Provincial Legislative Update – December 1, 2023

An overview of the Provincial and Territories Legislative Updates for the week of November 24 - December 1, 2023.​ Written by Wes McLean.

New Brunswick

  • The Higgs government has introduced legislation to force five public-sector unions into shared-risk pension plans, hoping to wrap up a big piece of unfinished business from a major strike in 2021. To end that dispute, two locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees signed a side deal that set aside a sticking point over pensions and created a process to resolve it.
  • New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative party is facing more internal division over its socially conservative message ahead of next year’s provincial election. Internal emails obtained by CBC News include criticism of Premier Blaine Higgs, the party and its newly hired campaign manager over the direction they’re taking.
  • A lawyer wants a second chance at getting information from a former N.B. Liquor employee who allegedly made statements indicating the Crown Corporation didn’t follow proper procedure when granting agency store licences. Stacey McKinney, a former finance director at N.B. Liquor, allegedly disclosed information to Hartland business owner  Peter Cook and his lawyer Erica Brown in 2021, detailing how political affiliations have something to do with the lucrative agency store contracts that N.B. Liquor awards through a request for proposals process.
  • The Higgs government says it is accepting a series of recommendations designed to improve learning in the province’s anglophone school system, including a potentially new approach to classroom composition. The province should try to “balance” class sizes so that schools can still support students with extra learning needs while minimizing the potential disruptions for other students, says the report released Thursday.

Nova Scotia

  • The MV Fundy Rose, the ferry that runs between Digby, N.S. and Saint John, will not be redeployed next spring. Transport Canada Minister Pablo Rodriguez made the announcement Friday both online and while attending an event at the Port of Halifax. “I’ve made the decision that MV Fundy Rose will remain on the Digby-Saint John route and will not be moved,” he said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
  • Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston’s call for “common sense ideas” on how to improve the province’s healthcare system received 2,202 submissions. The provincial government announced the contest for health-care workers last month, seeking ideas that are “simple and easy to implement with little to no funding.” The deadline was Nov. 22.
  • Lobster harvester associations in southwest Nova Scotia have withdrawn support for an arrangement that authorizes four First Nations in the area to implement their treaty right to fish for a moderate living. On Thursday, fishing groups claimed the “interim authorization” approved this year by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) contains a change that allows moderate livelihood traps to be fished by non-Indigenous harvesters who lease commercial lobster licences held by First Nations.
  • Nova Scotia’s top court has delivered a strongly worded rebuke to a provincial court judge who tried to withdraw remarks he made in open court. The case involves a man, identified in court records by the initials K.J.M.J., who was convicted by provincial court Judge Alain Begin of sexual assault, invitation to sexual touching and sexual touching. The charges involve the man’s stepdaughter. “The astonishing behaviour of the trial judge in this case requires a salutary reminder of the duty of all judges privileged to hear and decide cases in court,” Justice Peter Bryson wrote on behalf of a three-member panel of the Court of Appeal.

