Provincial and Territorial Update – April 5, 2024

Provincial and Territorial Update: An overview of the Provincial Legislative and Territories Legislative Updates for the week of April 5, 2024.​ Written by Wes McLean.

New Brunswick

  • One of the longest-serving Progressive Conservative members of the legislature has joined several of his colleagues heading for the exits. Health Minister Bruce Fitch, MLA for Riverview since 2003, said Friday he will not seek another term in this fall’s provincial election. But he said he plans to stick around as MLA until then and is willing to stay in cabinet and not “take the foot off the gas” on health-care improvements.
  • The New Brunswick government has been ordered to reconsider the closure of two courthouses in the Acadian Peninsula after a judge concluded that minority-language concerns were ignored. The provincial court facilities in Caraquet closed at the end of 2021 and Tracadie was reduced to a satellite operation in 2022, with all cases transferred to Bathurst.
  • New Brunswick’s health minister says up to 200 people are facing waits of three to eight months for addiction treatment — even as the government prepares legislation that would force even more people into rehabilitation programs against their will. Bruce Fitch said during a budget estimates debate at the legislature that it’s too early to look at how much money will be spent in the coming year putting the new bill into effect.
  • The Anglophone East District Education Council is asking a judge to step in after the minister of education allegedly threatened to dissolve the council if it didn’t fall in line with New Brunswick’s revised gender identity policy. In its filing Tuesday, the Anglophone East council said it intends to argue that mandatory parental consent requirements for certain pronoun changes go against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Constitution, the provincial Human Rights Act and the Education Act.

Nova Scotia

  • In the face of mounting criticism and following a tense public meeting with the premier earlier this week, the Nova Scotia government has shelved a piece of legislation that would have led to municipal consolidation in Antigonish County. “I’m so excited,” Anne-Marie Long, a member of the citizens’ group opposing the proposed merger, told reporters at Province House after learning of the decision.
  • NDP Leader Claudia Chender says there’s a lack of public accountability at the provincial health authority after revealing the organization was given permission not to produce a business plan for 2022-23 and noting that no subsequent plans have been posted online. During the question period at the legislature on Thursday, Chender said an access to information request for the business plan generated a response saying Nova Scotia Health was given the OK not to produce the document.
  • A former president of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party Association told a committee of the legislature on Wednesday that the decision to focus on internal efforts to recover thousands of dollars stolen by an employee rather than pursue criminal changes followed legal advice. “Legal counsel basically advised us that it would be very difficult to recoup the money, you know if legal charges are pursued,” Joseph Khoury told members of the public accounts committee.
  • The Nova Scotia government says it ended a longstanding subsidy for the Cape Breton railway because there is no chance the unused rail line will be restored to operating status anytime soon. Economic Development Minister Susan Corkum Greek said it could cost up to $500 million to repair the crumbling rail line and one of the owners has shown no interest in spending that kind of money.

Prince Edward Island

  • Help on the way to ease ‘unacceptable’ MRI wait times, P.E.I. health minister says. Queen Elizabeth Hospital not booking any routine scans until 2 new technologists hired. Health P.E.I. confirmed Thursday that patients in need of what it deems “routine” MRIs or MRAs are not currently being booked at the QEH because technologists’ staffing for the service is down by half.
  • A P.E.I. private member’s bill to fund alcohol use awareness from liquor sales has been rejected by the province’s legislature on Wednesday. The majority of MLAs voted against Liberal member Gord McNeilly’s proposed legislation that would have diverted some liquor commission profits to health education.
  • The P.E.I. government is contributing cash to study the housing needs of post-secondary students, with students themselves taking the lead. In the provincial legislature on Thursday, Housing Minister Rob Lantz announced a $75,000 contribution to the assessment. He said the goal is to get in-depth information about the housing needs of both domestic and international students living on the Island.
  • The majority of compensation claims from P.E.I. oyster growers related to damage from post-tropical storm Fiona have not yet been processed, 1.5 years after the massive storm struck the Island. A provincial government spokesperson confirmed to CBC News that of the 89 damage claims oyster growers filed since the disaster, only 28 have been approved by the Canadian Red Cross — which administered the post-Fiona Disaster Financial Assistance Program on the province’s behalf. 

