This week, the reports of Canadian Armed Forces personnel on conditions in long-term care facilities in Ontario and Quebec shocked the country and made clear the need for major reforms to improve care of the country’s elderly.  The Liberals and the NDP pushed through a deal for an abridged Parliament over the summer and the Prime Minister focused on last-minute attempts to secure a non-permanent seat for Canada on the United Nations Security Council.

Provinces continued to roll out phased opening plans, focusing on testing and public health measures to continue to contain the coronavirus while slowly opening retail and economic activity. Detailed updates are contained in the report below.


Eighty-one percent of COVID-19-related deaths have occurred in Canadian long-term care (LTC) facilities, primarily in Ontario and Quebec. Throughout the pandemic, the evidence has been increasing that LTCs are vectors for the spread of the virus, particularly as many of these facilities often employ minimally trained and low-paid staff.  Chronic understaffing and poor remuneration have led to nurses, attendants and personal care workers being forced to work in more than one home to make ends meet, leading to rapid spread of the virus in some parts of the country.  In addition, many LTC facilities are old and outdated—physically configured in wards housing several residents that make physical distancing impossible—which has made the precipitous spread of the virus all but inevitable.

What is clear now is that COVID-19 simply overwhelmed an LTC system that for many years has been badly resourced, haphazardly inspected, in some cases systemically ill-managed and wholly unprepared for the characteristics of the virus and the way it spreads.  This has led to this week’s release of two devastating reports prepared by Canadian Armed Forces personnel assigned to work at particularly hard-hit LTC facilities in Ontario and Quebec. Particularly in Ontario, the reports detailed many examples of capricious incompetence and mismanagement, with patients in soiled diapers ignored for hours or days, cockroach-infested homes, forced-feeding abuse leading to patients choking, medications being used beyond expiry dates, a lack of personal protective equipment and unacceptable infection control practices by staff.

Politicians at both levels of government expressed their horror at the shocking details of the reports, but they will be hard-pressed to argue successfully that they were unaware of the problems in long-term care.  All of these issues have been hiding in plain sight for a generation; a series of national and provincial public reports, plus hundreds of horror stories of neglect and abuse from patients’ relatives, have documented the challenges in LTC settings in exquisite detail.  These longstanding issues are complicated by Canada’s jurisdictional structure: 13 separate and often protectionist political and administrative systems; different standards from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; mixed public, private and philanthropic ownership of the facilities, all confounded by the lack of inclusion of these residences under the Canada Health Act.

When the pandemic crisis eases, if not before, there will be a reckoning on long-term care in Canada; it will be painful and complex… and very expensive for all concerned.  As he has done before, this week the Prime Minister was forthright in calling for action to address the problems in LTC facilities.  But he knows that beyond platitudes, federal action will require federal money and a permanent commitment to increased transfers to the provinces and territories for long-term care.

This week, Premier Ford said Ontario needed the federal government to be at the table to help with funding.  The problem is that many patients’ families in Ontario simply do not trust their government to fix the problems in long-term care; hence, their demands that the federal government must impose national standards for nursing homes. Quebec Premier Legault can likely be counted on to argue that long-term care is solely within provincial jurisdiction. That said, many commentators have suggested this week that the Canadian public’s patience for listening to jurisdictional squabbles on this issue will be measured in nanoseconds.

At his Friday news conference, the Prime Minister pledged federal support for provinces as they address their medium and long term needs to regain control of their senior care systems. “Whether is is more money or more resources, the federal government will be there for the provinces.  There are a range of needs across the country and a one-size-fits-all strategy will not be effective.”


On Tuesday, the Liberals, acting with the support of the NDP, passed a motion to suspend all regular sittings of the House of Commons until September, with the special all-party COVID-19 committee acting as a stand-in over the next few weeks.  From now until June 18, the Special Committee will meet in the Chamber at noon every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and MPs will be able to participate either in person or by videoconference.  The House will hold four special sittings over the summer, on July 8, July 22, August 12 and August 26. It will then adjourn until September 21, 2020. Until the return of the House in September, seven committees will be able to hold virtual meetings related to the COVID-19 pandemic and other matters. This list of committees now includes the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

The Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois attacked the arrangement as a shutdown of Parliament and an abdication of government accountability in the middle of the pandemic. Many of the usual functions of the House, such as private members’ bills and procedural mechanisms that force government responses, cannot be advanced while the House is suspended.  The Liberals pointed to the increased opportunities for questioning ministers that will result from the new regime.

