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In The News for March 24 : Will higher alcohol prices prompt Canadians to go dry?

A person walks past shelves of bottles of alcohol on display at an LCBO in Ottawa, Thursday, March 19, 2020. Canada's restaurant industry is bracing for the biggest jump in the country's alcohol excise duty in more than 40 years, spurring warnings the tax hike could force some bars and restaurants out of business. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

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 March 24 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Canada's restaurant industry is bracing for the biggest jump in the country's alcohol excise duty in more than 40 years, spurring warnings the tax hike could force some bars and restaurants out of business.

"Any increase at this very vulnerable time for our industry is just another blow while we're down," said Brenda O’Reilly, the owner of multiple restaurants and a brewery in St. John's, N.L. 

"It's like death by a thousand cuts."

Bar and eatery operators across Canada have endured lockdowns, labour shortages, supply chain mayhem and soaring costs for everything from payroll to cooking oil. Rising inflation has also softened demand as some consumers stay home to save money. 

"Many of us haven't recovered from the pandemic and now they want to raise this tax," she said. "It's hard to get blood out of a turnip. We'll see more restaurant closures if this goes ahead."

The federal beverage alcohol duty is set to increase 6.3 per cent on April 1. 

Alcohol excise duties are imposed at the manufacturing level and adjusted annually based on inflation.

While the duty is separate from provincial liquor board fees and sales taxes, it ultimately filters down to higher prices for consumers, said CJ Hélie, the president of Beer Canada.

The automatic annual tax increase is a long-standing irritant for the beverage industry, but was "digestible" when inflation was around two per cent, Hélie said. 

But this year's adjustment is more than triple the usual increase and should be reconsidered given the state of the industry, he said. 

At the retail level, the higher alcohol duty is expected to range from about penny on a can of beer to much more on a bottle of spirits.

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario says a 750 ml bottle or a six-pack of beer may increase by about five to 10 cents, while a bottle of hard alcohol could increase by as much as 70 cents.


Also this ...

The pomp and circumstance of a presidential visit will give way today to a series of talks about green energy, migration and Haiti, as U.S. President Joe Biden heads to Parliament Hill.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to greet Biden late Friday morning for a welcoming ceremony at West Block.

Dignitaries from the House of Commons and Senate, including the Speakers from each chamber and the leaders of each elected party and most Senate groups, are set to join them.

Biden and Trudeau plan to then have a bilateral meeting in the Prime Minister's Office.

That is to be followed by an extended chat between Biden and senior Trudeau cabinet ministers in the room where they typically craft major policy decisions. It is possible that some of Biden's own cabinet ministers will join the discussion.

The presidential flight included at least 18 officials and aides, including State Secretary Antony Blinken, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

Shortly before 2 p.m. eastern time, Biden is set to address the House of Commons, which is expected to be packed with prominent Canadians.

Biden and Trudeau are to then cross the street in front of Parliament Hill and hold a press conference at the Sir John A. Macdonald building.

Senior U.S. administration officials have also said that Biden plans to have what is known as a "pull-aside" conversation with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, and to exchange pleasantries with other party leaders. It is unclear when that might occur.

First lady Jill Biden will have a separate program alongside Trudeau's wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.


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

MONTICELLO, Minn. _ Water containing a radioactive material has leaked for a second time from a nuclear plant near Minneapolis and the plant will be shut down, but there is no danger to the public, the plant's owner said Thursday.

A leak of what was believed to be hundreds of gallons of water containing tritium was discovered this week from a temporary fix at the Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant, where 1.5 million litres of water with tritium leaked in November, Xcel Energy said in a statement Thursday.

The plant about 61 kilometres northwest of Minneapolis is scheduled to power down Friday so permanent repairs can begin, the company said.

There was a monthslong delay in announcing the initial leak that raised questions about public safety and transparency, but industry experts said there was never a public health threat.

The new leak, announced a day after Xcel Energy says it was discovered, was found to be coming from a temporary fix to the original leak, the company said in a statement. This time, the leak is anticipated to be in the hundreds of gallons.

"While the leak continues to pose no risk to the public or the environment, we determined the best course of action is to power down the plant and perform the permanent repairs immediately,'' said Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy_Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. "We are continuing to work with and inform our state, federal, city and county leaders in the process.''

After the first leak was found in November, Xcel Energy made a short-term fix to capture water from a leaking pipe and reroute it back into the plant for re-use. The solution was designed to prevent new tritium from reaching the groundwater until installation of a replacement pipe during a regularly scheduled outage in mid-April, the company said.

However, monitoring equipment indicated Wednesday that a small amount of new water from the original leak had reached the groundwater. Operators discovered that, over the past two days, the temporary solution was no longer capturing all of the leaking water, Xcel Energy said.

