Final round of French local elections slated for June 28

PARIS (Reuters) – The final round of France’s local elections has been set for June 28, provided it has not been deemed a health risk due to the coronavirus pandemic, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Friday.

The first round took place just two days before France imposed a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.

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Guelph police investigating 2 reported indecent acts involving same suspect

Guelph police are trying to track down a suspect after two separate indecent acts were reported Thursday night.

Police say a man exposed himself to a woman at around 11:30 p.m. in the area of Paisley and Dublin streets.

The same man then reportedly exposed himself to another woman about 10 minutes later near Wellington Street and Edinburgh Road, according to police.

Several officers responded to the areas but were unable to locate the suspect, police say.

The suspect is described as a man with an average build who is 40 to 50 years old.

According to police, he wore a tuque, blue jeans and a dark-coloured, windbreaker-style jacket and had a commuter bicycle with thin wheels.

Anyone with any information is asked to contact Const. Nicholas Borg at 519-824-1212, ext. 7172, email him at [email protected], leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or submit an anonymous tip online at

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EU humiliated: Why Switzerland rejected membership as ‘only lunatics join’

Politicians in Switzerland voted to withdraw the country’s application for membership of the EU, just one week before the UK voted to leave the bloc in 2016. Thomas Minder, counsellor for Schaffhausen state and an active promoter of the concept of ‘Swissness,’ said at the time he was eager to “close the topic fast and painlessly” as only “a few lunatics” may want to join the EU now. Switzerland began the application process 14 years prior in 1992, and all the work towards the goal was dashed as a total of 27 members of parliament’s upper house voted to invalidate the application, backing up an earlier decision by the lower house.

Only 13 senators voted against while two abstained.

Swiss media quoted the country’s Foreign Minister at the time as claiming he would give Brussels formal notice.

Hannes Germann, also representing Schaffhausen, compared the symbolic importance to Iceland’s decision to drop its membership bid in 2015.

He said: “Iceland had the courage and withdrew the application for membership, so no volcano erupted.”

Despite the process having dragged out for well over a decade, Swiss politics had barely been impacted.

Switzerland had a referendum on whether to join the European Economic Area where the country narrowly decided to reject the idea.

This provoked the Swiss Government to suspend the application for EU membership.

Filippo Lombardi, from the Christian Democratic People’s Party, said it was “not very clever to discuss it once again” and called the whole thing “a bit ridiculous”.

Switzerland, never a member of the EU, shares free trade with the union and free movement of people as part of the Schengen zone.

The bloc would suffer a second humiliation within a month when the British public voted to leave the EU in June 2016.

The process has been marred by chaos and stalemate as Prime Minister Theresa May tried and failed three times to get her withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons.

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In July last year, Boris Johnson took over as Prime Minister and – after a string of defeats in Parliament – called for a general election.

He secured an 80-seat majority while Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party suffered its worst electoral defeat since 1935.

After the UK left the EU on January 31, trade talks between London and Brussels started.

The key dispute so far has seen the bloc’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier demand continued EU access to British fishing waters in exchange for access to European markets.

This has created a dilemma for Mr Johnson and his government, as the Prime Minister wants to take back independent control of UK fishing grounds.

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Pandemic slams global factories, activity sinks to new lows

LONDON/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Factory activity was ravaged across the world in April, business surveys showed, and the outlook looked bleak as government lockdowns to contain the new coronavirus pandemic froze global production and slashed demand.

The coronavirus has infected more than 3.5 million people globally and killed around 247,000. With the public told to stay home in numerous countries, the global economy is expected to suffer its steepest contraction on record this year as supply chains have been massively disrupted.

In a bid to combat the impact of the lockdowns, central banks and governments have unleashed unprecedented levels of fiscal and monetary policy, suggesting that without this conditions could have been even worse.

Still, a series of Purchasing Managers’ Indexes (PMIs) from IHS Markit across Europe and Asia fell deeper into contraction last month, with many diving to all-time lows and others hitting levels last not seen since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

A gauge from the United States published on Friday showed manufacturing activity plunged to an 11-year low in April as the coronavirus wreaked havoc, suggesting the world’s largest economy was sinking deeper into recession.

On Monday, IHS Markit’s final manufacturing PMI for the euro zone sank to 33.4, its lowest since the survey began in mid-1997 and far beneath the 50-point line dividing growth from contraction.