Current Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux and former PBO Kevin Page both questioned the limitation the agreement places on the House of Commons review of billions of dollars in new spending to no more than four hours.  “It is a fundamental principle – power of the purse rests with the House of Commons,” Mr. Page said. “I do not see how four hours could be enough time.”

The deal between the Liberals and the NDP emerged as the government agreed to the fourth party’s request to press the provinces and territories to allow all Canadian workers access to 10 days of sick leave.  The principle behind this initiative is that during the recovery from the pandemic, no worker should feel compelled to go to work sick because of the absence of job-related sick leave.

The argument for improved sick leave has been strongly advanced by British Columbia Premier Horgan.  At his news conference on Tuesday, the Prime Minister committed to lobby the provinces and territories to improve their sick leave provisions, but he also admitted that only one province, presumably B.C., had expressed interest. The federal sick leave commitment has left many small and medium enterprises panicked as they fear they will be required to fund the proposed new entitlement for their employees.


The Prime Minister today announced new funding to support Indigenous families and communities, based on needs that have been identified:

  • $285.1 million will support the ongoing public health response to COVID-19 in Indigenous communities, providing targeted increases in primary health care resources for First Nations communities.
  • $270 million to supplement the On-Reserve Income Assistance Program to address increased demand on the program, which will help individuals and families meet their essential living expenses.
  • $44.8 million over five years to build 12 new shelters, which will help protect and support Indigenous women and girls experiencing and fleeing violence. This funding will help build 10 shelters in First Nations communities on reserve across the country, and two in the territories, to support Indigenous women and children. The government will also provide $40.8 million to support operational costs for these new shelters over the first five years, and $10.2 million annually ongoing.


In recent weeks, the Prime Minister has been steadily ramping up Canada’s visibility within the United Nations as the date draws near for next month’s vote to elect two non-permanent members to the UN Security Council.  Canada is in a tight competition against Norway and Ireland for one of those seats, and the PM has made scores of calls to world leaders to press Canada’s case for support.

Yesterday, Mr. Trudeau co-chaired a four-hour United Nations virtual conference aimed at development of a co-ordinated global response to ease the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.  He co-hosted the conference with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness.  More than 50 heads of state and government took part in the meeting, including Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron, along with representatives of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the private sector.

The conference addressed “six urgent areas of action” to mobilize the financing needed for a global recovery:

  • Expanding liquidity in the global economy and maintaining financial stability;
  • Addressing debt vulnerability for developing countries “to save lives and livelihoods for billions of people around the world;”
  • Involving private sector creditors in recovery plans;
  • Enhancing external financing for inclusive growth and job creation;
  • Preventing illicit off-shore financial holdings and money laundering that siphon off trillions of dollars needed for rebuilding economies; and
  • Aligning recovery policies with sustainable development goals.


Finance Canada this week announced a consultation on the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to inform potential changes to the program.  This consultation comes on the heels of the recent announcement that CEWS will be extended to August 29, 2020. The study asks participants their views on the following questions:

  1. Are there specific challenges associated with the CEWS program? For example, are there challenges with respect to its accessibility, its incentive impacts, or any other aspect?
  2. What adjustments to the CEWS would you propose to provide the right level of support to those most affected by the pandemic while supporting the economic recovery?
  3. Would adding complexity to the CEWS program be acceptable in order to expand access to this support, or better target support to those who need it?
  4. To what extent are employers using the CEWS to provide support to furloughed employees as compared to using it as a means to pay active employees? Do employers value maintaining ties with furloughed employees by keeping them on the payroll? Should the level of support for furloughed employees be the same as for active employees?
  5. What are the key barriers to rehiring workers recently laid off due to the pandemic?
  6. Are there specific factors that are preventing or discouraging employers from applying for the CEWS?
  7. If you are a seasonal business, are there any unique challenges you are facing in relation to the CEWS?

