Provincial and Territorial Update – January 26, 2024

Provincial and Territorial Update – January 26, 2024: An overview of the Provincial Legislative and Territories Legislative Updates for the week of January 21-26, 2024.​ Written by Wes McLean.

New Brunswick

  • New Brunswick has backed away from a controversial plan to merge all hospital testing laboratories into a single system with a main provincial lab at Moncton’s Dr. Georges-L. Dumont University Health Centre. The Department of Health has decided the plan, which was strongly opposed by Dumont doctors at an extraordinary news conference in late June, is “invalid,” according to a Vitalité Health Network official.
  • Premier Blaine Higgs returned to pocketbook issues Thursday in his final State of the Province speech before this year’s election, making new promises on health care, addiction services and the cost of living while mostly avoiding the Policy 713 controversy. Higgs announced his government will dip into its budget surplus again to offer a new round of one-time payments for low–income families.
  • New Brunswick is facing a looming teacher shortage and steps must be taken to recruit and retain more educators in the province, a new study warns. An upcoming wave of retirements along with population growth is creating a need for the province to invest more in the education system, said the study, published this month by the University of New Brunswick. Teachers will be especially needed in subjects such as French immersion and STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
  • The New Brunswick government revised an education policy for the first time in 20 years to remove a section that would see the province covering the legal costs of a school district in cases where their legal interests diverge. The revision came one month after the Anglophone East District Education Council voted to sue the province and request the government cover its legal costs over New Brunswick’s changes to a policy on gender identity.

Nova Scotia

  • A Halifax dermatologist is setting the record straight on tween skin care, as get-ready-with-me routines using potentially harmful lotions and serums go viral on social media. Dr. Natalie Cunningham has been practising pediatric dermatology in Halifax for the last seven years and she’s noticed a rise in interest in skin care among her clients between ages 10 and 12. “Especially over the holidays, I had young people and their parents asking me, ‘What is the best skin-care routine?’ ‘What are the best products to use?’ So it’s definitely much more of a hot topic these days,” she said.
  • People living in a downtown Halifax encampment say they feel safer sleeping in tents rather than in a newly opened $3-million shelter that one unhoused resident says is “like a jail.” Ric Young, who has been staying in a tent at a homeless encampment near city hall for about six months, toured the new 50-bed shelter at the Halifax Forum and says the facility isn’t a good option for him or his fellow unhoused neighbours.
  • Ann Marie Danch said it started with giving a snack to a student who didn’t have anything for lunch. Then the longtime educational assistant began to notice many others were showing up to school hungry. Before long, she said she and other staff at Highland Park Junior High in Halifax were feeding 30 to 50 students hot meals every day at breakfast and lunch. Data from the province shows there’s been a significant increase in people looking for better access to food. This comes at a time when there is growing pressure on food banks across Nova Scotia, resulting in more students going to school hungry, according to Feed Nova Scotia.
  • The Nova Scotia government has announced that a coastal classification system that will rate areas for aquaculture suitability will be expanded to include shellfish operations like oyster and mussel farms. The online platform is still under development and is scheduled to go live in March 2025. It was originally billed as a way to provide more transparency for fish farm sites like open-net salmon pens.

