Provincial and Territorial Update – February 2, 2024

An overview of the Provincial Legislative and Territories Legislative Updates for the week of February 2, 2024.​ Written by Wes McLean.

New Brunswick

  • A top minister in Premier Blaine Higgs’s government says she is resigning from cabinet immediately and will also quit as a member of the legislature “in the near term.” Arlene Dunn says she made the decision “after much consideration and discussion with my family” but did not provide any reasons in a statement released Friday morning. 
  • New Brunswick schools are doing what they can to hire more staff and create new classrooms in response to significant growth in immigration, according to the Department of Education. In front of the legislature’s standing committee on public accounts, deputy ministers said a consistent flow of new students from outside Canada is making budgeting challenging and forcing schools to quickly adapt.
  • The New Brunswick Court of Appeal says it wants to move quickly to address a so-called “legal gap” that could affect dozens of the province’s most vulnerable children. The court has set Feb. 12 as the date it will hear arguments from government lawyers about a drafting error in a bill adopted by the legislature in December. That error — the omission of a timeline for proclaiming the bill into law — led to the accidental repeal of child-protection provisions of the Family Services Act before replacement sections in a new Child and Youth Well-Being Act were in force.
  • New Brunswick has been overestimating the cost of federal clean fuel regulations on oil companies and has allowed consumers to be overcharged by millions of dollars since last July as a result, two expert witnesses told an Energy and Utilities Board hearing this week. Timothy Auger of the group Advanced BioFuels Canada and Vijay Muralidharan of Calgary-based R Cube Economic Consulting Inc. are each challenging a formula adopted last year by the EUB to calculate the cost of federal clean fuel rules on oil companies.

Nova Scotia

  • While Nova Scotia Environment Minister Tim Halman refuses to release the results of the latest round of public consultation on the Coastal Protection Act, new documents show an even larger number of people calling on him to proclaim the legislation than previously reported. In September, CBC News reported on records received through the access to information process that showed public correspondence on the long-delayed legislation, which was passed with all-party support in 2019 but was never proclaimed.
  • Nova Scotia Power joined the Houston government Wednesday calling for financial assistance from Ottawa to stabilize power rates in a province where they have jumped 14 per cent in two years — with further increases to come as the electrical system transitions from its reliance on fossil fuels. “We’ve been pleading with the federal government,” Nova Scotia Power president and CEO Peter Gregg told a business luncheon in Halifax. “We need help.”
  • Nova Scotia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Tricia Ralph is once again asking for significant changes to the law that governs access to information in the province. She is also calling for a culture change within government departments and other public bodies subject to the law. In a 47-page submission to a provincial committee reviewing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Ralph noted “the problems plaguing access to information and protection of privacy in Nova Scotia are not solely legislative ones.”
  • For political nerds in Nova Scotia, Tuesday was the equivalent of the Stanley Cup of law revisions, but unlike the hyped playoff final, this event took place in an almost empty committee room and lasted just over 11 minutes. That’s how long it took for Nova Scotia’s law amendments committee to approve the tidying up of 573 laws. The six-and-a-half-year effort by lawyers in the legislative counsel’s office was laid out in 18 volumes, on a table usually reserved for committee witnesses, near Province House in Halifax.