The consultation process will close on June 5, 2020.


The Department of Finance provided its regular update to the House of Commons Finance Committee this week. The government’s commitments for direct support measures now stand at $152.7 billion. Liquidity support to businesses and individuals in the form of income tax deferrals, remitted sales tax and deferred customs duty payments totals $85 billion and the total commitment for “other liquidity support and capital relief” stands at $386.5 billion.

The latest numbers reflect significant adjustments in the relative estimated costs of the two principal support programs, CERB and CEWS.  Two weeks ago, Finance Canada was projecting the cost of the emergency relief benefit at $35 billion; it’s now expected to cost $60 billion.  Projected spending on the wage subsidy program is down, having fallen from an estimated $73 billion two weeks ago to $45 billion this week.

These numbers provide the evidence that CERB has been substantially oversubscribed and CEWS undersubscribed compared to the government’s initial estimates.  That is not a major surprise but it does put the spotlight on the very substantial public policy dilemma coming at the federal government by the end of the first week of July when CERB eligibility will end for the vast majority of people who have been receiving it.

It is inconceivable that people will be cut off “cold turkey” from CERB with far fewer jobs to return to in much of the services sector, limited or no child care to deal with their children, school being out for the summer and continuing fear about increasing personal exposure to the virus.  It is therefore very likely that CERB will have to be renewed albeit perhaps at a lower level. The federal government had hoped that there would be a higher take up on CEWS but these numbers show it has not been happening.  At his Friday news conference, the Prime Minister said the government assumes that once Canadians return to work, the wage subsidy will become more important and people will become less reliant on CERB.


Testing and tracing remain key to national and provincial efforts to re-open their respective economies.  As of May 28, 2020, 1,559,280 Canadians had been tested, constituting just over 4.1% of Canada’s total population.  Of the total number of tests conducted, 5.2% have returned positive results.  The number of total tests conducted weekly across Canada has fallen through the month of May, from a high of 205,588 during the week of May 3 to 151,879 during the week of May 17.  At the same time, the percentage of positive test results has fallen from 9.8% during the week of April 5 to just 4.4% during the week of May 17.

Source: Public Health Agency of Canada, May 28, 2020




Source: Public Health Agency of Canada May 28, 2020


The Earnscliffe Strategy Group conducted a survey of Canadians to learn about the current state of public opinion and to better understand how it is likely to evolve in the coming months.  Like many other studies, we found remarkably broad national consensus on a variety of subjects – the perceived severity of the pandemic crisis; how it has impacted people; and how the public is assessing the performance of frontline workers, public health officials, governments and leaders.

While it is hardly surprising to find high levels of appreciation for the nurses, orderlies, first responders and doctors facing the disease firsthand every day, one rarely sees endorsement of political leaders far outstripping partisan support.  A healthy majority of Canadians say the Prime Minister is doing a good or excellent job of dealing with the pandemic and in every province, a majority say the same of their Premier.  In some cases, the level of endorsement ranges as high as 83%.

High levels of endorsement of leaders and their governments normally breed public trust and, with it, a healthy degree of latitude for determining the best course of action.  We are in a moment where there is an alignment of a singular focus of concern, a partisan cease-fire, a deference to experts, and an appreciation of actions that are producing what might be termed “peak endorsement.”

But where does it go from here?  Like a sort of political entropy, the consensus has the potential to break apart and our study provides evidence about the kinds of fault lines that exist which are most likely to return us to a more divided electorate.  In our survey, we gauged the support for 20 potential policies that might be considered to address the next phase of the pandemic as the country switches from containment to staging a long slow return to normalcy.

In addition to the policy and political realms, our study examined the relationship Canadians are wanting to have with corporate Canada, uncovering an evolution in receptivity to certain types of messaging.  Messages that previously were credible but uninfluential are emerging as potential drivers of corporate reputation, giving corporate communicators some new options to consider and evaluate.