With shops closed and consumers concerned about their health and employment prospects, demand sank in the bloc to by far the lowest in the survey’s history, giving scant hope for an imminent turnaround.

It was a similar story from Britain on Friday when its PMI showed manufacturers there suffered their biggest fall in output and orders for at least three decades.

“This past week saw the amazing coincidence of the publication of the deepest quarterly economic decline in the Western world in almost 100 years and the conclusion to the strongest monthly equity rally in more than 30 years,” said Erik Nielsen, chief economist at UniCredit.

But European stock markets and oil prices fell on Monday as a spat between top U.S. officials and China over the origin of the coronavirus fuelled fears of a renewed trade war that might derail or delay a swift rebound.

Asian PMIs also suffered, with South Korea, the continent’s fourth-largest economy and a global manufacturing powerhouse, skidding last month to its lowest reading since January 2009. Japan’s PMI released last week similarly fell to an 11-year low.

“Regional PMI manufacturing data kicked off the data dump on Monday, with economies registering deep contractions with most countries employing some form of lockdown,” said Prakash Sakpal, Asia Economist at ING.

“Economic data should remind investors of the bleak economic situation ahead even as governments from previous hotspots ready the gradual reopening of their economies.”

Last week, China’s official PMI showed factory activity still growing in April, albeit more slowly than March, while the private-sector Caixin PMI showed a dip into contraction, although at a much gentler pace than the rest of the world. Significantly, exporters in both surveys were jolted by steep falls in orders.

While China appears to be ahead of others in emerging from the economic paralysis inflicted by the pandemic, any recovery is expected to be gradual and unlikely to fire up an immediate resurgence in global demand.

The PMI for Taiwan, a major producer of high-end technology components, fell to 42.2, its lowest since 2009 and down from an expansionary 50.4 in March.

The declines in South Korea’s and Taiwan’s PMIs showed the contractions were less severe than those in other economies in the region, with indicators in Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam all reporting plunges to record lows.

Capital Economics said while South Korea and Taiwan held up better than their Southeast Asian counterparts, thanks mostly to effective government policies to contain the virus, conditions have nonetheless worsened.

Official data released last week showed the coronavirus sent South Korean exports plunging in April at their sharpest pace since the global financial crisis.

South Korean tech giant Samsung Electronics Co Ltd last week said it expected profits to decline in the current quarter due to a slump in sales.

It said while work-from-home orders and growth in online learning would underpin demand for memory chips, the outlook for smartphones and TVs was bleak as consumers put off discretionary spending.

The production slump is of particular concern to policymakers, who are worried about the socially destabilising effects of massive unemployment as firms in both factory and service sectors slash headcount.

A private-sector survey in Australia on Monday showed job advertisements plunging a record 53.1% in April, a decline almost five times larger than the previous record of 11.3% in January 2009.

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Coronavirus: British Airways expecting to cut a quarter of pilots

British Airways has told pilots that it expects to reduce headcount by more than a quarter in the first details obtained since it announced swingeing job cuts as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

In a letter to pilots seen by Sky News, the airline says it plans to reduce headcount by 955 for what it calls “volume adjustment”, with a further reduction of 175 resulting from “efficiency changes”.

That would mean a reduction of 1,130 pilots out of a stated total of 4,346.

The cuts are going to be split evenly between captains and co-pilots.

The letter also says changes are going to be made to working conditions for pilots, and that the airline cannot rule out suspending flight operations entirely from its already reduced schedule at Heathrow airport.

This week, British Airways owner International Airlines Group said BA would make up to 12,000 staff redundant from its total workforce and expected cuts to be made across the business as it revealed the impact of the pandemic on its results.

IAG has not made similar announcements for other airlines within the group, such as Iberia, Vueling or Aer Lingus.

The letter – titled “Collective Consultations – Preparing for a Different Future” – states: “In a short space of time, the situation has deteriorated rapidly. Our flying programme and load factors continue to decline.

“The impact on British Airways and the industry in general is like no other previous crisis we have gone through before.”

It goes on: “We are now at a critical juncture and must table proposals for structural change so that our business is in a credible position to respond to what will be a challenging and uncertain trading environment for a sustained period of time.”