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Justice Minister John Hogan’s apology for comments he made in the House of Assembly has fallen short for former Crown prosecutor Mike Murray, who says this entire situation shows a lack of understanding for basic truths in the criminal justice system. Murray, who retired from the Crown’s office late last year, said he was outraged by Hogan’s comments, in which the justice minister said it was “impossible” for lawyers to retraumatize survivors of sexual assault in the province’s justice system.
  • A seafood industry analyst says he doesn’t see any immediate financial benefit for Newfoundland and Labrador’s fishery by delaying another crab season — but says the ongoing dispute could actually pay off in the future.  Crab harvesters in the province remain committed to not fishing under a pricing formula set at a minimum of $2.60 per pound. In a news release on Tuesday, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union said its members cannot fish under that price formula, chosen by the province’s price-setting panel. 
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro says the power lines carrying electricity from Muskrat Falls have been offline for a week and could be out another two weeks. Hydro confirmed to The Canadian Press that its lines were damaged by an ice storm in southern Labrador on March 30, which caused damage to about four kilometres of lines. It’s been offline ever since. Repair work is expected to take another two weeks, according to the report.
  • More electricity production is needed and the clock is ticking to increase generation, according to a new study from Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. The Crown corporation’s latest analysis on long-term load growth shows that by 2034, demand on the island could increase by 230 megawatts (MW), a nearly 14 percent increase compared to current levels. Energy needs in Newfoundland could grow by 1.6 TWh, or terawatt hours, which equals about 40 percent of the power produced by the 824-MW Muskrat Falls project in 2023.

Quebec

  • Quebec Premier François Legault is always welcome in China. That’s the invitation extended by the Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in Montreal. China is Quebec’s second-largest trading partner, but Canada’s relations with Beijing have cooled in recent years. International Relations Minister Martine Biron even hinted this time last year at the closure of some of Quebec’s four existing representations in China. In 2022, Legault accused China of unfair competition.  The Chinese government is now calling for a warming up.
  • The Quebec government will not have to pay an additional $717,000 to Jean Charest for abuse of procedure. Superior Court Judge Gregory Moore this week rejected the former Quebec premier’s request, which began after the leak of confidential documents to the Unité Permanente Anticorruption (UPAC) in 2017. Charest then sued the province for invasion of his privacy and obtained $385,000 in a judgment of the Court rendered in April 2023. Quebec chose not to appeal.
  • Chief Gilbert Dominique is trying to remain optimistic that a “fundamentally important” treaty will be finalized with the Quebec government despite delays. A year after the deadline passed to conclude the Petapan Treaty, Dominique says there’s still “total disappointment” in his community of Pekuakamiulnuatsh, located 260 kilometres northwest of Quebec City. The chiefs of Essipit, Pekuakamiulnuatsh, and Nutashkuan say the Quebec government reneged on a commitment to finalize the Petapan Treaty before the deadline set for March 31, 2023.
  • The governments of Canada and Québec have earmarked $16 million to create an AI computing cluster at Université Laval. The investment is intended to support the purchase of the computing infrastructure needed for Université Laval to host the Pan-Canadian AI Compute Environment (PAICE) platform. The federal government is committing $9.6 million from the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy (PCAIS), while Québec is providing an additional $6.4 million to the project.

