Provincial and Territorial Update – August 18, 2023
An overview of the Provincial and Territories Legislative Updates for the week of August 18, 2023.
LGBTQ students, parents and supporters are applauding an advocate’s criticism of New Brunswick’s gender-identity policy, but they’re still grappling with uncertainty as the school year looms. On Tuesday, child and youth advocate Kelly Lamrock released a 90-page report about changes to Policy 713 made by the Blaine Higgs government. Minister of Education Bill Hogan says it’s now mandatory to get consent from parents before allowing a child under 16 to informally change their name or pronoun in school.
The Higgs government has doubled its spending and staffing on Indigenous issues since it took power, with little visible progress to show for it. The province has also spent millions of dollars paying lawyers from two major law firms to sit on a steering committee overseeing the government’s legal negotiations and court battles with First Nations.
New Brunswick’s auditor general, the province’s top fiscal watchdog, will come under scrutiny himself next month over the departure of a dozen staffers in his office. Green Party Leader David Coon says he plans to question Paul Martin about why so many people have left. Former deputy auditor general Janice Leahy and two senior auditors are among the 12 no longer with the department.
After decades of using the traditional Pap test to detect early signs of cervical cancer, New Brunswick plans to transition to using HPV tests instead and will eventually introduce self-sampling, the Department of Health has confirmed. An advisory group is being established, and work on the transition is expected to begin this fall, said department spokesperson Sean Hatchard.
Tera Sisco reaches into a drawer, pulls out a sheet of paper and reads a sentence prepared for her son’s funeral after he died in Nova Scotia’s historic flooding in late July. “I’m not done being Colton’s Mom,” it says. During a recent interview at her home, Sisco said this phrase is her reminder she will advocate for improvements in how Nova Scotia prepares for and responds to climate disasters, as she grieves the little boy whose feet she still imagines tiptoeing into her room.
Nova Scotians saw rent go up by an average of 7.5 percent in July compared to last year, one of the highest rates of increase in the country, according to new consumer price index data from Statistics Canada. Rents also rose faster than the overall inflation rate of 3.4 percent for the province.
An almost 50-page review of settlement services in Nova Scotia is a sobering reminder of how much more the provincial government needs to do to help newcomers settle and remain in the province. Nova Scotia’s Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration commissioned the survey of newcomers and review of existing programs last year to provide it with insight ahead of issuing a new call for proposals for immigrant settlement services last November.
Nova Scotia’s electric utility has been fined $750,000 for failing to meet 2022 performance targets set by the provincial regulator. The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board issued a statement Wednesday saying privately-owned Nova Scotia Power Inc. failed to fully satisfy five of 14 performance targets dealing with reliability, restoring power after adverse weather and service installations.
Prince Edward Island
Despite inflation driving up food prices around the world, P.E.I. residents have found a way to reduce their overall grocery bills, according to a report from Statistics Canada. The report looking at distributions of household economic accounts, income, consumption and saving examines where Canadians are earning their money and where they are spending it. It suggests that in the face of inflation at the grocery store, Islanders changed their buying habits.
Members of P.E.I.’s legislative assembly will see their salaries go up in September and April, and some government officials will get a big increase next month. The news came in the final report of the Indemnities and Allowances Commission, released Wednesday. The commission is an independent body, and its decisions on MLA compensation are binding.
Elections P.E.I. has told the City of Charlottetown it will no longer handle elections for P.E.I.’s largest city, with the chief electoral officer saying in a letter he has “deep concerns regarding the councillors’ understanding of the Municipal Government Act… and the principle of impartial elections.” The agency usually administers elections in five municipalities in the province, but Tim Garrity said in a letter to councillors that Charlottetown is now off that list.