Prince Edward Island

  • For the first time in nearly a year, the former chair of Health P.E.I.’s board has criticized the state of the province’s healthcare system and challenged the current health minister on recruitment efforts. Derek Key stepped down from the health agency’s board in December 2022, citing multiple failures in the government’s efforts to foster quality health care on the Island. On Thursday night, the Summerside lawyer stood to speak at a packed town hall meeting held to let residents and healthcare workers express concerns about recent cuts to services at Prince County Hospital. 
  • After decades of proponents calling for the service, Health P.E.I. has hired its first two midwives to provide care both before and after new births on the Island. The midwives began working at Charlottetown’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Jan. 30 and can offer care prior to birth and for up to eight weeks afterward. That’s welcome news for P.E.I. moms like Sonya Rae, who used a midwife service in Ontario when she was carrying and bearing the first of her three children.  
  • Health P.E.I.’s former CEO Michael Gardam says patient medical homes would help more people see a doctor, but he doubts there’s enough space or people to staff them. During last spring’s election campaign, the Progressive Conservatives promised medical homes would get everyone off the P.E.I. Patient Registry. At the time, Premier Dennis King said the province was developing its 14th medical home, and the goal was to have 30 by the end of 2024.
  • A man who wants to build a golf course on the site of the Confederation Bridge fabrication yard is disappointed that options for the property haven’t played a larger role in the current provincial byelection campaign in Borden-Carleton. The fabrication yard, now owned by Innovation P.E.I., has lain dormant since the bridge to New Brunswick was completed in 1997.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Corner Brook MHA and former provincial fisheries minister Gerry Byrne says Newfoundland and Labrador deserves a higher allocation of redfish this season and is calling the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans “intellectually and morally bankrupt” in its decision-making. Federal Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier announced the redfish allocation for the Atlantic provinces in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Friday. Newfoundland and Labrador saw a slight increase to a 19 percent share, up two percentage points from historical allocations.
  • Teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador will be getting annual two percent wage increases for the next four years, as well as a one-time bonus of $2,000, in a new collective agreement with the provincial government. Details of the agreement were released Friday morning, as the Education Department and teachers’ union announced they’d finalized the deal, which was reached in November. The deal covers 6,500 teachers across the province.

Quebec

  • Quebec Premier François Legault really doesn’t want you to question his integrity. As journalists peppered him with questions on Thursday about allegations that his party was monetizing access to politicians, he emphatically stated that his integrity was above reproach — dropping an expletive that sparked a lengthy awkward silence: “One thing I cannot accept is that we put in question my integrity, shit.”
  • François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), which has just temporarily renounced popular financing, proposed raising the ceiling on political donations to $200 last summer. The information, first reported by 98.5 FM and Radio-Canada, was confirmed by The Canadian Press. “We agreed to study in the technical committee of the DGEQ (Chief Electoral Officer) an update of the $100 in today’s dollars. We consulted and decided not to pursue this avenue a few weeks ago,” said CAQ Director General Brigitte Legault in writing.
  • As Quebec politicians made their return to the legislature Tuesday, Québec Solidaire’s Vincent Marissal accused a third CAQ MNA of soliciting donations in exchange for a meeting with a minister. Marissal voiced the accusation during Question Period, referring to screenshots he had reportedly received of an exchange between CAQ MNA Yves Montigny and an entrepreneur from his riding.
  • A proposed regulation concerning the language of commercial signage in Quebec is attracting skepticism from U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, which has “concerns” about the potential impact on American businesses. The issue came up during a wide-ranging meeting between high-level trade officials from both countries in Toronto on Wednesday.

Ontario

  • The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the Ontario government does not have to disclose Premier Doug Ford’s mandate letters in a unanimous decision issued Friday. “The Letters are revealing of the substance of Cabinet deliberations, both on their face and when compared against what government actually does,” wrote Justice Andromache Karakatsanis in the majority decision. Mandate letters traditionally lay out the marching orders a premier has for each of their ministers after taking office — and have been routinely released by governments across the country.
  • As Ontario Progressive Conservative faithful huddle in Niagara Falls for this weekend’s policy convention, insiders expect Premier Doug Ford will double down on the party’s 2022 campaign mantra — ”get it done” — to signal his laser focus on core priorities such as building new homes and restoring affordability after a challenging few months marred by scandal.
  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday he does not want to raise tuition for post-secondary students, despite colleges and universities struggling financially and a panel that recommended otherwise. Ford’s government cut tuition by 10 percent in 2019 for Canadian students and froze it. A government-commissioned blue-ribbon panel recommended the province unfreeze tuition, raise student aid and increase operating grants to the schools. “I just don’t believe this is the time to go into these students’ pockets, especially the ones that are really struggling, and ask for a tuition increase,” Ford said at a news conference about combating car theft.
  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford says that “no one has a handcuff on anyone” as he deals with the loss of a cabinet minister to Pierre Poilievre’s run for the federal government. On Jan. 25, then-Minister of Red Tape Reduction Parm Gill announced he would resign his cabinet post and his provincial riding seat ahead of a run to return to the federal government. Gill previously served one term in Ottawa. “My message is to anyone, no matter when I ran my private company or run the government: no one has a handcuff on anyone, no matter if its the Liberals, NDP, PCs,” Ford said at an event in York Region on Wednesday.