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that occurs naturally in the environment and is a common by-product of nuclear plant operations. It emits a weak form of beta radiation that does not travel far and cannot penetrate human skin, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


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

SEOUL, South Korea _ North Korea claimed Friday to have tested a nuclear-capable underwater drone designed to generate a gigantic "radioactive tsunami'' that would destroy naval strike groups and ports. Analysts were skeptical that the device presents a major new threat, but the test underlines the North's commitment to raising nuclear threats.

The test this week came as the United States reportedly planned to deploy aircraft carrier strike groups and other advanced assets to waters off the Korean Peninsula. Military tensions are at a high point as the pace of both North Korean weapons tests and U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises has accelerated in the past year in a cycle of tit-for-tat responses.

Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said the new weapon, which can be deployed from the coast or towed by surface ships, is built to "stealthily infiltrate into operational waters and make a super-scale radioactive tsunami through an underwater explosion to destroy naval strike groups and major operational ports of the enemy.''

The North Korean report came hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol pledged to make North Korea pay for its "reckless provocations'' as he attended a remembrance service honouring 55 South Korean troops killed during major clashes with the North near their western sea border in past years.

The testing of the purported "nuclear underwater attack drone'' was part of a three-day exercise that simulated nuclear attacks on unspecified South Korean targets, which also included cruise missile launches on Wednesday.

KCNA said that the drills were supervised by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who condemned the U.S.-South Korean drills as invasion rehearsals and vowed to make his rivals "plunge into despair.''

The drone is named "Haeil,'' a Korean word meaning tidal waves or tsunamis. The North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper published photos of Kim smiling next to a large torpedo-shaped object at an unspecified indoor facility, but didn't identify it.


On this day in 1975 ...

The beaver became Canada's official symbol.


In entertainment ...

PARK CITY, Utah _ Gwyneth Paltrow and the man who broke four ribs after the two collided at a Utah ski resort seven years ago are both expected to testify on Friday in a trial over his claims that the movie star's recklessness caused his concussion and lasting physical injuries.

Paltrow and Terry Sanderson, the retired optometrist suing her, are expected to answer questions about the crash as their attorneys jostle to convince the 10-member jury who was responsible for the collision and who had the right of way as the skier farther downhill. Paltrow claims Sanderson was responsible for the crash.

In a trial that Judge Kent Holmberg and attorneys for both parties have agreed will last eight days, with each side getting four to call witnesses, Friday marks the final day that Sanderson's attorneys can compel Paltrow to testify. Next week, Paltrow's team is expected to call medical experts, ski instructors and her two children, Moses and Apple.

The proceedings have delved deep into the 76-year-old Sanderson's medical history and personality quirks, with attorneys questioning whether his deteriorating health and estranged relationships stemmed from the collision or more innate phenomenon, like aging or anger problems.

Sanderson claims Paltrow recklessly crashed into him while the two were skiing on a beginner run at Deer Valley Resort, breaking his ribs and causing a concussion. He is seeking "more than $300,000.'' Paltrow has countersued for $1 and attorney fees.

Lawyers for Paltrow, an actor-turned-lifestyle influencer, spent much of Thursday raising questions about Sanderson's mentions of her wealth and celebrity as well as his "obsession'' with the lawsuit.

The first three days of the trial through Thursday featured testimony from medical experts, Sanderson's personal doctor, a ski companion and his daughter, who said she noticed post-concussion symptoms less than a year after the accident and realized something had gone terribly wrong.

Paltrow's attorneys have cast doubt on Sanderson's medical experts and asked about whether his prior remarks suggest the lawsuit could be an attempt to exploit her fame and celebrity. Her lawyers Thursday asked Sanderson's daughter whether her father thought it was "cool'' to collide with a celebrity like Paltrow, the Oscar-winning star of "Shakespeare in Love'' and founder-CEO of lifestyle brand, Goop.


Did you see this?

OTTAWA _ The Prime Minister's Office says Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, stayed in a $6,000 per night hotel suite while attending the funeral for Queen Elizabeth II.

The stay at the Corinthia London hotel became the subject of public debate last fall when media honed in on the details of the $400,000 trip, after obtaining documents through access-to-information requests.

But Trudeau's office and Global Affairs Canada did not respond to questions last month about who stayed in the expensive river suite, which features a butler service.

Opposition MPs on the government operations committee asked for a copy of all receipts and invoices associated with the trip last month.

The room was booked on Sept. 9, one day after the Queen's death, for Sept. 15 to 20.

In a statement, the Prime Minister's Office says hotel prices surged significantly ahead of the funeral, and many London hotels were sold out as 500 heads of state and their delegations descended on the city.

The hotel's website currently lists the suite at 5,154 British pounds per night, more than the 4,800 pounds the government was charged in September.

A night in the river suite next month would come out to more than $8,000 at the current exchange rate.

Documents released through access-to-information requests note that the booking was for a three-bed suite. The hotel's website says it has one king-sized bed but there are "connecting rooms available on request.''

The prime minister and his wife were the only two who stayed in the suite, his office said.

In November, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre peppered Trudeau with questions in the House of Commons about who stayed in the suite, but he didn't answer.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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