Pierre Poilievre says that if his Conservative Party forms the federal government after the next election, he will introduce measures to bring down the costs of low-carbon energy alternatives rather than impose surcharges on fossil fuels as Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have done. That’s one of the topics the federal Conservative leader addressed Wednesday during a visit to Prince Edward Island.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Connecting Labrador’s six north coast communities to high-speed internet will now cost $10 million more than initially planned. On Tuesday, MP Yvonne Jones said the cost had grown to $32 million, up from $22 million in funding announced in 2022 for Bell to bring high-speed internet to more than 1,000 households in Nain, Natuashish, Hopedale, Makkovik, Postville and Rigolet.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s credit rating has been raised by credit rating agency DBRS Morningstar. The agency announced Thursday that the province’s issuer and long-term debt ratings have improved from stable to positive. The rating increased from an A (low) rank to an A rank. The upward trend is the result of “Newfoundland’s improving fiscal outlook,” said the agency, which includes the commissioning of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
Despite environmental groups warning against further exploration, and as wildfires and flooding decimate communities across Canada, the federal minister of environment and climate change is backing the continued search for oil off Newfoundland’s coast — for now. On Monday, Norwegian energy giant Equinor announced it had hired a semi-submersible rig to explore the Flemish Pass Basin next year, about 500 kilometres east of St. John’s. Steven Guilbeault said Wednesday that oil will still be necessary in a carbon-neutral world but at a reduced rate.
The president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association says the rising cost of school supplies is hitting students and teachers this year, and could put some students at a disadvantage before classes even begin. Trent Langdon said Wednesday he’s feeling the impact of rising prices himself as he prepares his two children to return to school, and he’s heard from teachers and parents who are feeling similar pressures.
Quebec Education Minister Bernard Drainville says there will be “a lot of unqualified teachers this year” due to a severe shortage of educators across the province. According to a survey conducted by the Fédération québécoise des directions d’établissement d’enseignement (FQDE), 5,000 full-time and part-time teaching positions have yet to be filled — about three times as many as last year. The number doesn’t include positions in schools on the island of Montreal.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet visited francophone communities in New Brunswick this week — the first visit by a Bloc leader to the officially bilingual province in 13 years. But he insists it’s not a sign the Sovereigntist party is setting its sights beyond Quebec. “We believe that the best way for Quebec to promote its own future is through sovereignty. If we want Quebec to be a country, we cannot pretend to have candidates or MPs from outside of Quebec, which absolutely would be illogical,” Blanchet told CBC News.
Ottawa and Quebec are investing $644 million to build a new Ford plant in the city of Bécancour to produce the materials needed for the batteries used in its electric vehicles. The federal government will be providing $322 million to the American company through the Strategic Innovation Fund. Investissement Québec, the provincial government’s investment arm, will loan the other half. Part of that amount will be forgivable.
Quebec has to drastically reduce the number of vehicles on the road in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, according to the province’s minister of the economy, innovation and energy. Pierre Fitzgibbon made the statement to journalists as he headed into a cabinet meeting in Quebec City. He was echoing statements he made Monday when he suggested that Quebec would need to halve the number of vehicles in order to meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets.
The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec is reporting a return of 4.2 percent in the first six months of the year, compared to its benchmark portfolio’s return of 4.1 percent. Net assets for the Quebec fund manager totalled $424 billion on June 30, up from $402 billion on Dec. 31, 2022. CDPQ chief executive Charles Emond says the many contradictory signals confronting investors — the direction of inflation, rates, employment and markets — make the environment challenging.
A coalition of First Nations leaders is calling for Ontario’s housing minister and his chief of staff to step down after the auditor general faulted the government for failing to consult with Indigenous communities before making the controversial decision to open up thousands of hectares of protected Greenbelt land for housing development. The leadership council of the Chiefs of Ontario, an organization that advocates for 133 First Nations in the province, met on Thursday to discuss its response to Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s 95-page report, released last week.
All levels of government need to collaborate to get more housing built in Ontario, but that work also needs to include the post-secondary education sector, says a report published Thursday by a University of Ottawa-based think tank. The Smart Prosperity Institute report, says the provincial government’s goal of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years is a good target, even if it will be “exceptionally difficult” to get there.