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Canada offers C$2.5 bln in aid for hard-hit energy sector; death toll hits 1,250

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada will invest C$2.5 billion ($1.8 billion) in measures to help the hard-hit oil and gas industry survive during the nation’s coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 1,250 people, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday.

The sector, which accounts for 10.6% of Canada’s gross domestic product, has urged Ottawa to free up credit and cash to tackle the pandemic and rock-bottom oil prices.

Trudeau said energy sector workers have faced “layers of calamity” and Ottawa would invest C$1.7 billion to help clean up orphan and abandoned wells in three provinces.

“Our goal is to create immediate jobs in these provinces while helping companies avoid bankruptcy and supporting our environmental targets,” he told a daily briefing, saying the measures would maintain 10,000 jobs.

Ottawa is also setting up a C$750 million fund to provide repayable loans to companies so they can cut emissions of gases such as methane and help Canada meet its climate targets.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who last week said the province’s key energy sector needed up to C$30 billion in liquidity, thanked Trudeau.

The prime minister said Ottawa was working with the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada to expand credit support for at-risk medium-sized energy firms.

Officials would study the energy industry and see whether more help was needed, he added.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau told a separate briefing that companies were not interested in Ottawa taking an equity stake.

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Funding to clean up orphan wells – those without a legal owner – is welcome news for farmers who lease land to oil companies, said Todd Plandowski, owner of a company that negotiates the agreements.

“They’re concerned about farming around these things,” he said.

Ottawa has unveiled C$115 billion ($82.08 billion) in direct spending to help companies and individuals deal with shutdowns. Officials said Canada’s death toll had hit 1,250, up from 1,048 on Thursday.

Many of the country’s 30,670 confirmed coronavirus cases have been recorded in seniors residences. Trudeau said 125 troops with medical experience would help staff in long-term care homes in the province of Quebec.

British Columbia released its most recent forecast model, showing that the number of hospitalizations due to the coronavirus is leveling off.

The province may begin to reopen schools and workplaces in mid-May, Health Minister Adrian Dix said.

Trudeau also said Ottawa would give C$962 million to regional development agencies to help small businesses and invest C$500 million to support arts, culture and sports.

Shutdowns will extend to the July 1 Canada Day celebrations on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, officials said.

Morneau, asked about aid packages for the airline and tourism sectors, said more needed to be done to ensure large businesses had access to credit, and promised details soon.

Finance Ministry officials told unions representing airline workers on Wednesday they are mulling whether to provide low-interest repayable loans to companies, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The Transport Ministry said it would require air travelers to wear a mask or face covering starting on Monday.

($1=1.4042 Canadian dollars)

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John Prine death: Singer was every ounce the man you'd hope him to be

Early Monday morning, I dreamt about John Prine. He was plump, happy, on stage at a music festival, singing a song with his wife.

It wasn’t the first time I’d dreamt about him. But, knowing he was in critical condition in a hospital last week after contracting COVID-19, this one felt urgent.

I got up, Googled his name — nothing. Thank God. I felt lucky. He was still with us.

Luck can be a four-letter word, though. On Tuesday night, Prine’s family announced that he died from complications due to the disease. He was 73.

Ever since I bought a copy of “Sweet Revenge” for my brother for his birthday some seven years ago, Prine has been my hero.

His music is, as cowboys say, four chords and the truth. But it’s a different truth than most folkies tell — a funny truth, an ironic truth, a weird truth. In it, small-town couples make love from 10 miles away, trains flatten altar boys, and God can be forgiven over a fishing line.

Even when I became a music critic — well past the age of fan-boy — I thought of Prine as something more than a songwriter. (So did another Dylan: Prine lived long enough to turn his heroes into fans.)

He was less a musician than a sort of Buddhist rinpoche, I decided. I had no interest in reviewing his albums, but I’d have sold my soul to talk to him.

And on a cold winter’s morning in 2018, my cellphone lit up with a Nashville number. I was the music editor of The Denver Post at the time, and was granted an interview ahead of a tour. Prine was coming through town to support his last album, “The Tree of Forgiveness,” which in one song has him fantasizing about smoking a 9-mile-long cigarette in heaven.

How lucky can one man get? Forget the countless rejections, the freelance pay, the bored rockstar interviews — for the next 45 minutes it was all worth it.