WATCH: Earnscliffe 10-minute briefing: This Changes Everything

READ: “The new normal? Canadians say they don’t want it to look much like the old one” – Susan Delacourt, Toronto Star

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The United States plunged into a post-pandemic state of chaos this past week. Burning cities, riots, and protests have taken over the headlines in a course of a week marked by somber front-page markings of the one hundred thousand lives lost in the country from COVID-19. Long unresolved issues of racism, police brutality, and rioting replaced the daily discussion on the tensions resulting from the economic re-opening of America.

In just over a month, the economic support that out of work Americans have been receiving from the federal government will come to an end at the same time as most eviction moratoriums expire. This, while some areas of the United States are experiencing rising rates of infection and mortality. It is clear the virus has yet to run its course in the United States, but many states are re-opening at a rapid pace, despite early cautions.

This week, the CDC issued workplace guidance that stipulates temperature checks, PPE, and the removal of common seating areas. Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is leading a push for liability relief legislation that they say will “safeguard businesses, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions, as well as healthcare providers and facilities from unfair lawsuits” related to COVID-19. The indications across America are that for many, the costs businesses will have to bear in the course of reopening may end up being too much to bear.

China’s passage of legislation curtailing the “one country, two systems” special status of Hong Kong led to the United States declaring that it no long considers Hong Kong to be autonomous from China. That declaration could facilitate a series of tightening restrictions on trade and investment which have, at least to some degree, saved the Chinese economy some pain during the most recent U.S.-China trade war. This puts Hong Kong’s status as a global financial hub at significant risk. While intended to mitigate Chinese aggression and support the people of Hong Kong, the U.S. declaration, at least for now, appears to have only made the situation worse.

On Thursday, the President signed an executive order removing the liability protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This move may result in internet platforms taking a more active censorship role, as it now makes the companies liable for content the users place online. The irony is that the Trump administration pushed to include these protections in the USMCA, despite significant pushback from Canada and House Democrats. How this plays out in the course of the trade agreement and the U.S. court system will be a study in the three-ring circus that is the system of checks and balances in the United States.


B.C. is in a unique position in Canada. Instead of implementing a full lockdown, large portions of the B.C. economy continued to operate through the crisis, including construction and manufacturing.

Last week B.C. moved into Phase 2 of “BC’s Restart Plan”, which includes the opening of restaurants, personal services, museums etc. It is too early to measure the impact of the move to Phase 2, but new daily cases COVID-19 have remained mostly in the single digits, and there are only 241 active cases in total in the province.

The Premier welcomed the Prime Minster’s decision to support a national paid sick leave program, after advocating for it strongly.  Making sure no one goes to work sick is seen by the BC government to be one of the most critically important pieces of containment and economic recovery management.  Notably, the premiers of B.C., Manitoba and the Yukon released a joint statement in support of the proposed national sick leave program.

In other news:

  • Officials have been clear that containment will remain the number one priority as the province slowly reopens. Decisions will be evidence-based and guided by science.
  • The Premier indicated they do not expect to begin discussing moving into Phase 3 of the restart until mid-June.
  • Premier Horgan extended the State of Emergency in the province for another two weeks. It is the longest period in B.C. history of emergency status.
  • In class schooling will begin next week, on a voluntary basis with physical distancing measures in place.
  • The province announced a $10-million grant to support 59 not-for-profit tourism marketing organizations throughout the province – this was to address funding shortfalls from municipal hotel taxes where they normally derive revenue.
  • The province has indicated that they will be promoting “staycations” for people to travel within B.C., but they are waiting to see how the restart impacts infection rates before moving forward.
  • The province indicated they are very welcoming of the NHL and would like Vancouver to be a hub city, but two-week isolation rules will remain in place for anyone arriving from outside Canada.
  • The BC government continues to look for increased collaboration with, and ideas from, businesses, labour and other organizations on how to adapt to a COVID 19 reality and remain focussed on a robust economic recovery that will be guided by the Economic Recovery Task force.
  • The Legislature will resume on June 22nd using virtual tools and distancing measures. A budget update is expected.


Phase one of re-opening is fully underway, with retail businesses, restaurants, hairstylists, and other services operating with occupancy restrictions. Preschools throughout the province will be allowed to reopen on June 1. Premier Kenney has said the declared Public Health Emergency order will not be extended beyond June 15. Phase two was tentatively scheduled for no earlier June 19 though officials have said low numbers of new COVID cases may allow for that date to be moved up.