Ontario’s health ministry says it has launched a “critical incident review” of consumption and treatment services sites in the province following a daytime shooting that killed the mother of two near a Toronto site in July. In a statement on Wednesday, the ministry said the review is starting with the South Riverdale Community Health Centre on Queen St. E., east of Carlaw Avenue.
Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles is asking the province’s integrity commissioner to consider within his Greenbelt investigation the premier and government staffers’ reported use of personal phones and emails. Stiles’ request comes in the wake of last week’s scathing auditor general’s report into the government’s decision to open up protected Greenbelt lands to housing development.
College faculty members represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union will be receiving an additional 6.5 percent in salary increases over three years. They are the latest group of public sector workers to see their pay boosted due to an Ontario court overturning a provincial wage restraint law known as Bill 124, which capped salary increases for broader public sector workers at one percent a year for three years.
A Winnipeg grandmother says she got a phone call from a provincial employee asking for her grandson’s medical equipment to be returned just days after the 12-year-old died. “I was totally flustered, not believing what they were asking,” said Theresa Jobse. Jobse said a representative of the Materials Distribution Agency, which distributes medical items on behalf of the province, phoned on Aug. 9. The call came just one day after the family notified the province of the death of Caleb McKague, and four days after the 12-year-old died. She said the employee had a list of medical items in the family’s possession, and asked that they be returned.
The Manitoba Progressive Conservatives say they want to expand parents’ rights over what their children learn in school if re-elected this fall. While some community members applaud the move, which they say would address concerns over materials they consider inappropriate, others worry it could lead to a chilling effect on teachers. “The teachers and school staff do incredible work educating our kids, but parents want to know what’s going on in the day-to-day lives of their children,” PC Leader Heather Stefanson said at a campaign announcement in St. Vital Park on Thursday.
The number of government employees on strike in Manitoba could mount as staff with the province’s public insurer are now preparing to hit the picket lines. Unionized workers with Manitoba Public Insurance “overwhelmingly” voted to reject the latest contract offer in favour of strike action, according to a Thursday night news release from the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union.
A Manitoba NDP government would hire 100 mental health workers to work alongside law enforcement, and hire more police officers if that’s what policing agencies want, leader Wab Kinew promised on Thursday. On the front lawn of a suburban Winnipeg home, Kinew presented a five-point strategy that he says would be tough on crime and its causes. Kinew promised his party would hire 100 mental health workers to support law enforcement on non-violent calls, so officers can devote more time to violent crime.
Saskatchewan drivers are paying big bucks at the pumps because the provincial and federal governments are guzzling too many tax dollars, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF.) “Every time a family pulls up to the gas pumps, they’re paying 47 cents per litre to federal and provincial tax collectors. That means when you’re filling up your family car, of your total bill you’re paying $30 in just taxes,” said CTF prairie director Gage Haubrich on Thursday.
A Saskatchewan man is the first person to enter the election race to become the next chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Flanked by more than a dozen chiefs and other supporters, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice-chief David Pratt made his campaign announcement Wednesday morning at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, which is located just outside Saskatoon.
The Poplar River Power Station — one of SaskPower’s largest generation plants — hasn’t been fully functioning in more than two months. A significant rainfall knocked the power plant near Coronach, Sask., out of commission on June 2, Joel Cherry, a SaskPower spokesperson said. Both of the plant’s two units flooded after water and debris, such as dirt and hay, spilled down the plant’s waterway into the facility.
The Saskatchewan government has offered to assist the Northwest Territories amid a mass evacuation prompted by threatening wildfires. More than 22,000 people have been ordered to evacuate by Friday afternoon. The evacuation order includes people who live in the capital city of Yellowknife, as well as people living in Dettah, Ndilǫ and the Ingraham trail.
Alberta’s health minister says Alberta Health Services has signed a memorandum of understanding with the ownership of Dynalife, which will see the private provider transfer all of its staff, operations and physical locations to the government-owned Alberta Precision Labs by the end of 2023. “This change is necessary to make sure Albertans can get their lab work done when and where they need it and get timely results,” Adriana LaGrange said.