Manitoba

  • The Manitoba government has yet to tackle systemic causes of youth suicide and addictions despite attempting to address dozens of recommendations put forth by the province’s child and youth advocate, a report from the advocate’s office suggests. Sherry Gott, the Manitoba advocate for children and youth, released her annual report card Thursday examining the province’s implementation of her office’s recommendations since 2018. It found overall compliance has improved over the past year, but this doesn’t always create tangible improvements for children, young adults and their families.
  • A man injured in a car crash and taken to Winnipeg’s largest hospital for treatment in mid-January left with even more injuries and alleges he was beaten by hospital security. Bobby Thomas, 39, of Winnipeg says he suffered a cheekbone fracture, concussion and nerve damage after a group of security guards at Health Sciences Centre pushed him, then repeatedly hit him in the head and smashed his face into the concrete floor. He says hospitals shouldn’t allow security guards to use physical force with patients and he hopes to never go to that hospital again.
  • Manitoba school divisions will see their annual operating funding climb just under the province’s inflation rate for 2023, with the government giving trustees the option to raise property taxes if they find that money isn’t enough. Schools in the province will see an average operational funding boost of 3.4 percent for the upcoming school year, meaning school divisions will receive an additional $51.5 million, some of which will be used to deal with increasing enrolment.
  • The Manitoba government and the head of the province’s Crown energy corporation are at odds over future energy generation and ways to reduce consumer demand. Finance Minister Adrien Sala, who is responsible for Manitoba Hydro, says the NDP government wants future energy resources to be publicly owned and is opposed to demand-response measures. That runs counter to comments by Manitoba Hydro chief executive officer Jay Grewal earlier this week, who said Manitoba could need new energy sources as early as 2029.

Saskatchewan

  • Travis Patron, founder of the now-defunct Canadian Nationalist Party, argued that he was upholding the law when he approached an off-duty police officer and questioned his relationship with his girlfriend. Patron, 32, was found guilty in January of criminal harassment and breaching a probation order to keep the peace. On July 30, 2023, he confronted an off-duty police officer in Saskatoon’s Midtown Plaza asking them questions about their culture, background and why the officer was walking around with a Canadian woman when he was not born in Canada.
  • Saskatchewan teachers have begun rotating strikes in some divisions, as neither the government nor the teachers’ union are budging on contract negotiations, and both blame the other for stalled bargaining. On Thursday, five teachers’ associations walked off the job, including educators from the Holy Trinity Teachers’ Association, of which Clayton Boyer is the president.
  • Chiefs from James Smith Cree Nation (JSCN) and other First Nations leaders say the federal government needs to provide more funding in order for the recommendations made at an inquest into the stabbing massacre at JSCN to be put into action. James Smith resident Myles Sanderson killed 11 people — 10 in the community and one in the nearby village of Weldon, Sask. — on Sept. 4, 2022. The almost three-week-long inquest examining the massacre ended on Wednesday with a panel of six jurors providing their findings on how and when each person died and 14 recommendations to prevent similar deaths from happening again. Coroner Blaine Beaven, who oversaw the inquest, added another 15 recommendations.
  • Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre is defending changes at the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC), which has seen the chief commissioner and all other commissioners replaced as of Thursday. “The terms of all the former commissioners had expired. The majority were appointed around 2015,” Eyre said in an interview on Thursday. “We had two resignations, one for personal reasons, one retirement,” Eyre said interim chief commissioner Barry Wilcox and three other commissioners had their terms expire. Wilcox was also retiring as of Wednesday.

