal Fisheries Department in Digby said test results from a laboratory in Moncton, N.B., should be available by Friday or early next week. Tests are also being conducted at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown.

Herring are known as a forage fish, which means their large schools play an important roll in feeding whales, seabirds, seals and larger fish, such as cod.

In August, a report from the World Wildlife Fund concluded that Canadian forage fish are in trouble. The conservation group looked at 27 fisheries and found that three fisheries in Atlantic Canada are in critical condition, including two herring stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The report said that in all cases, fisheries management does not sufficiently account for predator needs.

There has been speculation that the number of dead herring in Nova Scotia is much higher than originally thought because many others would have disappeared beneath the waves or be eaten by crows and gulls. And with so many fish left on the rocky beaches, it would appear that the scavengers have had their fill.

“They’re being left untouched,” said Craik. “That suggests that there’s probably a overabundance of these fish that are available.”

Craik said he received another report of dead fish early Thursday from Smiths Cove, which is near Digby, N.S.

Earlier reports suggested the fish could have been driven ashore by predators.

“I would go for ruling that out now, given the scope of the problem,” he said. “But it’s still very much up in the air.”

Thousands support Ontario government moratorium on new bottled water operations

TORONTO – Ontario will formally impose a two-year moratorium on new or expanded bottled water companies as of Jan. 1, 2017 after thousands of people expressed support for the ban.

Most of the more than 20,000 people who responded during a 45-day period for comments supported the province’s proposed moratorium on issuing water taking permits for new or increased bottled water operations.

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Premier Kathleen Wynne imposed a temporary moratorium in October after bottled water giant Nestle purchased a well near Guelph that the small but fast-growing township of Wellington Centre wanted for its future drinking water supply.

READ MORE: Ontario places two-year hold on permits for new bottled water operations

The government will use the submissions to help develop a new regulation imposing the moratorium that will take effect in the new year and last until 2019, said Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray.

“We are pleased with the high level of community engagement in our consultation process and the majority of comments support the proposed moratorium,” Murray said Thursday. “With increasing concerns around climate change, drought and population growth, the input we receive from the grassroots level will be carefully considered in our decisions going forward.”

As a next step, the government will post potential regulations Friday on its Environmental Registry looking at ways to improve the renewal process for existing water taking permits for bottled water companies – and the fees they pay – for 60 days of public comment.

READ MORE: Ontario opposition parties call for public input into water-taking permit policy

Ontario charges just $3.71 for every one million litres of water taken, on top of a permit fee of $750 for low- or medium-risk water takings, or $3,000 for those considered a high risk to cause an adverse environmental impact. About 30 per cent are in the highest risk category.

Existing water taking permits for Nestle and other bottled water companies can last up to 10 years, but the Liberals want to change them to one-to-five-year periods, with a maximum of five years.

The government also wants companies to issue weekly reports on how much water they are permitted to take and how much they actually take, and to reduce takings during times of drought.

READ MORE: Opposition to Nestle water taking based on misinformation: Ontario minister

And it wants stricter scientific requirements for water taking permits including studies on the cumulative impact of the practice, and reviews looking at the anticipated impacts of climate change such as more severe droughts.

Murray has said the government was looking at a number of different policy outcomes “on how pricing relates to conservation and how pricing and local planning can come together to get better regional water planning.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Thursday that the government needs to develop a strategy that makes a community’s right to access safe drinking water ahead of bottled water companies or any private operation with a taking permit.

WATCH: Battle brewing with Nestle over bottled water in Ontario (Aug. 22)

“There are real concerns about how much water is being put back into the system versus how much is being taken out,” said Horwath. “So we need a much more holistic approach to make sure that water is not only a right for us today, but we’re protecting that right for the next generation and generations to come.”

Nestle has not been able to apply to test the water at its new Middlebrook well, but it will be able to apply to renew permits to take up to 3.6 million litres a day from its well in Aberfoyle, where it has a bottling plant, and another 1.1 million litres a day at a well in nearby Erin, another community in Wellington county.

Guelph city council voted unanimously Monday to pass motions supporting the moratorium on new or increased permits for water bottling companies, but eliminated any mention of Nestle, which had been in one of the original motions.

Municipalities, mines, construction companies and golf courses – in addition to the water-bottling companies – can take a total of 1.4 trillion litres out of Ontario’s surface and ground water supplies every day.

Wildrose says it would axe Alberta electricity, carbon changes

Alberta’s Opposition leader says he would repeal changes the NDP government is making in the electricity and fossil-fuel sectors if his party wins the next election.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean says the changes now underway will saddle families with crushing debtloads and bleed away thousands of jobs if they aren’t reversed.

Premier Rachel Notley says investors and industry leaders are signing onto the NDP’s plan that she says will create jobs and stabilize the electricity industry as coal-fired power is phased out.