Prince Edward Island

  • After 35 years, Charlottetown police have made an arrest in the 1988 killing of Byron Carr, which shocked Prince Edward Islanders and left many members of its LGBTQ community living in fear.   Chief Brad MacConnell said on Friday that 56-year-old Todd Joseph Gallant, also known as Todd Joseph Irving, of Souris, P.E.I., has been charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of interfering with human remains. MacConnell said the arrest was made Thursday at 11:55 a.m. AT, based on “significant forensic evidence” that led police to believe Gallant is responsible for the death of Carr, whom he described as a loving son, brother and friend as well as  “a respected teacher and a good neighbour.”
  • Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King defended himself and his government in an interview Thursday, a day after the former CEO of Health P.E.I. said King’s office interfered in his work with the province’s health agency. Dr. Michael Gardam was asked during a legislative health committee meeting on Wednesday whether the premier’s office had ever asked him to fall in line with provincial decisions. Gardam replied that it had, predominantly concerning a new medical school planned for UPEI.
  • An appearance before the P.E.I. legislature’s health committee by former Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam led to a tense exchange with Progressive Conservative MLA Steven Myers on Wednesday. This is Gardam’s last week at Health P.E.I., after his time as CEO ended on Dec. 31 and acting CEO Corinne Rowswell took over. Last July he said he intended to stay on at the agency until March of this year to ensure a smooth transition, but today said he’ll spend the next two months using up vacation time banked during the COVID pandemic.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Equinor’s top executive in Canada, Tore Løseth, says the Norwegian oil giant is exploring all options as it attempts to bring down development costs for the stalled Bay du Nord project in offshore Newfoundland. One consideration is a scenario where Equinor and its partner, BP Canada, hires another company to supply and operate a ship-shaped production vessel commonly known as an FPSO. Previously, Equinor had planned to build and operate its own floating production, storage and offloading vessel, but Løseth said that’s now one of several options under consideration.
  • Political strategist Tim Powers says Ken McDonald may have helped his future prospects in politics by speaking against his own leader in an interview with Radio-Canada — but those future prospects may not be with the federal Liberals. McDonald, the MP for the Avalon riding, said in a recent interview he believes there should be a leadership review within the Liberal Party. A day after his comments were published, he issued a retraction. 
  • Newfoundland and Labrador PC Leader Tony Wakeham is calling out Digital Government and Service N.L. Minister Sarah Stoodley for not doing interviews on her department’s decision to issue the province’s first ride-hailing licence to a man accused of sexual crimes involving minors. Stoodley’s department said Friday the licence had been awarded to Redsea Riding and planned a news conference for the same day, but then cancelled it.
  • The N.L. government has tapped two Memorial University professors to create a road map by the end of the year to modernize education. The Education Accord advisory team chairs are Karen Goodnough and Anne Burke, who both teach in the education faculty. “We’re at a very pivotal time, we feel, here in this province, in terms of education. And it’s a time where we want to take a step forward in modernizing and transforming education,” Education Minister Krista Lynn Howell told reporters Thursday.

Quebec

  • Premier François Legault is considering limiting the arrival of temporary foreign workers in Quebec. At a press conference in Sherbrooke on Thursday after the CAQ caucus meetings, he said he’s considering tightening the admission criteria for these specific workers. “We’re not ruling it out. We’re looking into it.” The selection of temporary foreign workers is done under various programs and is a shared jurisdiction between Quebec and Ottawa, but their numbers have increased in recent years.
  • The Legault government may postpone its goal of returning to a balanced budget by 2027. Finance Minister Eric Girard explained on Thursday that Quebec’s economy was slowing down and that government revenues were falling while spending was rising. The wage increases granted to public sector employees are higher than those forecast in the economic update, Girard said. “I’m telling you the truth,” he said at a news scrum on Thursday morning on the sidelines of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) pre-sessional caucus, which is being held in Sherbrooke.
  • In his first public appearance of the year, François Legault said he wanted to ‘refocus’ on his priorities and avoid ‘distractions.’ Quebec’s premier and leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) has had a difficult 2023. On Wednesday, in front of his caucus members in Sherbrooke, he said he wanted to get back to basics. Legault named five priorities: education, health, the economy, the environment and Quebec’s identity. He also admitted that there was still a lot of work to be done on housing.
  • Quebec Premier François Legault issued a statement today following the CAQ caucus, saying that the provincial government “is ready to deliver the goods in 2024.” According to a study by the Angus Reid Institute, the Quebec government now has approvals below 20% in education, healthcare, housing affordability and the cost of living. François Legault also has the lowest approval of any other premier in Canada, at 31%.

Ontario

  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been dealt a political blow after a cabinet minister resigned on Thursday to join federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s team. Parm Gill, the Minister of Red Tape Reduction, resigned from the Ontario government as the Milton MPP, is looking to jump back into federal politics. Gill served one term on Parliament Hill representing Brampton—Springdale until 2015 before joining the Progressive Conservative ranks in Ontario.
  • Premier Doug Ford’s government faces a sharp reduction in what has been a lucrative source of funding for Ontario’s colleges and universities now that Ottawa plans to slash the number of international students allowed into Canada. With the province’s own expert panel revealing the perilous financial situation of Ontario’s colleges and universities just two months ago and post-secondary officials now saying the cut in international students visas will make things worse, the Ford government has some tough decisions to make. 
  • Premier Doug Ford is offering a portion of his government’s $1.2-billion three-year Building Faster Fund to rural and small municipalities that have not been assigned a target to build homes. Ford opened the possibility to delegates at this year’s Rural Municipalities of Ontario Association conference. Ten percent, or $120-million, will be earmarked for those communities to build infrastructure like roads and sewers to service new homes.
  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he is counting on the northern Ontario mining industry to help build Ontario into an economic powerhouse for the battery electric vehicle (BEV) industry. Ford was speaking on Jan. 23 at the annual conference of the 2024 Rural Ontario Municipal Association(ROMA) when he spoke about the importance of the Ontario critical minerals strategy for the future of EVs in Ontario.