Prince Edward Island

  • Many Prince Edward Islanders will once again not see an increase in the provincial portion of their property tax next year — but the province is going about it differently this time. For the past two years, as property assessments have gone up, the province has provided a subsidy equal to the amount of the property tax increase, effectively freezing what Islanders were paying. For the coming year, the province has amended the Real Property Tax Act to again freeze provincial property taxes, but not by using a subsidy. 
  • More than a year after post-tropical storm Fiona knocked out almost all of P.E.I.’s electrical grid, there’s been no word from the provincial government on when it might expand access for utilities to cut trees along their power lines. Officials with Maritime Electric discussed the need to expand the right of way with MLAs at a pair of standing committee meetings in the weeks and months after Fiona.
  • Diane Griffin will be officially sworn in as the 10th chancellor of the University of Prince Edward Island early next year, the board of governors announced Thursday. The university chancellor has a ceremonial role. The chancellor presides over convocations and confers degrees, diplomas and certificates. Griffin has a long history of public service, most recently as chair of the Health P.E.I. board and in the Senate of Canada, where she sat from 2016 to 2022 before retirement.
  • After just three and a half weeks, the fall sitting of the P.E.I. The Legislative Assembly has come to a close. Lieutenant Governor Antoinette Perry arrived at the Coles Building in Charlottetown late Wednesday to give royal assent to more than 30 bills and wrap up the proceedings. The next scheduled day of sitting is Feb. 27, 2024. Over the course of the 14 days of business, the biggest financial item on the agenda was the capital budget — which saw $368.8 million budgeted to buy, expand or maintain provincial assets like roads, hospitals, schools, equipment and much more. That $368.9 million total is 20 percent more than last year’s estimate.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Premier Andrew Furey says the construction of the new adult mental health and addictions centre in St. John’s is on target and should be open by the spring of 2025. The facility will introduce 102 new care beds into the healthcare system, along with a new 60-bed hostel to replace the Agnes Cowan hostel. The 240,000-square-foot facility will replace the Waterford Hospital, which opened in 1855, as the province’s primary mental health care hospital.
  • A central Newfoundland doctor whose company lost out on a contract to provide virtual care in the province is wondering why an outside company was chosen instead of his group of local doctors. Dr. Todd Young of Springdale is the medical director of Medicuro, a company that brands itself as Newfoundland and Labrador’s first virtual healthcare clinic. The company bid on the provincial government’s proposal to provide virtual care to residents, but the province chose American-based Teladoc Health instead.
  • The Newfoundland and Labrador government has announced a new task force on homelessness, amid complaints the province is not doing enough to halt a crisis that includes a tent encampment in a prominent St. John’s park. Premier Andrew Furey, at a news conference Thursday afternoon to announce the task force, said it will have provincial and municipal government representation, and include community groups.
  • Joachim Selma’s experience with Newfoundland and Labrador’s child-protection system goes back a long time, intertwined with someone who’s no longer around to tell his own story. “My story goes back in the ’70s,” said Selma at the Healing Lodge in Natuashish this week during community meetings for the Inquiry Respecting the Treatment, Experiences and Outcomes of Innu in the Child Protection System in Labrador this week. “It’s for my brother because he cannot speak for himself.” The inquiry is gathering testimony of experiences with and opinions on the child protection system, as well as Innu history and culture, in hopes of creating recommendations to help the Innu take over their child protection system. 

Quebec

  • Quebec Premier François Legault is urging striking teachers to return to work, saying Friday morning that the strike, which is keeping hundreds of thousands of students out of school, is hurting children. “We need to stop this strike. It’s going to hurt our students who already had the pandemic,” Legault told reporters in Quebec City. “We need to stop this. Please, I’m asking all the teachers’ unions to stop the strikes.”
  • A day after a report said Quebec will scale back university tuition hikes for students from the rest of Canada, the province’s largest employers’ group said the fees should not be increased at all. “The government is on the wrong track by wanting to increase tuition fees … when the current rate of (just under) $9,000 is comparable to the rates paid in other provinces, and for many programs is among the highest in Canada,” the Conseil du patronat said Thursday.
  • Montreal’s English-speaking community is concerned the Legault government is rushing to pass Bill 15, Quebec’s major healthcare reform. Members of the opposition and healthcare experts argue there are still too many articles to analyze before the government invokes closure at the end of the session next week. If passed, Bill 15 would create a centralized provincial agency that would oversee the public health-care system — a top-to-bottom approach many critics say could be a recipe for disaster.
  • The Syndicat de professionnelles et professionnels du gouvernement du Québec (SPGQ) could soon be joining hundreds of thousands of other Quebec government workers on the picket lines. The 25,000 members of the union, who work as computer analysts, inspectors, biologists, accountants, land surveyors and more, have voted in favour of a strike mandate — about 70 percent for a mandate that could include an unlimited strike, and 80 percent for a lighter one affecting evenings, weekends and public holidays.
  • Self-described feminist Olivier Bolduc has stood three times for election with leftist Québec solidaire, but now that the party has banned men from running in byelections, he gave up his membership in protest. At its weekend convention, Quebec’s second-largest opposition party adopted a resolution to accept only women and non-binary people as candidates if any byelections are triggered over the next year.