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    READ MORE: Alberta makes deal with power producers to phase out coal by 2030

    Alberta is capping power charges in the short term as it moves away from deregulation to a system that will see the province pay to ensure there is always enough capacity on the grid.

    The government has cut a deal with power providers to shut down coal-fired electricity by 2030 and move to natural gas, wind, solar and hydro energy instead.

    READ MORE: Alberta government outlines impact of carbon plan

    The province is also bringing in a broad-based carbon tax in January, but the Wildrose says it would hold a referendum to see if Albertans wanted it.

Justin Trudeau hoists World AIDS Day flag on Parliament Hill

OTTAWA – The federal government has pledged more support for the fight against AIDS, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s confident the battle can be won.

In marking World AIDS Day, Health Minister Jane Philpott announced the government will spend another $3.5 million on AIDS research.

READ MORE: Prince Harry and Rihanna take HIV tests in Barbados for World AIDS Day

That’s on top of the $50 million per year Canada currently invests in HIV and AIDS research.

But Philpott said much more needs to be done to raise awareness about the disease and how to treat it.

She cited statistics indicating that one in five people in Canada who are HIV positive are unaware of their condition.

WATCH:  Funding to AIDS organizations remain steady, says minister of Indigenous, northern affairs 

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Of the 80 per cent who are aware, only 76 per cent are receiving treatment, but most of those being treated have seen the virus suppressed.

The aim, said Philpott, is to bring those numbers to 90 per cent by 2020.

“We still have a lot of work to do to reach our goals,” she said.

“One of the realities of the HIV virus is that it is a virus that discriminates. It discriminates against certain populations.”

WATCH: Although Liberal MP Kamal Khera would not respond on if the government would reverse the cut funding to health organizations, such as AIDS/HIV groups, she did say close to $76 million would be distributed across Canada to tackle HIV and “other related infections.”

In Canada, the population at greatest risk of contracting HIV remains men who have sex with men, accounting for 54 per cent of HIV-positive people.

Aboriginal communities are also at higher risk than the general population. An indigenous person is two and a half times more likely to be infected with HIV than a non-aboriginal counterpart.

Wearing a red scarf given him by the AIDS Committee of Ottawa, Trudeau helped to hoist a white flag at the base of the Peace Tower in support of efforts to combat the illness.

North Edmonton house shut down by Alberta Sheriffs after alleged drug and prostitution activity

Alberta Sheriffs from the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) unit have closed an Edmonton home allegedly used by drug users and drug dealers.

The province said a Community Safety Order (CSO) was granted against the owner of a home at 9103-137 Ave. giving SCAN the authority to shut it down and not allow anyone inside for 90 days. It also bans any visitors to the residence for a year.

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    “Keeping Albertans safe is a priority for our government, and I thank the SCAN investigators involved in this closure. This kind of work is vital to protecting the neighbourhoods we call home,” Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley said.

    READ MORE: North Edmonton drug bust nets over half-a-kilo of cocaine, over $50K in cash

    The province said an investigation started in April after allegations were made that the home was being used by the owner and his girlfriend for illegal drug activity. The investigation found the house was also being used for prostitution-related activities, according to the province.

    In May, Edmonton police got involved in the investigation, and according to the province, officers observed an alleged drug deal involving the female resident and a man who arrived in a car.

    READ MORE: 2 kids found inside northeast Edmonton home where suspected garage drug lab exploded

    Police stopped the vehicle and seized 71 fentanyl pills, 25.5 grams of methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and cash. The driver was charged with possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking.

    SCAN obtained the CSO in Court of Queen’s Bench on Nov. 15.

    The unit targets and shuts down properties that are regularly used for illegal activity like drugs, gangs, prostitution and child exploitation.

Future uncertain for many HIV/AIDS networks after Liberals defund dozens

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised a red and white flag in Ottawa to mark World AIDS Day, dozens of Canadian organizations committed to supporting people living with HIV/AIDS are grappling with “catastrophic” cuts to their federal funding.

More than 30 per cent of HIV/AIDS organizations historically supported by the federal government recently learned they’d been cut off. The defunding is a result of the Public Health Agency of Canada realigning its priorities regarding fighting the disease in Canada.

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“I think we can stay open for the next year,” executive director for AIDS Society of Canada Gary Lacasse said tentatively. “But after that, I don’t know. We’re still advocating and lobbying and hoping.”

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau hoists World AIDS Day flag on Parliament Hill

The only reason he’s somewhat confident the society can continue operating until 2018 is because the Liberal government, after notifying more than 40 organizations they no longer qualified for federal backing, offered a year of transitional funding.

WATCH: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raises a flag on Parliament Hill to mark World AIDS Day.

