Provincial and Territorial Update – February 23, 2024

An overview of the Provincial Legislative and Territories Legislative Updates for the week of February 23, 2024.​ Written by Wes McLean.

New Brunswick

  • A Green Party MLA says New Brunswick should have more control over immigration numbers in response to the federal government’s new cap on international study permits. Megan Mitton says Ottawa’s “one-size-fits-all” decision is “going to have a negative impact, for sure” on the province’s post-secondary institutions.
  • The New Brunswick government is defending the use of travel nurses in the face of criticism over the high cost to taxpayers. Meanwhile, Vitalité, the regional health authority that has made the most use of the private agency nurses, acknowledged in a statement to CBC News that “the billing level for these services deserves questioning.”
  • After the federal government put a 360,000 cap on the number of international students who can study in Canada next year, it now says New Brunswick will be allowed 5,580 of them. But as the province works out how to divide those students among its universities and colleges, it has another challenge. Along with capping the number of study permits, the federal government is also capping how many acceptance letters schools can send out.
  • Some Wolastoqey fishers say the closure of the fishery for baby eels, or elvers, this year will infringe on their treaty rights and impact their right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing. Last week, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) issued letters to commercial licence holders that it will not renew licences ahead of the elver season which typically starts in late March.

Nova Scotia

  • Nova Scotia MLA Brendan Maguire crossed the floor on Thursday, leaving the Liberals after 10 years to join the governing Progressive Conservatives and also become the minister of community services. Premier Tim Houston announced at a morning news conference in Halifax. Maguire, who represents the district of Halifax Atlantic, will replace Trevor Boudreau, whom the premier said is stepping down as minister due to health reasons but will remain as an MLA.
  • Friday was a long time coming for Paul Legere. The veteran emergency department doctor at Yarmouth Regional Hospital recently spoke out along with colleagues about the need for a replacement site and concerns that the government was not moving fast enough to address the issue. On Friday those concerns were answered. Service Nova Scotia Minister Colton LeBlanc announced that a construction tender for a new emergency department would be issued this spring.
  • Opposition leaders say the Nova Scotia government has “set the political culture back” decades through the use of untendered contracts and a lack of transparency in its work to address problems in the healthcare system. The minister responsible says he’s committed to tightening up the process — while making no apologies for trying to go faster to improve health care. Auditor General Kim Adair released a report earlier this month flagging the “highly unusual transaction” the government used to purchase an unfinished hotel for the purpose of converting it into a patient-care facility.
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled to Nova Scotia on Thursday to announce $13.3 million in funding to fast-track construction of 367 housing units over the next three years. Trudeau announced a snow-covered housing development inside the Membertou First Nation, a mostly urban community south of Sydney, the largest city in Cape Breton.

Prince Edward Island

  • The P.E.I. government has released a five-year plan it says will increase the province’s housing supply to address the Island’s ongoing housing crisis. The plan released Friday promises to identify “creative solutions and opportunities” in conjunction with tenants, landlords, community groups, industry associations, developers and all levels of government. 
  • P.E.I.’s cabinet has authorized more than $88 million to cover spending that came in over budget. The spending authorizations, called special warrants, were approved at cabinet meetings on Jan. 30 and Feb. 13. Finance Minister Jill Burridge said the biggest expenditure was $29 million to expand the province’s free heat pump program.
  • A councillor from Murray Harbour, P.E.I., who argues his right to share “a personal opinion” on a sign was infringed by sanctions imposed by his fellow councillors has now filed documents seeking a judicial review of the case. John Robertson wants a P.E.I. Supreme Court judge to consider all the facts of the case, including whether the Rural Municipality of Murray Harbour had the right to suspend him for six months, remove him as chair of the community’s maintenance of infrastructure committee, levy a $500 fine against him and demand a written apology. 
  • Melanie Fraser will be the new CEO of Health P.E.I., following in the footsteps of Dr. Michael Gardam and interim CEO Corinne Rowswell at the helm of the provincial health agency. Provincial Health and Wellness Minister Mark McLane and the Health P.E.I. board of directors jointly announced Fraser’s appointment on Wednesday. “With her vast experience, dedication and passion for health care, she will be an excellent leader for our Island’s health authority and all those who work within the health care system,” McLane was quoted as saying in a provincial news release.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Health Minister Tom Osborne said there are full-time nursing jobs for every nurse in the province but students should temper their expectations, as the available jobs may not be in the specific units or locations students want. “You can’t graduate and say, ‘I want the preferred job in a preferred area,'” he said.
  • There’s a hurdle to clear the way for Tacrora Resources’ plan to get out of the creditor protection process and breathe new life into its Labrador iron ore mine — and it comes from one of its owners. Tacora, which owns the Scully Mine in Wabush in western Labrador, obtained creditor protection from Ontario’s Superior Court in October. In documents, it cited a volatile market, raging forest fires and unexpected maintenance at the mine as contributing factors that led to a dire year financially.
  • A defence lawyer in St. John’s is calling for a public inquiry into the death of 35-year-old inmate Seamus Flynn and healthcare services at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary. Bob Buckingham says Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical examiner has the power to call for an inquiry — similar to a coroner’s inquest — but never has. “I think we need to have a real strong investigation into this death,” Buckingham said in a recent interview.
  • An application submitted by a man accused of sexual assault to provide Newfoundland and Labrador’s first ride-hailing operation was approved in just one day, according to emails obtained through access-to-information legislation. The messages show the submission from Yosief Tesfamicael, owner of Redsea Riding, included an eight-page company policy that was heavily copied from Uber’s website.