Ontario

  • The Doug Ford government has tabled legislation that will enable it to proceed with its controversial redevelopment of Ontario Place. Bill 154, New Deal for Toronto Act, 2023, gives the province certain powers to expedite the redevelopment and exemptions of existing laws to ensure that the construction of a massive spa at Ontario Place can begin. Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy introduced the bill on Monday. It has passed the first reading.
  • Ontario Liberals will find out on Saturday their next leader as voting results are revealed at an event at Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre. Whoever takes the helm of the party faces the same major challenge that insiders say loomed heavily over the race — finding a way to unseat the Ford PCs after two disastrous election results. Will Wuehr, who served as press secretary to then-Liberal leader Stephen Del Duca during the 2022 election, said “electability” was the top issue for voters in this year’s race.
  • Premier Doug Ford freely admits Queen’s Park signed a “really one-sided deal” with Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow to help the cash-strapped city. Speaking at the Ontario Real Estate Association conference Tuesday, Ford said the $9-billion accord, which will upload responsibility for the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway to the province, will free up more money for city hall. “It was a great deal. I’ll tell you, it was a really one-sided deal,” the premier told association president Tim Hudak in a fireside chat at the Westin Harbour Castle one day after unveiling the landmark arrangement.
  • Ontario First Nations leaders are asking the Federal Court to exempt their communities from the federal carbon tax, a policy they call grossly unfair and discriminatory. The Chiefs of Ontario, which represents more than 130 First Nations in the province, filed for a judicial review on Thursday jointly with Attawapiskat First Nation, a remote Cree community located on the northwestern shores of the James Bay Coast. The First Nations argue that the imposition of the carbon price is leaving their communities worse off than others in Canada and breaching the principles of reconciliation. 
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Manitoba

  • The NDP government promised new help for rural Manitoba to an audience full of municipal reeves and councillors Thursday. Municipal leaders lined up to the microphones to ask questions of the province during the two-hour ministerial forum, which was part of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities’ annual fall convention held in Brandon, Man., this week. Some of those answers yielded insights into the province’s priorities.
  • Former Manitoba Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Shelly Glover is warning the party not to adopt new leadership contest rules drawn up to prevent another chaotic race like the one she disputed in court two years ago. The Manitoba PC party’s executive council will meet on Dec. 16 to consider a package of new rules created with the intent of preventing problems such as the ones that plagued the party’s 2021 contest, which Glover lost to Heather Stefanson, the former premier, by 363 votes.
  • The provincial government is setting up shop in southern Manitoba with a new cabinet office in the Pembina Valley region. Former Morden mayor Brandon Burley will lead the initiative. Burley, who served as the city’s mayor for five years, will be the liaison between the premier’s office, cabinet and stakeholders in the Pembina Valley region, the province said in a news release Wednesday night. “If you look at the election map from last election cycle there wasn’t a lot of NDP representation in the rural,” he said in an interview with CBC News.
  • The six candidates vying to be the next national chief of the organization that represents more than 600 First Nations in Canada explained how they would advocate for treaty rights, sovereignty and health issues during a forum a week before the election. Four of the major groups representing First Nations in Manitoba hosted the event in Winnipeg on Wednesday to hear from those running to lead the Assembly of First Nations. Chiefs or proxies attended and were given the opportunity to ask questions.

Saskatchewan

  • Saskatchewan’s auditor is to investigate the province’s procurement and payment practices when people on social assistance need to stay at hotels. “We will publicly report any significant matters in our 2024 Report (Volume Two) in December 2024,” April Serink, a spokesperson for auditor Tara Clemett, said Thursday. “This further examination, at the discretion of our office, did arise because of recent debates in the legislative assembly.” The investigation comes after the Opposition NDP accused a motel owned by a legislature member of increasing rates for a client when Social Services started to pick up the tab.
  • The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) signed a new patient rights and responsibilities agreement. On Thursday SHA signed an agreement titled Our Commitment to Each Other, intended to “enshrining several elements related to patient safety, quality care and the SHA’s commitment to truth and reconciliation.” SHA CEO Andrew Will said before the formation of SHA, various health authorities had different documents regarding patient rights and responsibilities, and this new agreement will now replace the others.
  • A Saskatchewan woman who’s been waiting months for a breast biopsy says the province’s decision to look to Alberta for help with breast cancer diagnostic procedures is a step in the right direction. Lindsay Rogers, 35, has been waiting to learn whether she has breast cancer. She has a breast biopsy scheduled in Regina next Tuesday — about 15 weeks after her doctor put her referral through on Aug. 23. The long wait for the procedure is despite the fact Rogers is considered a more at-risk patient, due to her family history of breast cancer.
  • Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the province will stop collecting the carbon levy on electric heat starting Jan. 1. He said Thursday in a video on X, formerly known as Twitter, that many people in northern Saskatchewan use electricity to heat their homes, and that they should be exempt from paying the price. “We’re going to need to determine who is heating their home with electricity and then estimate the percentage of their power bill that is being used for that heat,” Moe said.