Manitoba

  • An external review of Manitoba’s Crown-owned auto insurance corporation has found instability, confusion over responsibilities and a high ratio of managers. The review by consulting firm Ernst and Young says Manitoba Public Insurance has a relatively high number of managerial layers, and 30 percent of management roles have three or fewer people reporting to them directly. EY found “numerous organizational changes have hindered MPI’s ability to create, implement and monitor an effective long-term vision” and that has led to “confusion amongst leadership.”
  • Some people in Winnipeg’s food and hospitality community say the recent death of a restaurant owner after an altercation at his business is indicative of a larger problem. “I’ve lived in some pretty dangerous places throughout my life, and now I feel like Winnipeg has become maybe even worse than what I’ve experienced in the past,” said Eric Fouillard, who owns Daily Grind Coffee on Portage Avenue near the Grace Hospital, in a Friday interview with CBC Information Radio host Marcy Markusa. Kyriakos Vogiatzakis, 51, died Wednesday night following a fight outside his restaurant Cork & Flame, which is also on Portage, a couple of blocks from Daily Grind.
  • A push to make a living wage benchmark the minimum standard for all City of Winnipeg employees and contractors has hit a delay at city hall. Council had been set to vote Thursday on a motion from Coun. Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) that would have asked city staff to study the Canadian living wage framework — a measure of how much it costs a family to pay for basic necessities — and make that the City of Winnipeg’s minimum wage by Jan. 1, 2025. Rather than vote on the motion, the council sent it back to the executive policy committee for further discussion.
  • A downtown Winnipeg hotel that has faced controversy over a social media video showing a young woman from a northern Manitoba First Nation being restrained in the lobby is temporarily closed due to threats being made against it. The general manager of the Marlborough Hotel confirmed to CBC News that it was closed on Wednesday because staff and management have been receiving threats. “This is extremely unsettling to our staff and management who fear for their safety,” Rakib Hoque said in an emailed statement.

Saskatchewan

  • Anna Woodward was moved to tears when she saw teachers on the picket lines in Regina last week. As someone who’s studying to be a French math teacher, Woodward said the labour unrest has her weighing the pros and cons of her future profession. “In a way, I’m like, ‘I can make a change.’ But I’m also feeling defeated,” she said in an interview with CBC News. “I’ve had a lot of back-and-forths, thinking, ‘Do I really want to do this?’ Because I’m diving headfirst into the problem.” Negotiations between the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) and the provincial government remain at an impasse.
  • The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses has called on the province to reverse recent changes to harm reduction services, joining other doctors, researchers and advocates who say the decision will cost lives and increase the spread of blood-borne diseases — particularly in rural and Indigenous communities. Last week, the provincial health ministry announced it would stop providing clean pipes and require people to return a used needle to receive a clean needle. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Tom McLeod told CBC at the time the decision would support the province’s “recovery-oriented” approach to the toxic drug crisis.
  • The governments of Manitoba and Saskatchewan say they are concerned about the potential risks of allowing Canadians to seek medical assistance in dying solely based on a mental illness. Provinces have expressed fears that the country may not yet be ready for the change to take effect in March, federal Health Minister Mark Holland recently acknowledged. The federal Liberal government passed legislation last year to delay the expansion for 12 months, and will soon have to decide whether to do so a second time.
  • The second week of the coroner’s inquest into the stabbing massacre that occurred at James Smith Cree Nation on September 4, 2022, will wrap up Friday. Thursday’s proceedings included graphic details from a forensic pathologist who testified about causes of death for six of the 11 deaths that happened during the stabbing massacre at James Smith Cree Nation and the village of Weldon, Sask. During the clinical testimony by Dr. Derek Musgrove, a dozen or so “wellness support” workers in white vests comforted family members of the victims with an arm around the shoulders or a tissue. Others escorted family members outside the main auditorium to private rooms.