Quebec

  • Stung by repeated questioning in the National Assembly from Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon over the issue of temporary immigration, Premier François Legault on Tuesday suddenly questioned the usefulness of the sovereignist Bloc Québécois in Ottawa. Legault’s questions came in response to St-Pierre Plamondon’s accusation that the premier had done nothing on the issue of temporary immigration in Quebec.
  • The Quebec Bar Association is denouncing what it calls an “attack” on the independence of federally appointed judges from Premier François Legault. The comments from the Barreau du Québec follow Legault’s statements Thursday accusing the Parti Québécois leader of prostrating himself before Ottawa regarding a Court of Appeal decision. In a unanimous ruling on Feb. 7, the Court of Appeal granted access to Quebec’s subsidized daycare spots to the children of asylum seekers, frustrating Legault who said those spaces should be saved for citizens.
  • Quebec Premier François Legault says he plans to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the coming weeks to discuss asylum seekers and mounting pressure on the province’s public services. At a press briefing on Thursday, Legault called on Ottawa to reinstate visa requirements for Mexican travellers as quickly as possible, saying many asylum seekers come from that country. Earlier this week, four Quebec ministers again asked Ottawa to curb the arrival of asylum seekers and distribute them more evenly across the country.
  • The Quebec government will present a budget on March 12 that is expected to have a larger deficit than originally estimated. Quebec’s Finance Minister Eric Girard said Thursday that the government’s priorities for the 2024-25 fiscal year will be health care and education. Earlier this week, Premier François Legault said collective agreements recently signed with workers in those two sectors mean it will take longer for the government to balance the books.

Ontario

  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford is defending his government’s appointments of two former staffers to a committee that helps select provincial judges, saying he’s not going to put Liberals or New Democrats in those roles. The Toronto Star first reported that Matthew Bondy, a former deputy chief of staff to Ford, is the chair of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee, and Brock Vandrick, Ford’s former director of stakeholder relations, is on the committee.
  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford has taken a rare shot at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a lengthy radio interview, in which the premier also took aim at federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault. During an interview with AM 640’s John Oakley, Ford talked about Guilbeault and the federal government, labelling the environment minister “an extremist.” “Sometimes I sit back and wonder, who’s running the country, Justin Trudeau or Guilbeault? And right now I don’t know who’s running the country,” Ford said.
  • Ontario Members of the Provincial Parliament return to Queen’s Park Tuesday for the first time this year. The Doug Ford government started rolling out its priorities over the last few weeks. The government’s first act of business will be to introduce the ‘Get it Done Act,’ an omnibus bill that will do everything from auto-renew licence plates to streamline the environmental impact process.
  • The Ontario government is providing Toronto with $114 million as a reward for exceeding its provincially set housing targets. Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government established housing targets for numerous large cities back in 2022, allotting Toronto with a lofty goal of building 285,000 units by 2031. Each city was also given an annual goal and told that if they achieved 80 percent of the housing starts, they would be eligible for funding as part of the province’s three-year “Building Faster Fund.”