Alberta

  • Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced a new $8.9-billion investment by Dow into the province’s Industrial Heartland on Wednesday. Fort Saskatchewan will be home to Dow’s Path2Zero facility, the world’s first net-zero Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions integrated ethylene cracker and derivatives site.
  • Alberta Premier Danielle Smith will head to the COP28 conference in Dubai this week and then travel to the Middle East with a pivotal new climate policy in hand: a carbon capture incentive program that could attract up to $35 billion in investment. On Tuesday, the province will announce details of Smith’s trip to the region, including later stops in Doha, Qatar, and potentially Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh, as the COP28 climate summit begins Thursday.
  • Higher-than-expected revenue from income taxes and non-renewable resource revenues are bumping Alberta’s expected surplus up to $5.5 billion this year. Despite a rosy short-term outlook in the second-quarter fiscal update released Thursday, Finance Minister Nate Horner says he wants to prepare for years when the province’s coffers are more sparse. “There’s pressures that I see that keep me up at night,” Horner told reporters. Maturing debt will have to be refinanced at higher borrowing rates, he said. And the bulk of Alberta’s unionized public employees have contracts expiring next year.
  • A one-time $30-million cash injection for Alberta classrooms teeming with extra students is a welcome relief, at least two school divisions say. However, public education advocates and critics of the provincial government’s K-12 education funding approach say what students — and school boards — need is an overhauled funding formula. “This funding model is a failure,” NDP education critic Rakhi Pancholi said at the legislature on Tuesday.  “And the government needs to go back, and needs to change that.” Growing school boards especially have raised concerns about the formula implemented in 2020 by the United Conservative Party government.

British Columbia

  • B.C. Premier David Eby apologized Wednesday for his office “screwing up” the planned government apology for removing Doukhobor children from their families 70 years ago and confining them. “I’ll take responsibility,” Eby said. “This is an initiative out of the premier’s office and it should have been done, and it wasn’t done, and for anyone that caused difficulty, I want to apologize to them.”
  • B.C.’s attorney general recently made comments in the media and online that “risk undermining the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system,” according to a letter published by the British Columbia Branch of the Canadian Bar Association. The letter, addressed to Niki Sharma and dated Tuesday(opens in a new tab), takes issue with comments made to Global News and in a tweet after a sentencing decision in a voyeurism case. The decision, in that case, is not publicly available, but the news report says the perpetrator received a conditional discharge after pleading guilty to installing a hidden camera in a bathroom used by an international student living in his home.
  • Politicians left British Columbia’s legislature Thursday after passing a series of housing-focused laws that Opposition parties say will do little to change the province’s status as one of the most unaffordable jurisdictions for housing in all of North America. The end of the fall legislative session comes less than a year away from B.C.’s expected election, and about three months before the New Democrat government tabled its February budget. Finance Minister Katrine Conroy signalled this week it will post a multibillion-dollar deficit and projects economic growth below one percent.
  • The living wage continues to climb in B.C., according to a report released Wednesday, meaning hundreds of families are struggling to make ends meet. The report, compiled by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, found that one-third of two-parent families in Metro Vancouver do not make a living wage — $25.68 per hour, up 6.6 percent from $24.08 in 2022. The findings come on the heels of Statistics Canada’s latest Labour Force Survey, which found that one in three Canadian households are experiencing financial hardship.

Northwest Territories

  • An N.W.T. family who lost their home in a wildfire says they’re being kicked out of their temporary accommodation — despite one territorial minister’s promise they could stay until the end of January. Natasha Cleary has been staying at Castaways Cottages in Hay River, N.W.T., with her husband, John Cleary, and their five children after their home in Enterprise was destroyed by wildfire in August. The fire destroyed most of the small community. The territory’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) said it’s been providing tenants who lost their homes with temporary accommodations since the wildfire evacuation orders were lifted in September. 

Yukon

  • ATCO Electric Yukon wants to increase rates by 5.2 per cent for 2024. There was a four-day public hearing before the Yukon Utilities Board this week about its application to do so, where the private company’s return on equity (ROE) became a major sticking point. Return on equity refers to the profit ATCO Electric is making. That profit goes back to its parent company, and ultimately some of it goes back to its shareholders. 

Nunavut

  • The Iqaluit District Education Authority is taking the Government of Nunavut to court, alleging the territory’s Department of Education blocked access to assessment services it wanted to provide for students. The education authority says it received $120,000 from the federal Inuit Child First Initiative earlier this year to screen 28 children for emotional and behavioural challenges.

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