A ‘very tough conversation’ and a rockin’ New Year’s Eve: In The News for Dec. 31

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 Dec. 31 …

What we are watching in Canada …

TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to have a “very tough conversation” with his finance minister today over a controversial Caribbean vacation.

The premier has said Rod Phillips is set to return today from St. Barts, where he has been since Dec. 13.

Ford said Wednesday he wasn’t told about the trip ahead of time, but did learn about it shortly after it began, and should have demanded Phillips return immediately.

He said it’s “unacceptable” for any public official to ignore the province’s COVID-19 guidelines, which urge residents to avoid non-essential travel.

Phillips said earlier this week he chose to go ahead with the trip not knowing the province would be placed under lockdown on Boxing Day.

He said he regrets the decision.

Also this …

Pharmacies are pushing to get involved in Canada’s vaccination effort, pitching their expansive networks and experience with vaccine distribution as potential selling points.

Nationwide chains Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. and London Drugs Ltd. say they have had conversations with the federal and provincial governments about co-operating on vaccine distribution once the doses become more widely available, although there are currently no plans to do so.

“Pharmacies are ready and willing right now to help with that injection of those COVID vaccines,” said Chris Chiew, general manager of pharmacy for London Drugs. “We reach every single corner of each province of all of Canada, and by having all pharmacists involved, you’re actually able to get a larger percentage of the population in a faster period of time.”

A partnership with pharmacies could be a welcome opportunity for provincial health authorities in Canada, which face the daunting logistical task of distributing tens of millions of COVID-19 vaccinations in 2021. 

So far, the government has tightly controlled distribution of COVID-19 vaccines since the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were administered in Canada on Dec. 14. But the federal government’s approval of Moderna’s vaccine last week, along with the expected approval of a number of other vaccine candidates in the coming months, means the distribution effort will soon ramp up.

The federal government has said it expects immunization for the general population to begin in April 2021. Ultimately, provincial health authorities are responsible for deciding how to distribute the vaccine to their residents, and the actual rollout could work differently in varying parts of the country.

The pharmacies’ outreach comes as they have embraced an increasing role in public health in recent years, expanding their businesses beyond just filling prescriptions. The result has been a new area of growth for the pharmacies’ bottom lines as they include vaccines and other basic health services such as travel health consultations among their offerings.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

NEW YORK — Ryan Seacrest will have a special pair of guests alongside the music stars at this year’s New Year’s Eve celebration on ABC — the president-elect and the future first lady. 

President-elect Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden are scheduled to give “their last interview of the year” in New York’s Times Square on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2021.”  

The Bidens will “share an inspiring message as we come together to close out 2020 and look ahead with hope to 2021,” says a statement by the producers.  

Jennifer Lopez will be the musical headliner. The pop star will perform live before the iconic ball drop on Dec. 31. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the event will be closed to the public.  

Performers in Los Angeles include Brandy, Doja Cat, Ella Mai, En Vogue, Julia Michaels & JP Saxe, Lewis Capaldi, Maluma, Megan Thee Stallion, Miley Cyrus, Nelly and Saweetie. New Orleans natives Big Freedia and PJ Morton will appear from that city.  

Other performers in New York include Cyndi Lauper, Billy Porter, Jimmie Allen and Machine Gun Kelly. 

“Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2021″ will run until 2 a.m. Eastern on Jan. 1. Seacrest is returning to host the event for a 16th year, and will be joined by Porter and Lucy Hale in New York. Ciara will host from Los Angeles.

On this day in 1979 …

Forty-eight people died when fire destroyed a crowded dance hall at a New Year’s Eve party in Chapais, Que.

In entertainment …

The final new “Jeopardy!” episodes hosted by Alex Trebek will air next week, with highlights that promise to be memorable.

The first of the five episodes will air Monday and start with Trebek’s “powerful message about the season of giving,” producer Sony Pictures Television said in a release Wednesday.

The final episode, on Friday, will conclude with a tribute to the longtime and beloved host. He died of pancreatic cancer on Nov. 8 at age 80.

Trebek, who had been candid about his condition, worked up until 10 days before he died, soldiering on despite debilitating treatments and the disease’s toll.

It was unexpected that the episodes taped in late October would be his final ones, Sony said. Trebek had been fighting the disease for nearly two years.

Veteran “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings will take over as guest host starting on Jan. 11. A permanent host has yet to be announced.

ICYMI …

Spend ’em while their still worth something. 

Canadians still holding on to old paper money have until midnight tonight to spend it, as stores will stop accepting certain denominations after the new year.

Some bank notes made between 1935 and 1986 will lose the government’s legal tender status.

The Bank of Canada’s website says the affected notes can still be redeemed or deposited for their face value at a bank or by the central bank, but may not be spent at stores. 

The legal tender policy change only covers bank notes that are no longer being produced, including $1, $2, $25, $500 and $1,000 notes.

The Bank of Canada says the affected notes are so rare that they are hardly seen or recognized by store clerks anyway — and some are worth more to collectors than in circulation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 31, 2020

The Canadian Press