Alberta

  • Premier Danielle Smith defended her participation at former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s Alberta events on Wednesday, saying her ideologies don’t always fully align with the people she speaks to. “I don’t do a screening test to make sure that every person that interviews me matches 100 percent of what I believe, and I don’t expect that they’re going to,” Smith said during an unrelated press conference Thursday. “So I take a wide range of interviews: from CBC all the way through to alternative media because my job is to get our message out about Alberta.”
  • Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has asked the Minister of Municipal Affairs to look into whether bylaws in Edmonton and Calgary that require people to pay for things like take-out and reusable bags are within municipal jurisdiction. Earlier this month, Calgary City Council passed a single-use item bylaw which requires businesses to provide cutlery and/or condiments by request only, provide shopping bags by request only, and charge a minimum fee for paper and reusable bags.
  • Canadian cabinet members on Thursday condemned the premier of the energy-rich province of Alberta for reportedly saying that Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault should be targeted over his policies. Danielle Smith, who says Ottawa’s plan to cut emissions of greenhouse gases will cripple Alberta, made her remarks on Wednesday during a public conversation with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, the Calgary Herald newspaper said.
  • The Alberta government is touting an expansion of private pharmacy clinics across the province as a significant relief valve for family doctors and emergency rooms under strain. “There is an urgent need to find fixes and deliver accessible care fast and efficiently,” Premier Danielle Smith said at a news conference at a northeast Edmonton pharmacy on Thursday morning. “One answer is to make better use of all health professionals’ time and talent, and now we have more ways to do that.” Shoppers’ Drug Mart president Jeff Leger said Thursday the chain will renovate its stores across the province and add nine new shops to create 103 pharmacy care clinics by the end of 2024.

British Columbia

  • The B.C. government says it is making good on a promise Premier David Eby made to a family affected by online extortion, by announcing enhanced measures to keep children safe from “online threats.” In an announcement Friday, Premier David Eby says it is restricting the use of cell phones in schools across the province. The province will also be launching services to “remove images from the internet and pursue predators,” and introduce legislation to “hold social media companies accountable” for the harms they have “caused.”
  • British Columbia Premier David Eby says he’s disturbed by the record number of people who died in the province last year of illicit drug overdoses and recognizes they aren’t doing enough to stop it. But he says the addition of 180 publicly funded treatment and recovery beds across the province is a step toward saving lives. The province says nearly 100 of these beds are already open and available to British Columbians in several communities while the rest are expected to be launched by summer.
  • B.C. Premier David Eby has rebuffed the province’s retiring chief coroner’s swansong pleas for a non-prescription safe supply of drugs, calling it a “fundamental issue” of disagreement on how to curb the toxic drug crisis. “I do not believe that the distribution of incredibly toxic opioid drugs without the supervision of a medical professional in British Columbia is the way forward and the way out of the toxic drug crisis,” Eby told a news conference. 
  • B.C.’s attorney general is appealing a court decision that put the brakes on the province’s plans to crack down on drug use in public spaces. B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson issued an injunction staying the implementation of the Restricting Public Consumption of Illegal Services Act after an application from the Harm Reduction Nurses Association — a national advocacy group. The act would make it illegal to use drugs in close proximity to playgrounds, sports fields, beaches and parks, as well as within six metres of bus stops — imposing fines and possible detention as penalties.

Northwest Territories

  • Mining company BHP is proposing an early-stage exploration program this summer across several vast areas on the Queen Elizabeth Islands in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The project aims to determine the potential for copper, and will span thousands of square kilometres in six locations collectively known as the Camelot Project. Project locations include Ellesmere Island, which has a northern coast roughly 800 kilometres from the North Pole. Exploration work would also be done on Melville Island, Ellef Ringnes Island and Axel Heiberg Island.

Yukon

  • The Yukon Fish and Game Association is launching a two-year pilot project aimed at working with hunters, farmers and government on elk management.  Applications for the role of elk-agriculture coordinator were due by Monday. “The Fish and Game Association was involved when elk were introduced to the Yukon years ago,” said association president, Eric Schroff. “We still have an interest in maintaining and growing the elk population in the Yukon with the idea that they are great species to have on the landscape.”

Nunavut

  • Last week’s devolution ceremony in Iqaluit was more than just a signing ceremony — it was a showcase of Inuit talent and tradition from across the territory. That was the vision for Sylvia Cloutier, the artist who curated the ceremony. For her, it was also a celebration of all things Nunavut. “We’ve come such a long way,” Cloutier said. “We didn’t want it to feel like a political event. We wanted it to feel like a gathering.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier P.J. Akeeagok and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk signed the agreement at a ceremony in Iqaluit on Thursday last week, nearly 25 years after Nunavut became a territory. 

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