The Alberta Legislature resumed sitting on Wednesday and is expected to meet until July 23.

The Government of Alberta will make up to 20 million non-surgical masks available to Albertans, through a drive-thru distribution arrangement with A&W, McDonald’s, and Tim Hortons.


Phase 2 of the reopening plan is proceeding with retail stores allowed to open with social distancing rules in effect. Beginning June 3, Phase 3 of the reopening plan will see restaurants and bars allowed to reopen with strict social distancing criteria in place.

  • The Government of Saskatchewan reiterated its commitment to spend $7.5 billion in infrastructure spending including the Accelerated Well Closure Program (AWCP) which will access $400M from the Government of Canada’s announced $1.5B for the clean-up of abandoned wells in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
  • A joint release from the government and opposition NDP concerning the opening of the legislature was made this week. The Assembly will meet for 14 days from June 15 to July 3 with sittings from Monday to Friday each week. Only 10 government members and 5 opposition members will be in the assembly at any time.
  • The government announced respite funding for caregivers of people with intellectual disabilities during the pandemic. $100 per month will be provided to pay for respite or respite activities for caregivers


The Manitoba government has announced the province will move onto Phase 2 of their reopening plan on June 1st. Phase two includes:

  • Outdoor drive-in events
  • Childcare services increased to up to 24 children at one time
  • Classroom learning remains suspended with schools open for staff and facilities use
  • Patios and restaurant spaces allowed to operate at 50% capacity


Ontario’s confirmed daily reported COVID cases continue to “stall” around the 400+ mark. Despite showing some early progress this week, with the number of cases falling below 300 for the first time in two months, the week closed out with another uptick towards 400 on Thursday and Friday.

The Ford Government has been under increasing pressure to more aggressively ramp up testing as the province remains in Phase 1 of its reopening plan.  Officials have previously set a goal of processing 16,000 individual tests each day but yesterday marked the first time that they actually hit that threshold in weeks.

The Province continues to ramp up testing with 17,615 tests processed over a 24-hour period on Thursday, the highest number of tests completed in several days. This brings the total of lab-confirmed cases up to 26,866, including 2,189 deaths and 20,673 recoveries.

In an effort to ramp up testing, the province has widened its criteria to include anyone with at least one symptom or a job that puts them at a higher level of risk. Premier Ford has also suggested that the province will begin testing large groups of asymptomatic individuals as part of its new testing strategy, and the premier hinted at groups such as truckers and taxi drivers being among the groups he’d like to see tested under this new and expanded criteria.

The province announced an expanded testing regime, which will include the establishment of “pop-up” testing centres, working with industry leaders within essential workplaces and sectors to ramp up workplace, and to expand testing to long-term care, retirement homes and other congregate living settings as well as first nations.

We should also add that: after first refusing to consider it, the premier has said that he is now open to taking a “regional” approach to reopening; allowing parts of the province with fewer COVID cases to open ahead of those with higher caseloads. No decisions have been made if this approach will be taken on a go-forward however public health officials are considering the data, how best to consider “regionalization” and enact a plan.

Significant announcements:

  • The majority of the week in Ontario has been consumed with the shocking findings contained within a Canadian Armed Forces report on conditions within five long-term care homes in the province. The report, released on Tuesday, detailed horrific instances in which Armed Forces members spotted equipment used on both infected and non-infected patients without being disinfected, as well as rotten food, cockroach infestations and a startling disregard for basic cleanliness. There are many signs the provincial government knew, or should have known, what’s happening inside these homes, but it took military intervention to bring the details to light.
  • A visibly shaken premier Ford promised to take action on the findings of the report, leaning in on his call for an independent commission of inquiry though stopping short of promising a full public inquiry.
  • The province’s inspection regime has been under scrutiny for weeks now as COVID-19 continued to ravage long term care homes. Media reports have shown that since 2018, the number of surprise Resident Quality Inspections” has fallen considerably severely limiting the province’s ability to proactively identify and fix problems. Only nine out of 626 homes in Ontario actually received resident quality inspections (RQIs) in 2019.
  • The inspection of long-term care homes has become a bit of a sore spot for the government. Tensions boiled over on Thursday with the premier attempting to blame “unionized inspectors” for not going into homes to test them. That claim was quickly debunked by the leadership of the union whose members conduct provincial long-term care inspections. OPSEU President Warren “Smokey” Thomas also pointed to an unanswered letter written to the Minister of Long Term Care on April 22nd in which the union highlighted a lack of PPE and an overall lack of preparedness within long term care homes to handle this pandemic.
  • On Thursday the province announced that it would be taking over operation of the five long term care homes mentioned in the Canadian Armed Forces report.