The man hired to turn around the flagging fortunes of Suncor Energy Inc. said Tuesday he believes the company has been too focused in recent years on the energy transition and must get back to an oil-centred business strategy. CEO Rich Kruger, who took the reins at the Calgary-based energy giant this spring, told analysts on a conference call that the company’s board of directors agrees with him that a “revised direction and tone” at the company is necessary.
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi is wondering why the provincial opposition is calling on him and Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek, to comment on the United Conservative Party’s ban on renewable energy development. Wednesday the Alberta NDP released a statement calling on “Alberta’s two largest cities to join the fight against the UCP’s ban.” The NDP says, “Danielle Smith sabotaged more than a dozen low-cost, low-emission power stations, just as Albertans are facing unprecedented energy prices and an unprecedented wildfire season.”
Officials say a significant number of homes have been destroyed by a fast-burning, “unpredictable” wildfire in the West Kelowna area as crews brace for what the B.C. Wildfire Service has predicted will be the most challenging days of the province’s fire season. More than 2,400 properties are under an evacuation order and more than 4,800 properties under an evacuation alert due to the encroaching McDougall Creek wildfire, which grew more than a hundredfold — from 64 hectares to 6,800 hectares (6.8 square kilometres) — in just 24 hours.
This summer, the federal government has started to fund Canada-wide training focused on fighting wildfires. Distributed through a pilot program run by the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), the funding is for full-time municipal firefighters and volunteer rural firefighters primarily tasked with putting out fires from buildings like homes, sheds and barns. However, some say more still could be done to train and fund specialty equipment for firefighters who aren’t part of provincial wildfire services, particularly volunteer crews that are resource-strapped.
As British Columbia grapples with a heat wave that broke temperature records this week, a disability rights advocate says there has been no meaningful progress to protect the most vulnerable since a week-long heat dome left 619 people dead in 2021. “In terms of what’s happening for people, the same people are still largely without cooling,” said Gabrielle Peters, a disabled writer and policy advocate who was originally part of a panel convened by the B.C. Coroners Service last year before she left when her own recommendations were rejected.
A $66.6 million lawsuit filed by anti-vaccine activist Daniel Nagase was thrown out of B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver Friday amid strange antics from Nagase, a former family doctor. In delivering his ruling, Justice Michael Tammen said Nagase’s claim was frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of process. Nagase, who represented himself and made nonsensical pseudo-legal arguments, was not in the courtroom when the decision was read.
After being on the road for 17 hours, Mariana Silva of Yellowknife is happy to be in High Level, Alta. But she’s also questioning whether the evacuation order for her city should have come sooner than Wednesday evening. She is upset that many residents were exposed to wildfire smoke longer than they needed to be. “We were not able to breathe in offices, even with the HEPA filters,” she said. Silva believes there was “information hoarding” by the N.W.T government when it came to providing updates on the forest fires threatening the city. She compares it to patterns of communication during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The N.W.T. government is urging people to register for one of 22 flights out of the capital on Friday as the noon deadline for evacuation approaches. A government spokesperson said not enough people had yet presented themselves at Sir John Franklin High School to fill the flights. That’s despite many people spending the night waiting in line for flights. Shane Thompson, N.W.T.’s minister of municipal and community affairs, said 1,537 Yellowknifers were evacuated by air Thursday with the last flight leaving at 11 p.m.
Drug deaths are down in the Yukon, but advocates and experts say people must remain vigilant as toxic supply continues to kill across Canada. Yukon is reporting no substance-related deaths in the territory in June or July, despite having the highest per-capita overdose death rate in Canada earlier this year. Although the territory has seen a downturn in drug-related deaths, experts and harm-reduction workers warn the territory is not out of the woods.
The Government of Nunavut says 85 medical travelers and escorts from Nunavut left the Northwest Territories via charter flight on Wednesday night. They arrived in Edmonton around midnight, the government said. The move follows Wednesday evening’s announcement from the N.W.T. government that Yellowknife was being evacuated because of nearby wildfires. People in the city were asked to be gone by noon Friday.