Manitoba

  • A person who was being treated at Manitoba’s largest hospital on Thursday is facing charges after a security guard was stabbed. Winnipeg police confirm the person is facing charges of assault with a weapon after stabbing the guard at Health Sciences Centre. “Our violence is through the roof, it happens daily, whether it’s verbal abuse … physical abuse of staff or it’s threats of violence,” said a hospital staff member, who spoke with CBC News on condition of anonymity due to fear of job repercussions. “This episode that happened yesterday was quite concerning to everyone in the room.”
  • Police and emergency dispatchers need to have more faith that crisis workers can deal with mental health calls instead of taking a police-first approach, one advocate says, after several deaths in recent months following encounters with Winnipeg police. Jennifer Chambers, executive director of the Toronto-based Empowerment Council — a mental health advocacy organization funded by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, or CAMH — says more well-being calls need to be diverted to non-police-led crisis response teams.
  • Manitoba Hydro expects to lose more money this fiscal year than it previously projected, mainly because of widespread drought conditions across the Lake Winnipeg basin. In a third-quarter fiscal report published Thursday, the provincial Crown corporation projected a $190-million loss for the 2023-24 fiscal year, which ends on March 31. That’s up from a second-quarter projection of $161 million.
  • Ottawa is putting up $16 million to help build a residential high-rise that’s already under construction in downtown Winnipeg. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland pledged federal support Thursday for the 21-storey tower at 308 Colony St., which will create 214 apartment units — including 84 designated as affordable housing — and two office or commercial spaces on the ground floor. More than 20 percent of units will be accessible to people with disabilities. Freeland called the high-rise a prime example of a housing project done right.

Saskatchewan

  • More job action is on the way from teachers in Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) said Friday that its members will pull out of all extracurricular activities for a 24-hour period on Monday. That includes sports, drama, music, band, science clubs, intramurals, rehearsals, student leadership activities, planning for graduation celebrations, books fairs, and other clubs and activities, according to the STF.  Teachers will also withdraw lunchtime supervision in some areas of the province Monday.
  • The Saskatchewan Party has confirmed that a man recently appointed to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission is also trying to run for the party in the next provincial election. Last month, Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre appointed seven new members to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, replacing existing members who had resigned or whose term had ended. Mubarik Syed, a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat community in Saskatoon, was one of them. In a statement this week, the Saskatchewan Party confirmed that Syed is the same man seeking the nomination for the party in Saskatoon Southeast. 
  • The Saskatchewan government has quietly announced $750 million in spending a month before it’s scheduled to present the provincial budget. The Opposition NDP is calling it an attempt to avoid the democratic process and sidestep accountability. “At the end of the day, taxpayers deserve nothing less than honesty, transparency, value for money and good management. They’re not getting any of that right now,” said NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon on Thursday. The provincial government published 13 orders in council reporting that the minister of finance was issuing a series of special warrants. 
  • A main organizer of the “Freedom Convoy” is suing the federal government for using the Emergencies Act to freeze his bank accounts, arguing it breached his Charter rights to protest COVID-19 mandates. Chris Barber, who owns a trucking company in southwestern Saskatchewan, filed last week a statement of claim in the Court of King’s Bench in Saskatoon, claiming the federal government’s unprecedented move to invoke the act constituted an abuse of power.

Alberta

  • Alberta Premier Danielle Smith promised not to cut spending this year in a pre-budget speech on Wednesday but said the province still needs to show more restraint than previously expected. In a pre-budget, eight-minute paid prime-time televised speech, Smith said lower resource revenues and the volatile price of oil and gas have prompted the government to think of a long-term strategic financial plan to have a “stable, balanced budget.”
  • Seven Alberta First Nations have banded together to seek answers as industry and government move on billion-dollar plans to inject and store millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases underneath or adjacent to their traditional lands. “We don’t know how pumping carbon underground will affect our lakes, our rivers — even our underground reservoirs,” said Coun. Michael Lameman of Beaver Lake Cree Nation, one of the members of the Treaty 6 working group.
  • The Alberta government will hire an additional 100 firefighters to work this season but the opposition is concerned this won’t be enough in a year that could be worse for fire than 2023. Forestry and Parks Minister Todd Loewen announced the new staffing measures on Tuesday in a news conference at the Whitecourt firebase. “We are confident we are ready to tackle the upcoming wildfire season head-on to better direct our resources to fight new and existing wildfires,” Loewen said. “We are declaring an early start to the 2024 wildfire season.”
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday $175 million in funding to fast-track more than 5,200 new housing units in Edmonton over the next three years. “We’re changing the way housing gets built in this country,” Trudeau said at an apartment complex construction site in southwest Edmonton. The money is to flow through the federal Housing Accelerator program and be used to eliminate barriers to getting the homes built. Trudeau said the funds would create more housing options in the city, including more rentals, affordable apartments, and housing near university and college campuses.