‘Serious gaps’ in services to come

The irony of Trudeau’s flag-raising amid fund-cutting wasn’t lost on many in Ottawa.

“World AIDS Day is when we show our support for those living with HIV and AIDS, but this prime minister is planning to cut funding to many community-based organizations,” Opposition leader Rona Ambrose said Thursday in the House of Commons.

“[These organizations] are on the front lines, fighting against HIV and AIDS, and they may be forced to close their doors.”

READ MORE: HIV rates still rising in Canada, but treatment is simpler, safer and effective

NDP health critic Don Davies told the House the cuts will cause “serious gaps in critical services” in many communities.

“This means cuts for First Nations and Inuit, inmates in corrections and vulnerable Canadians,” he said.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, defended the government and declared the fight against HIV and AIDS remains a Liberal priority.

“While 124 organizations were successful in the application process some were not,” she said, highlighting the transition funding offered to those defunded organizations.

New priorities cause loss of funding

The loss of funding to these organizations is the result of new priorities the Liberal government employed to award the $26.4 million-per-year purse.

Although the amount of funding for HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C has remained level since 2008, the Liberal government changed the types of projects that money will fund.

Health Minister Jane Philpott last month said the funding would now focus on “fostering innovation and collaboration,” and shift from treatment to prevention.

WATCH: Liberal MP says government to invest $76M to tackle HIV

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which holds the purse strings on this funding, held consultations ahead of redesigning the funding requirements, but Lacasse said those consultations were only within the department.

“They used to work with us, but this was all conceived internally,” he said. “There was no transparency on this.”

READ MORE: Made-in-Canada HIV/AIDS treatment embraced by everyone but Canada

In fact, Lacasse said he and many of the organizations represented by the Canadian AIDS Society are still unclear as to why they were defunding.

“The letter of denial had inconsistencies,” he said. “There was a disconnect between what we’d proposed and what they said we proposed … we’re still asking how did they get to the conclusion we don’t qualify for funding?”

‘Canada is experiencing epidemic AIDS rates’

Lacasse, whose society represents 85 community-based organizations across the country, said that funding new groups and initiatives shouldn’t come at the cost of established organizations with which the HIV/AIDS community is familiar.

“The government decided to concentrate on prevention, but now the services will be gone for people living with HIV and AIDS,” he said. “We all do prevention, continuously making sure people are taking medications and not re-transmitting.”

READ MORE: Doctors celebrate as Health Canada approves Truvada as HIV-prevention therapy

The Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network also saw its program funding slashed, a move the organization said “decimates” their ability to fulfill their mandate and will have “far-reaching consequences.”

Ken Clement, CEO of the network that represents more than 340 organizations and individuals supporting Aboriginal people living with AIDS, described the funding cuts as devastating.

“Supporting our indigenous community is pivotal to turning the tide, now more than ever, when Canada is experiencing epidemic AIDS rates,” he said.

Approximately 2,570 people were infected with HIV in 2014, with Aboriginal people continuing to be over-represented, according to a report from the Public Health Agency.

Almost 11 per cent, or 278, of all new infections in 2014 occurred among Aboriginal people, who represent 4.3 per cent of the total Canadian population, according to the report.

Overall, an estimated 75,500 people in Canada were living with HIV/AIDS in 2014, representing a 9.7 per cent increase from the end of 2011. Barely more than one in five people living with the virus are aware of it, and the federal health agency estimates 26,400 people with HIV have died since testing began 1985.

Buzz Aldrin in New Zealand hospital after airlift from South Pole

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, was recuperating in stable condition Thursday at a New Zealand hospital after being evacuated from the South Pole.

Aldrin, 86, was visiting Antarctica as a tourist when he fell ill. He was flown to Christchurch from McMurdo Station, a U.S. research centre on the Antarctic coast.

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READ MORE: Donald Trump to push NASA toward the moon, away from climate change: report

Tour company White Desert said Aldrin has fluid in his lungs, but was responding well to antibiotics. He’ll remain hospitalized overnight for observation. His manager Christina Korp, who accompanied him, said he was in good spirits.

On 桑拿会所, she said the past 24 hours had been grueling. She posted side-by-side photos of Aldrin – one on a stretcher giving a thumbs-up with a purple knit cap on his head, another in a hospital bed with an IV in his left arm and an oxygen tube in his nose.

Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first men on the moon, on July 20, 1969. Armstrong died in 2012.

Just three weeks ago, Aldrin was at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the unveiling of a new astronaut exhibit. The ceremony coincided with the 50th anniversary of his launch with Jim Lovell on Gemini 12, the last of the two-man Gemini flights. Both were present and looked as energetic as usual.

Aldrin has crisscrossed the globe in recent months and years, pushing hard for human exploration of Mars and promoting space and science education. His latest book, “No Dream Is Too High: Life Lessons from a Man who Walked on the Moon,” came out in April.

