Provincial Legislative Update – December 22, 2023

An overview of the Provincial Legislative and Territories Legislative Updates for the week of December 15 - 22, 2023.​ Written by Wes McLean.

New Brunswick

  • Around 21,000 N.B. Power customers were still without electricity on Thursday afternoon, four days after a powerful rain and wind storm hit the province. At a news conference, N.B Power vice-president of operations Nicole Poirier said the utility is still aiming to have everyone’s power restored before Christmas, now only four days away.
  • The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has cleared its first hurdle in a lawsuit against New Brunswick and its new gender-identity policy. The province changed Policy 713 to require parental consent before school staff can use pronouns requested by children under 16. The association alleges this rule is unconstitutional and discriminatory. On Friday, Justice Robert Dysart ruled that the organization has public-interest standing to bring the suit on behalf of young students and their parents. 
  • The death of a patient waiting for care at the Fredericton hospital’s emergency department last year did not involve any criminality, police have determined. Darrell Mesheau, 78, died in the ER waiting room of the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital on July 12, 2022. A coroner’s inquest into the death of the former diplomat was scheduled to begin on May 29 but was abruptly postponed when new information was brought forward.
  • New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative Party has its first candidate for next year’s provincial election — a social conservative whose ascent has provoked divisions in the party but who has earned the praise of Premier Blaine Higgs. Faytene Grasseschi was acclaimed as the candidate in Hampton-Fundy-St. Martins in front of a standing-room-only crowd in a community hall in Nauwigewauk.

Nova Scotia

  • Nova Scotia has reached a solemn milestone, surpassing 1,000 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. “A thousand people in a province of a million people is a lot of humans and families that are missing people,” said Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious diseases doctor and researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Data released in the latest weekly respiratory watch report shows an additional nine deaths for the week of Dec. 10-16, bringing the total to 1,004 in the province.
  • The Department of National Defence’s plan to expand Canadian Forces Base Greenwood has a local official in the community concerned about an already limited housing supply. DND announced plans on Tuesday to station eight drones at CFB Greenwood. The first such aircraft will arrive on the Nova Scotia base in 2028 — the remainder in 2033. Along with the aircraft, DND will station 55 Canadian Armed Forces and DND personnel in Greenwood to run the program.
  • Nova Scotians going to a university or college with help from the province will be getting $1,350 credited to their student loan accounts in the new year. For the second year in a row, the provincial government is giving students “a one-time grant” to help them pay their bills. In all, 12,000 students will receive the payment. Minister of Advanced Education Brian Wong called it a “continuation of what the federal government has been doing” to try to help post-secondary students pay for their education and manage their debts.
  • While the annual report on Nova Scotia’s emergency departments show unplanned closures are up and people are waiting longer for care, the health minister says it doesn’t reflect important changes made in the past few months. The annual accountability report covers April 1, 2022, to March 31, 2023. It shows the number of hours emergency rooms were unexpectedly closed jumped to 41,923 — a 32 per cent from a year earlier.

Prince Edward Island

  • The Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission has ruled that Irving Oil can continue to pass along costs related to the federal government’s new clean fuel standard to P.E.I. consumers. Those costs have been built into fuel prices since July. Ottawa’s clean fuel standards are aimed at forcing oil refineries and fuel importers to lower the “carbon intensity” of the products they sell and the methods they use to refine them. The policy sets targets for emissions and establishes financial rewards for oil companies to reach them, and penalties for companies that don’t.
  • Hal Perry is no stranger to serving Prince Edward Islanders, but it’s probably fair to say that became a bigger part of his job in 2023. The Tignish-Palmer Road MLA, who famously serves as a New Year’s Eve designated driver for his constituents, became the P.E.I. Liberal Party’s interim leader in April. He’s also the leader of the Official Opposition thanks to the Liberals edging past the Green Party with three seats in the provincial legislature — held by Perry, Robert Henderson and Gord McNeilly — to the Greens’ two in the April general election.
  • Karla Bernard has been the interim leader of P.E.I.’s Green Party for less than half of 2023, but she might feel like she’s put in a full year’s worth of work. The party’s provincial council selected her for the role in July after former leader Peter Bevan-Baker announced the previous month that he would be stepping down.  The Greens had lost six of their eight seats in the April 3 provincial election, leaving only Bernard and Bevan-Baker as sitting MLAs. 
  • It’s been a challenging year for Prince Edward Islanders, from soaring inflation and high grocery bills to healthcare woes and an ongoing housing crisis, for P.E.I. Premier Dennis King and his government, many of the same issues from 2023 will persist into the new year. While such pressures might normally mean a dip in popularity for a ruling party, King continues to enjoy strong polling numbers that suggest his popularity remains well ahead of that of any other P.E.I. party leader. 