Alberta

  • Federal Justice Minister Arif Virani said Thursday he has serious reservations about a suite of measures Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is about to introduce to curb access to certain transgender health services for kids and ban gender-diverse people from some sporting events. Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill, Virani said Smith’s promised measures amount to “targeting and demonizing” trans children.
  • Lance Colby saw what was coming. The Alberta government said Wednesday it would open talks on water-sharing between large users as the province’s drought situation worsens. But Colby, chairman of the Mountain View Regional Water Services Commission in central Alberta, had already begun such discussions. “We’re trying to get ahead of it,” said Colby, whose group operates a treatment plant on the Red Deer River. “We’re trying to figure out where the water’s going, who the big users (are) and who’s buying water.
  • The government of Alberta says it will spend $18 million to help municipalities improve the energy efficiency of their public buildings. Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz says the money will be used to hire staff, replace windows, upgrade lights, and make other improvements.
  • More than 70 percent of respondents to an online government survey expressed opposition to the idea of adding party labels alongside the names of candidates on municipal election ballots, according to data acquired by Postmedia. The online survey ran last year from Nov. 7 to Dec. 6 and asked respondents for feedback on a statement that read, “The electoral ballot should be amended to allow political parties to be listed by municipal candidates.”

British Columbia

  • British Columbia Premier David Eby says the recent sharing of fake intimate images of pop star Taylor Swift proves no one is immune from such “attacks,” as the province launches new services to get images taken down and go after perpetrators for damages. The launch of the services on Monday in conjunction with the Civil Resolution Tribunal comes on the same day the province’s Intimate Images Protection Act comes into force.
  • The provincial government is pushing for exemptions on the future cap of international students permitted to study in B.C. while toughening up rules around post-secondary institutions. Premier David Eby and Post-Secondary Education Minister Selina Robinson delivered this double-barreled message Monday from both Ottawa and Surrey. The federal government announced on Jan. 22 that it would cap the number of new international students for 2024 at about 360,000 — a cut of 35 percent compared to current numbers. Ottawa also announced that it would allocate the permits to provinces and territories on a per-capita basis.
  • A new report from Dr. Bonnie Henry has called on the B.C. government to broaden the availability and types of drugs that can be prescribed under the province’s controversial safer-supply program. But the provincial health officer also acknowledged Thursday that the pioneering program carries some societal risks, and urged B.C. to create a scientific and clinical committee to address concerns and evidence arising from it. B.C. is the first province to have a safer supply program, which allows medical prescribers to give substance users regulated versions of some opioids.
  • Since she became B.C.’s chief coroner in February 2011, Lisa Lapointe has seen a lot of change. In 2016, the province declared a public health emergency over drug poisoning deaths. In 2023, B.C. decriminalized the possession of up to 2.5 grams of some illicit drugs for personal use. Changes have also been made to allow people who use drugs to be prescribed regulated alternatives to street drugs in what is termed a safe supply. And yet, the number of people dying of toxic drug deaths continues to climb — a record high of 2,511 in 2023, for a total of more than 14,000 deaths since 2016.

Northwest Territories

  • Tony Alba vividly remembers the day, just over a year ago, when he drove north with his son Paszolo Alba from Edmonton to Fort Smith, N.W.T., where Paszolo was about to start a new job with Northwestern Air Lease. “He was very excited about it,” Tony recalled. “I fully remember it, it was January 15 of last year, 2023, when him and I drove to Fort Smith, so that he could take all his belongings, you know, and his car. So he was so very happy.” Now, Tony and his wife Carol are mourning for their son and trying to imagine how to carry on without him. Paszolo, 24, was among the six people who died last week when the Northwestern Air Lease plane he was in crashed and caught fire near Fort Smith, N.W.T. One person survived the crash.

Yukon

  • Yukoners working a minimum wage job will soon see a few more dollars on their paycheques. Currently, the territory’s minimum wage is set at $16.77 per hour. As of April 1, it will be increased by $0.82 bringing it up to an hourly rate of $17.59. In a press release, the Government of Yukon said the increase is based on the 2023 Consumer Price Index for Whitehorse, which is 4.9 percent. The consumer price index measures the average change in costs that consumers encounter.

Nunavut

  • The Nunavut Housing Corporation is developing 166 new housing units across 17 different communities, with construction scheduled to start in the fall. The new buildings will include 146 public housing units and 20 staff housing units. The building contract is with the Inuit-owned NCC Development Limited and the Nunavut government says construction of the units will cost the territory $670 per square foot, for a total of $134.7 million Eiryn Devereaux, president and CEO of the housing corporation, said in a news release that the buildings will be good value for the money and that the construction “reflects a significant increase in the annual supply of new public housing units desperately needed across the territory.”

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