Ontario

  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he disagrees with alcohol-related recommendations from the province’s top doctor, particularly raising the legal drinking age by two years. In his annual report, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, recommended adding new restrictions to legal substances like alcohol and vapes, while also looking at decriminalizing personal possession and use of illegal drugs.
  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford repeated a promise on Wednesday that the province will build a new hospital in the Durham Region, but said his government will decide the location. “The folks at Durham, we’ve shown them a tremendous amount of love. They’ll be getting a hospital and we’ll determine the site,” Ford told reporters at an unrelated news conference in Toronto. Ford’s comments come after an independent panel set up by Lakeridge Health, a Durham Region hospital network, selected Whitby as the preferred site for a new hospital in January 2022. The land on which the preferred site sits is owned by the Ontario Transportation Ministry.
  • Premier Doug Ford says he wants all spots in Ontario medical schools to be reserved for students from the province. Ford said Wednesday about 18 percent of students are from foreign countries. “In my opinion, and we will continue working with the ministry, get rid of the 18 percent,” he said at an announcement for a new medical school at York University. Ford then lamented the fact that some kids and parents have said some Ontario students study abroad and then do not return home after they meet someone.
  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford slammed the federal carbon tax hike that kicked in Monday, calling on the federal government to scrap it. “We stand against the carbon tax… we know Ontario businesses can’t afford this costly burden,” Ford said Tuesday at a news conference in East Gwillimbury, Ont., north of Toronto.  Ford, who has long opposed the increase, said the province has a long list of agricultural organizations that are feeling the impact and support the Conservative’s campaign to axe the tax. “This carbon tax has to go or in a year and a half, the prime minister is going. It’s as simple as that, he will be going, I’ll guarantee you,” Ford said.

Manitoba

  • Manitoba is facing a nearly $ 800 million deficit for the year ahead, as the first budget under the NDP government promises incremental progress on a number of election commitments, along with new tax relief geared toward lower-income households. The Manitoba government’s 2024 budget, released Tuesday, pledges to double the province’s spending on healthcare infrastructure — including beginning the process of building a new emergency room at Winnipeg’s Victoria Hospital.
  • The Southern Chiefs’ Organization and True North Real Estate Development plan to work together to build a residential tower at downtown Winnipeg’s Portage Place mall, the two organizations announced at a news conference on Friday. The SCO, True North and the provincial government held the news conference to announce more details of plans to redevelop the mall, which retail stores have largely abandoned since its glory days in the late 1980s when it opened in an effort to revitalize downtown Winnipeg.
  • The Manitoba government has introduced two bills aimed at cracking down on drug trafficking and organized crime. The proposed Unexplained Wealth Act would make amendments to current legislation to allow assets that are proceeds of a crime or were used to commit one, to be seized. Justice Minister Matt Wiebe says investigators would have the power, with a court order, to require people to explain how they got property investigators believe is tied to unlawful activity, even before a conviction is made.
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a new $1.5-billion housing fund Thursday that he said will help non-profit organizations acquire more rental units across Canada and ensure they remain affordable. The new Canada Rental Protection Fund will be part of the April 16 federal budget, which Trudeau’s Liberals are already promoting aggressively as part of a long-term play to win back younger voters.

Saskatchewan

  • The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) says all teachers in the province will begin work-to-rule on Monday in what the organization’s president called a “serious” escalation in job action. The work-to-rule will continue indefinitely, STF president Samantha Becotte said during a Friday afternoon news conference. Becotte stressed it wasn’t an easy decision, but said it was necessary after discussions with provincial negotiators once again fell apart this week.
  • Saskatchewan’s water agency says reservoir levels are looking strong for the months ahead, despite a prolonged drought and an abnormally warm winter. Of Saskatchewan’s 45 major reservoirs, 33 are nearly full or almost there, according to the Water Security Agency (WSA), the provincial Crown corporation tasked with managing water systems and supply.
  • Saskatchewan RCMP will now administer a breathalyzer test at every traffic stop in their jurisdiction. RCMP began the program on April 1 and says they will continue the practice on an ongoing basis. The campaign is the result of powers given to police in 2018 changes to The Criminal Code. Those changes introduced a section allowing for mandatory alcohol screenings to be conducted on any driver of a motor vehicle without the need for reasonable suspicion. 
  • Emails show an early draft of Saskatchewan’s school pronoun policy would have allowed teachers to use a child’s preferred identification if there was concern the student faced danger when parents were notified. Premier Scott Moe’s government announced the policy last year. It requires teachers to have parental consent when children under 16 want to change their names or pronouns. The move received widespread criticism, with many human rights groups and the province’s advocate for children saying it violates rights to gender identity and expression.

