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Good evening, let’s start with today’s top stories:

Debt burden falls for Canadian households

The coronavirus pandemic has, at least in the short term, turned Canada into a country of savers. Statistics Canada said Friday that the burden of household debt fell by a record amount in the second quarter of 2020, falling to the lowest level since 2010 as consumers borrowed less and government measures supported incomes.

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Known formally as the ratio of credit-market debt to disposable income, household debt loads fell to 158.2 per cent from 175.4 per cent in the first quarter. In real terms, households owe $1.58 for every dollar of after-tax income.

Statscan said consumer credit grew by $0.9-billion in the second quarter, down from $26-billion in the first quarter, while mortgage debt rose by $22.3-billion as housing markets heated up, fuelled by lower interest rates.

There are worries, however, that the lower debt burden might not be sustained. The Bank of Canada has signalled that its key lending rate (0.25 per cent) will remain low to support the economic recovery, which could fuel a consumer binge on debt. Home purchases in particular increased significantly over the summer.

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Trudeau, Tam defend Canadian response times to COVID-19 pandemic: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam say the federal government began preparing for a possible pandemic on New Year’s Eve. That was the night it got its first alert about a mysterious cluster of pneumonia cases in China.

On Friday, the pair defended the government against accusations it didn’t act fast enough to warn Canadians about the danger COVID-19 posed to their health and the economy.

Tam says there was a lot of work done in January and February, including getting labs ready to test for COVID-19.

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She says the risk for transmission within Canada did remain low until early to mid-March, but things changed very quickly after that.

Toronto International Film Festival: The Globe’s Barry Hertz writes about covering the Toronto International Film Festival’s surreal opening night, where galas, celebrity sightings and red carpets were replaced by a drive-in world premiere of David Byrne’s American Utopia, the new Spike Lee-directed concert documentary.

Two days into the 45th edition of TIFF, Hertz writes that a pandemic-era festival requires an existential adjustment. Instead of being on the ground and watching films in theatres, most industry screenings are happening digitally. For audiences it’s the most accessible TIFF ever, with titles available online to anyone in Canada.

But there are still limits on how many tickets can be sold to a virtual screening, and the most hotly anticipated titles are long sold out. For more coverage, see tgam.ca/tiffguide, and catch our critics' reviews of the films at tgam.ca/tiffreviews.

This image released by the Toronto Film Festival shows David Byrne in a scene from "David Byrne's American Utopia,” a documentary of Byrne’s concert musical, directed by Spike Lee. The film opened the Toronto Film Festival on Thursday, Sept. 10.

1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All rights reserved/The Associated Press

ALSO ON OUR RADAR

Former Liberal MP Raj Grewal charged with fraud, breach of trust: Former Liberal MP Raj Grewal is facing five criminal charges in relation to personal loans he incurred while in office. On Friday, the RCMP’s national division charged Mr. Grewal with four counts of breach of trust and one count of fraud over $5,000. In a press release, the RCMP allege Mr. Grewal failed to report millions in personal loans to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner “in circumstances that constitute a criminal breach of trust.”

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Wildfires grow in Oregon, forcing 500,000 people to flee: Deadly wildfires in heavily populated northwest Oregon have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee encroaching flames while residents to the south assessed their losses. In California, meanwhile, the death toll from that state’s wildfire crisis rose to at least 10.

Former Minneapolis officers charged in George Floyd’s death blame one another, seek own trials: Attorneys for four former Minneapolis officers charged in the death of George Floyd last May say each client should get his own trial, as the officers try to diminish their roles in the Black man’s death by pointing fingers at one another.

Bahrain agrees to normalize ties with Israel as UAE deal set to be signed: Bahrain has become the latest Arab nation to agree to normalize ties with Israel as part of a broader diplomatic push by President Donald Trump and his administration to fully integrate the Jewish state into the Middle East.

MARKET WATCH

An up-and-down trading session ended in positive territory for Canada’s main stock index on Friday while U.S. stock markets were mixed after another day of tech sector instability.

The S&P/TSX composite index was up 37.14 points at 16,222.46.

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In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 131.06 points at 27,665.64. The S&P 500 index was up 1.78 points at 3,340.97, while the Nasdaq composite was down 66.05 points at 10,853.54. - Canadian Press

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TALKING POINTS

The landmark Charter challenge over private health care wasn’t about what you thought it was

“User fees and private insurance may not be the answer to wait times, but it is not impossible that the system could be reformed in such a way as to make more efficient use of resources, without harm to the principle of universal public funding.” - Andrew Coyne

Imagine a world with a billion Americans in it. No, really

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“As we stare across the barricaded border and watch as natural, epidemiological and political disasters unfold, we’re probably not thinking: There ought to be three times more Americans. Yet that idea is now part of the U.S. policy dialogue.” - Doug Saunders

The closing of one bloody chapter in Cambodia’s history does not mark the end of its efforts to define justice

In the West, the voice of the victim has come to be seen as the only authentic voice in times of extremity. … The Duch trial established a precedent of due process: that those accused of the most heinous crimes would have the right to a fair trial with both a defence and prosecution." – Nic Dunlop

LIVING BETTER

As the population ages, a growing number of designers and policy advocates are calling for attractive solutions to accessibility needs.

According to Statistics Canada, 6.2 million Canadians over the age of 15 reported having a disability in 2017 (including physical, sensory, cognitive and mental health-related disabilities). That’s 22 per cent of the adult population. In 2012, 3.8 million Canadians had a disability. The upswing is largely reflective of a greying population. The likelihood of needing a walker or wheelchair increases with age, and the number of seniors is expected to grow by 68 per cent over the next 20 years, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

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Allen Mankewich, a Winnipeg-based public policy analyst, wishes his shower was more than “just okay.” This is surprising considering the install cost him $4,000 – enough money, one might imagine, to ensure the features and fixtures would go well beyond the basics, such as, say, the same stainless steel grab bar that’s in every accessible washroom.

Mankewich’s frustration is understandable. Why aren’t accessible spaces a standard option for home buyers? And why do those spaces often share a similar aesthetic with hospitals? Those stainless-steel grab bars aren’t the only option. But they are everywhere.

TODAY’S LONG READ

In photos: Finalists from the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2020

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, maybe the world’s funniest photography competition, has announced the top 44 images for 2020.

This year, they include a fox in heavy negotiations with a mouse, a seriously smiley fish, a raccoon waking up from a nap and a pair of Atlantic Puffins with a mouthful! The competition, founded by Paul Joynson-Hicks and Tom Sullam, both professional photographers and passionate conservationists, is a global, online and free-to-enter photography competition, showcasing some of the funnier images of wildlife in their natural habitat.

View the gallery, here

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