“We wish Buzz a speedy recovery,” White Desert said in a statement.

Aldrin was part of an Antarctica sightseeing tour, along with son Andrew. The elder Aldrin was clearly excited about his adventure to the bottom of the world: “South Pole here I come!” he said via 桑拿会所 on Nov. 28.

The National Science Foundation helped provide the air lift via a ski-equipped LC-130 cargo plane from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station to McMurdo, and then on to New Zealand on another plane.

WATCH: Liam Nixon sits down with Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin

Texas man holds ‘You Belong’ sign outside mosque to show solidarity with Muslim neighbours

When Justin Normand was photographed outside the Islamic Center of Irving holding a sign, the image spread like wildfire.

“You Belong. Stay Strong. Be Blessed. We are one America,” read the sign.

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The 53-year-old, who manages a sign shop, told CBS that he felt the need to show his support to his Muslim neighbours after he believed the rhetoric around Muslim-Americans became hateful.

READ MORE: Muslim man offers hugs in Paris, asks for ‘trust’

“Especially following the election to see and to hear the most outrageous things being put forth as truth about this particular community … What seemed glaring was the fact that people were saying that these people were something that they’re not,” said Normand.

During the American presidential campaign, President-Elect Donald Trump threatened to ban all Muslims entering the U.S. and later said he would create a database of Muslim-Americans.

Normand said he didn’t know anyone who attended that particular Islamic centre but said several people came out to talk to him.

“The people who came out and greeted me and the people I have gotten to know seem very much more like Methodists than you would have thought!” he said with a laugh. “They are people like us.”

READ MORE: Muslim community starts ‘Demystify Islam’ campaign across Canada

A video posted to Facebook by Nick Pelletier, an outreach staffer at the Islamic centre, shows some of the interaction between Normand and worshippers.

“There’s not much I can do between now and four years from now but just to be your fellow citizen,” Normand said while holding his sign.

The Islamic Center of Irving was the site of armed anti-Muslim demonstrations last year, organized by a group that called itself the Bureau of American Islamic Relations “protesting the Islamization of America.”

While Normand believes that the majority of his community disagrees with such sentiments, he said he had to take action.

READ MORE: Miss Minnesota USA contestant makes history wearing burkini, hijab

“That people at large understand that the rhetoric is baloney doesn’t excuse the rhetoric and doesn’t mean we can be silent,” he said.

On Facebook, Normand explained why he did what he did.

“This was about binding up the wounded. About showing compassion and empathy for the hurting and fearful among us. Or, in some Christian traditions, this was about washing my brother’s feet. This was about my religion, not theirs. And, it was about what I think I must do as an American when our way of life is threatened. Targeting people for their religion not only threatens our way of life, it is the polar opposite of our way of life.”

“My neighbours needed to hear me say, ‘You belong,’” he said. “They may believe that they belong but if nobody else is saying that and there’s this horrible echo chamber saying that they don’t, there has to be a balancing voice.”

— With a file from Andrew Russell

Follow @jennynotjen

Francois Hollande will not seek second term as France’s president

PARIS – French President Francois Hollande announced Thursday that he would not seek a second term in next year’s presidential election, saying he hoped to give his Socialist party a chance to win “against conservatism and extremism” by stepping aside.

“I have decided not to be a candidate in the presidential election,” Hollande said in a sombre address on French television that recapped his achievements since taking office in 2012.

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READ MORE: French president Francois Hollande and his premier both weigh presidential bids

The 62-year-old president – the country’s least popular leader since World War II – said he was “conscious of the risks” entailed in him running, alluding to his historic lack of support since coming to power.

The Socialist party has been deeply divided over Hollande’s policies, with rebels within the party openly criticizing his pro-business strategy and calling for more left-leaning policies. Two of his former cabinet ministers, Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon, already have announced they would run in next month’s Socialist primary, alongside other low-profile candidates.

Hollande repeatedly had said he would seek re-election only if he were able to curb the unemployment rate in France, which for years has hovered around 10 per cent. The latest figures showed a slight decrease in the jobless numbers, but didn’t seem to quell the criticism.

READ MORE: Far right National Front dominates first round of French regional elections

Hollande was expected to say in the coming weeks whether he would seek to run again but Thursday’s announcement came just a few days after his No. 2, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, said he was “ready” to compete in the Socialist primary.

Valls, who polled slightly higher than his boss, is widely expected to jump into the primary field.

Whoever is chosen by the Socialists will face former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who won France’s first-ever conservative presidential primary on Sunday after promising drastic free-market reforms, along with a crackdown on immigration and Islamic extremism.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, is expected to be a major competitor in the two-round presidential election in April and May.