British Columbia

  • The B.C. NDP’s pre-election budget will bleed red ink, even more than last year’s $4.2 billion deficit because Finance Minister Katrine Conroy said it’s not the right time to make cuts for people who are struggling. Speaking during a visit to the Fernwood Community Centre in Victoria Wednesday, Conroy pledged not to raise taxes for “ordinary people” but made no such promises for real estate speculators who can expect to be hit with a flipping tax.
  • The federal government has committed $2 billion to help finance B.C. Builds, a new program aimed at constructing thousands of rental homes on underused public land, which would then be available to middle-income earners in those communities. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the funds at a news conference alongside B.C. Premier David Eby and Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim in Vancouver on Tuesday morning. Trudeau called the provincial housing plan “ambitious and fundamentally practical” and said the additional federal financing will help create another 8,000 to 10,000 new homes.
  • Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim says he is “deeply saddened” by the death of a worker, who died when the load from a crane fell on a building under construction in the city’s Oakridge neighbourhood Wednesday. Sim said worksite safety must remain a top priority. In a statement, he said officials are committed to ensuring the safety of everyone working on construction projects in the city, and they will “continue to work diligently to prevent such tragedies in the future.”
  • The families of Robert Pickton’s victims held a vigil at the site of his Port Coquitlam, B.C., farm on Wednesday evening, a day before the serial killer is eligible to apply for day parole. In 2007, Pickton was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of full parole for 25 years. The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his pig farm in Port Coquitlam, around 25 kilometres east of downtown Vancouver. The serial killer becomes eligible to apply for day parole — meaning he would have to return to prison or a halfway home at night — on Feb. 22, according to the Parole Board of Canada.

Northwest Territories

  • Two years ahead of schedule, a federal plan to cut the cost of regulated child care spaces to $10 a day is set to become a reality in the N.W.T. Jenna Sudds, the federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, made the announcement Thursday alongside Caitlin Cleveland, the N.W.T.’s Minister of Education, Culture and Employment. “It’s a critical part of life for many families,” Sudds said. “Without access to high-quality, affordable and accessible childcare, parents cannot fully participate in the economy.”
  • N.W.T. MLAs voted Thursday to hold a public inquiry into the territory’s 2023 wildfire response, but Premier R.J. Simpson says his government isn’t making any promises. MLAs who were present voted 10-6 in favour of the inquiry, with all regular MLAs in favour and all cabinet ministers voting against it. Following the vote, Simpson told CBC he doesn’t believe it’s the right time for a public inquiry, with another wildfire season approaching.

Yukon

  • Warning of looming extinction, delegates at a recent parliamentary committee told lawmakers challenges faced by Yukon River chinook salmon are manifold and in need of swift action. They said teeming hatchery pinks are outcompeting chinook for food in the ocean, mining and hydroelectric dams are killing the fish and destroying their habitat, all while the territorial and the federal governments pass the buck to each other. Nicole Tom, the chief of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, presented during the Feb.15 standing committee on fisheries and oceans, during which she said without stronger efforts, the extinction of the entire species is all but guaranteed.
  • The Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation is warning spring melt could cause the tailings dam at the abandoned Mount Nansen mine in central Yukon to overflow or breach, and send a toxic slurry into the environment. The company managing the site, however, says a dam breach is unlikely — though it could be at risk of overflowing.

Nunavut

  • Power is finally back on in Sanirajak, Nunavut, according to the Qulliq Energy Corporation (QEC), after an eight-hour partial outage Wednesday. After intermittent power outages Saturday and Tuesday, parts of the community lost power again Wednesday morning as temperatures dropped below –30 C, with a wind chill of –51 C. The outage, which began just before 9 a.m., affected the hotel, RCMP, arena and some homes. Workers found a broken power line, but couldn’t fix it until the energy corporation flew in a crew.

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