Quebec has passed the 50,000-person mark for COVID-19 virus infections, however, the overall situation is declining in the province and still under control in the regions. The Montreal area remains the most affected region in Quebec.

The government will soon table a bill to speed up construction projects and reduce approval times and preliminary steps.  Environmental consultation processes are starting with the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), the Hydro-Québec Appalachian-Maine line in July and GNL Quebec in September. An economic statement in June will be followed by an economic update in the fall, expected in November.

The government has announced that as of June 8, all retailers in Quebec, (June 22 for the Island of Montreal), will have to start taking back all returnable containers from stores.

The province released the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) report developed based on their presence in long-term care hospitals (CHSLDs).  The Premier has requested that 1,000 CAF members remain in Quebec in long-term care facilities in the province until September 15. The extension would give the province the opportunity to undertake a major hiring and training campaign to place 10,000 new full-time workers in the facilities. Workers would receive $21 an hour for three months of accelerated training and then be guaranteed employment at $26 an hour. This will necessarily affect the wages of other trades such as nurses.


New Brunswick

Most of New Brunswick is classified in the Yellow alert level, except for Zone 5 which represents the Campbellton region and has reverted to orange status. In that area, a case of an individual not respecting isolation requirements led to a number of new cases, prompting the provincial government to re-introduce restrictions for the region that had previously been lifted.

On Friday June 5th the province is anticipated to further ease restrictions within the yellow alert levels, including:

  • Allowing outdoor gatherings of 50 people or fewer
  • Resumption of elective surgeries
  • Low-contact team sports
  • Reopening of recreation including pools, saunas, gyms, yoga studios, rinks, etc.

Prince Edward Island

In Prince Edward Island, the provincial government has extended its state of emergency until June 14. Premier Dennis King has also outlined a process for seasonal residents to begin to return to the island, contingent upon a risk assessment that will weigh factors such as their travel plan, the area from which they are arriving and self-isolation plan.

Nova Scotia

On May 27, the Nova Scotia government announced the province’s next steps towards reopening. On June 5th, many of the businesses closed by public health order will be allowed to reopen while following public health protocols. The order permits the reopening of, among others:

  • Restaurants for dine-in and take out
  • Bars, wineries, taprooms
  • Personal services, hair salons, barbershops
  • Dentists, physiotherapy, and other health care services

Child-care is among the sectors excluded from the list, with the province outlining June 15th as the goal to reopen that sector.


We know there is much uncertainty in a rapidly evolving and complex landscape. It’s times like these where we know how important it is to make the right decisions in order to help mitigate the impact of this global crisis on your organization, your employees and respond to a shifting public policy environment. We are tracking funding at all levels of government so please reach out if we can help you navigate the new reality.

As one of Canada’s most experienced teams of government relations, public opinion research and strategic communications advisors, we’re acutely aware you are navigating rapidly changing circumstances and we want you to know, we’re here to help. We can act as a sounding board, help you design specific strategies and adapt to new ways of doing business and emerging public policy.

Consistent, accurate and regular communication is essential. The team at Earnscliffe regularly works with our clients on how best to engage with their communities – whether in business as usual circumstances, in community engagement and community-building processes, or in crisis scenarios. If you have emerging needs in any of these areas, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

The current situation presents a strikingly more complex crisis environment than we have seen in our lifetimes.   Earnscliffe has the tools to safely, responsibly, respectfully and reliably conduct opinion research and give you a sense of the public mood. At this time, there is no reason to make decisions in the dark if opinion research can shed valuable light to develop strategies and test tactics.

Reach out. We’re in this together.

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