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Prine was — and this is rare, talking to musicians — every ounce the man you’d hope him to be. He laughed at my worst jokes, spoke at length about his love of pork chops and rattled off 30-year-old anecdotes with a poetic attention to detail.

Case in point: I asked him about his first show in Colorado, at Tulagi’s in Boulder, opening a week of shows for comedian George Carlin.

“I was there for a week. The walls looked like the Flintstones. The girls looked like they were in The Playboy Club — real skimpy pseudo leather,” Prine said. “George called the audience beehives and bowties.”

Prine recounted how he’d played most small towns throughout the state early in his career, thanks to his friendship with Colorado promoter Chuck Morris. (“I wish he’d stop wearing his golf clothes,” Prine joked to me about Morris. “I’ve been on him for years trying to tell him checks and stripes don’t go together.”)

His memories of his first tour were as colorful as you’d imagine.

“Colorado had a reputation. Smoke a lot of dope, lot of pretty girls. It was a fun place to play,” Prine said. “Me and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot covered 12 cities in a broken-down RV full of strange characters. It was like Ken Kesey’s bus.”

Around the fourth time he said “pork chop,” Prine was no longer just my theoretical wiseman. He was my spirit grandpa. So, as the conversation wound to a close, I couldn’t help but ask him for some grandsonly advice.

I was growing my hair out, like he had in fits on his album covers through the years. So I asked him: When does a man know to cut his hair?

“For me, I usually cut it when I broke up with a woman. And they were the only reason I had long hair in the first place. When you get older, like me, it’ll be the wallpaper.”

He chuckled, then said goodbye.

I was still turning his advice over, like a souvenir, three weeks later, when he came to Denver’s Buell Theater for a show with Nathaniel Rateliff.

My hair was still long. I was with my girlfriend — now ex — watching him sing “All The Best” with Rateliff, their voices a shearing light in the dark theater.

And while he sang about losing love — “like a Christmas card: decorate a tree and throw it in the yard” — we felt it course through us.

That night feels like a dream now, too.

There will never be another like John Prine. But if you’ve ever spent a night with his music, you know how unlikely it was there was even one.

You can read Dylan Owens’ 2018 interview with John Prine for The Denver Post here.

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Poland pushes postal vote for presidential election, coronavirus deaths up

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s ruling nationalists edged closer on Monday to a green light for holding a May presidential election as a postal ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic after overcoming initial resistance in parliament.

The Law and Justice Party (PiS) has said the election should go ahead despite the rising death toll from the highly contagious COVID-19 respiratory disease and has proposed replacing polling stations with mail-in ballots.

Critics accuse the governing party of sacrificing public health on the altar of securing the re-election of incumbent Andrzej Duda, its ally, who is now ahead in the opinion polls.

Parliament had initially voted to bar the PiS plan from its legislative agenda after several deputies from a broad conservative alliance that backs the nationalists in the legislature broke away.

But the PiS enforced party discipline and secured a slim majority late on Monday to put the postal election motion on the agenda, benefiting from the absence of some opposition lawmakers.

It remained unclear when parliament would debate the proposal or whether the PiS could command a sufficient majority across the conservative alliance to pass the motion into law.

The dispute hinted at an emerging crack in the PiS-led conservative alliance that has governed Poland since 2015.

Earlier on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin, who heads Accord, a junior party in the alliance, stepped down over the election issue. “I am resigning…since I think the election cannot be held on May 10,” he told a news conference, adding that his party would remain in the ruling bloc.

Gowin has said the presidential election should be delayed for two years and has called on opposition parties to support a change in the constitution to allow this to happen.

However, Duda said in a Facebook Q&A session that the election should be organised “as fast as possible but safely”.

Poland has reported a total of 4,413 cases of coronavirus and 107 deaths, and expects the number of infections to peak next month or in June. The election is scheduled for May 10 and could spill into a run-off vote on May 24.

Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski has said he might have a clear recommendation about the risks of a vote in mid-April.

Winning the presidential election would enable PiS to make further progress in realizing its conservative social agenda and cementing reforms of the judiciary which the European Union has said are anti-democratic and subvert the rule of law.

PiS rejects any accusations about its motivations in the election row, saying it wants to preserve democratic procedures.

It won a fresh four-year parliamentary mandate last year, helped by a generous welfare spending programme and strong economic growth. However, a looming recession prompted by the coronavirus crisis could damage public support for PiS.

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