Alberta

  • Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says although she once spoke positively of carbon rebates, the rising cost of the federal levy means Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can no longer justify it. The United Conservative premier was responding to Trudeau’s comments earlier Friday that she appeared to have flip-flopped on the issue. “If he has to point to a comment I made three years ago, it clearly shows he can’t defend his current position,” Smith told an unrelated news conference in Brooks, Alta.
  • Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi has taken Premier Danielle Smith up on her offer to provide help with the city’s finances by asking her to restore millions of dollars in municipal funding cuts the province has made over the past five years. In a letter sent to Smith and released publicly on Tuesday, Sohi outlines nine ways her government could help. 
  • Alberta Premier Danielle Smith admits that she is in favour of some of the housing announcements the federal government has been making, but called out Trudeau for bypassing meetings with provincial leaders, neglecting local expertise and going directly to municipalities instead. “We have 355 municipalities that all have different degrees of pressure, because of the need for housing, and yet with the federal government choosing who they have political relationships within granting or making grants on that basis, it’s very political, and it doesn’t meet the needs,” Smith said.
  • A Naheed Nenshi-led NDP poses little threat to the Smith government, UCP supporters at a Calgary fundraiser for their party said Wednesday. Attendees at the sold-out $500-a-plate Leader’s Dinner, held at the BMO Centre, said they’re confident the political trajectory of Premier Danielle Smith will fend off any challenge from the NDP, including one spearheaded by the former Calgary mayor, considered by many to be the NDP leadership race’s frontrunner.

British Columbia

  • The rhetoric around carbon tax is not useful in addressing affordability, B.C. premier says. David Eby is defending government policies, including the carbon tax increase, among calls across the country for the tax to be removed.
  • The British Columbia government is changing rental laws to stop bad-faith evictions, protect families who have had a child and help landlords with problematic tenants. Premier David Eby said the government is seeing more landlords invoke the “personal use” rule, which allows them or their family to move into a unit, as an excuse to evict long-term tenants paying lower rents.
  • Premier David Eby broadly welcomed federal pledges for a new housing infrastructure fund worth $6 billion but also signalled that B.C. should be among the first provinces to receive support. “The federal government says ‘we are going to tie that infrastructure funding to (housing),’” he said Tuesday while announcing new measures to protect renters. “We are building the homes, so therefore, we should get the funding…if they (other provinces) don’t do this (build more housing), that money should be coming from British Columbia instead of other places that refuse to take the necessary steps.”
  • The B.C. NDP under Premier David Eby enjoys what a new Leger poll calls a “sustained, substantial lead” heading into this year’s provincial election as the political landscape continues to shift. Provincial New Democrats would receive 43 percent of decided votes, followed by the Conservative Party of B.C. under John Rustad with 26 percent and B.C. United under Kevin Falcon with 18 percent. B.C. Greens under Sonia Furstenau would receive 11 percent.

Northwest Territories

  • RCMP in the Northwest Territories say that clauses intended to protect missing persons fleeing domestic abuse are redundant, and could even hamper the usefulness of the proposed Missing Persons Act. RCMP Supt. Dyson Smith presented feedback on the draft legislation in a public presentation to the standing committee on social development on Thursday.

Yukon

  • A group of people who have experienced poverty and homelessness in the Yukon have put pen to paper to introduce themselves to the public. The group, Voices Influencing Change, has released a booklet which details their backgrounds, their work and their vision for the future. That future should have more people with “lived experience” at the table making decisions, said one of the contributors, Frederick ‘Fritz’ Andre. 

Nunavut

  • Nunavut’s most southern community will no longer have access to a flight to Iqaluit —  its only direct route to the rest of the territory. Arctic Fresh, which offered the flight since 2021, said it had to end their route between Sanikiluaq and Iqaluit because of a “large financial loss.” On Thursday last week, Arctic Fresh announced that the only flight between the community in the Belcher Islands and the rest of Nunavut will stop as of March 31. “We couldn’t just continue to take a financial loss,” said Ryan Haggan, director of Arctic Fresh’s sales and operations, told Radio-Canada. 

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