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • A decision to end the traditional post-game handshake in Newfoundland and Labrador minor hockey continued to ignite debate Friday, with Premier Andrew Furey and a prominent hockey school owner weighing in. Furey, in a letter sent Friday to Hockey N.L. president Jared Butler, called the decision disappointing. Furey said he views the post-game handshake as an opportunity to teach young players the meaning and value of sportsmanship, “allowing them the time to meet their opponent and offer congratulations, regardless of the outcome.”
  • A proposed class-action lawsuit has been filed over the cyberattack on Newfoundland and Labrador’s healthcare system that took place in the fall of 2021. The attack, carried out by cyber-thieves affiliated with the Hive ransomware group, stole both personal medical information as well as employee information from thousands of people. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner called it the largest hack of its kind in the province, and one of the largest in Canada to date. A report released in May from the office found that security deficiencies were known well before the cyberattack took place and were not corrected by officials.
  • The Newfoundland and Labrador government has spent millions of dollars in the last two decades to plan and design a prison that has yet to be built. CBC News obtained the numbers through an access to information request that shows a history of government promises and spending, then shelving of plans to replace the notorious facility that’s thought to be the oldest in Canada. 
  • The Public Utilities Board is asking Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro for more information after a second unit at the Holyrood generating station went offline last week. The third one is operating at half its capacity. As Rob Antle reports, Hydro officials have said there is enough power being generated now, but the PUB said the concerns about temperatures dropping and demand rising have been “heightened.”

Quebec

  • The Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement (FSE), affiliated with the CSQ, reports having reached an agreement in principle with the Legault government as part of negotiations for the renewal of collective agreements. On social media, the FSE-CSQ, which represents 95,000 teachers, wrote Friday morning that it will present this proposal to its federal council in the afternoon.
  • Saying the possibility of a general strike by its 420,000 members was not “a bluff” and laying the blame for the negotiating impasse squarely at the feet of the Quebec government, the leaders of the common front of public-sector unions on Wednesday called on the province to intensify its efforts to reach a settlement.
  • Demonstrators gathered outside the Montreal offices of Quebec Premier François Legault on Friday to express their support for the province’s striking education workers, blocking traffic on Sherbrooke St. near McGill College Ave. “Plus la CAQ nous méprise, plus on se mobilise” (the more the CAQ despises us, the more we mobilize), the crowd, made up mainly of women, began to chant.
  • The Quebec government and the organization that officially represents Inuit in the province are reopening negotiations around self-government for the province’s Far North. Pita Aatami, president of the Makivvik Corporation, which represents Quebec’s Inuit in their dealings with the federal and provincial governments, says self-government is something his people have been dreaming of for 55 years.

Ontario

  • With a year left until Ontario is supposed to be fully accessible, the state of accessibility in the province is in “crisis,” a new report finds. The declaration, along with 23 recommendations on how to get the province back on track, was made in a critical report by Rich Donovan, the fourth person appointed to review the province’s progress in implementing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
  • Ontario’s energy minister says he will introduce legislation to reverse an Ontario Energy Board decision that would increase costs for new homes heated with natural gas. Todd Smith says the OEB decision would slow or halt the construction of new homes, so he is intervening to “keep shovels in the ground.” The OEB decision relates to a rate application from Enbridge Gas and the energy board says the utility’s long-term plan is unreasonable because it assumes that every new housing development will include gas servicing and that homebuyers will remain on gas for 40 years, despite an energy transition toward electrification.
  • Toronto may have a new deal with the province for financial relief, but Mayor Olivia Chow says city residents will also need to do their part to battle the $1.5-billion shortfall — and that will mean property tax increases and new fees in 2024. The new mayor and Premier Doug Ford announced an agreement last month that will see the province provide billions of dollars in aid and upload the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway. But Chow says the city has to be willing to show it will make sacrifices as well to fix the city’s structural deficit.
  • Toronto police urged demonstrators on Friday to follow the law ahead of planned protests related to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Deputy Chief Lauren Pogue said she’s aware of protests planned for Friday and Saturday in the city and said there would be a visible police presence at the gatherings.  She also warned that any demonstrations that take place inside private property, such as malls, and those that block critical infrastructure, such as highways and bridges, are not legal.

Manitoba

  • The Manitoba government is looking at ways to turn derelict buildings into new housing. Expropriating buildings from problem landlords — and fixing them up — would help the NDP government meet its target of eliminating chronic homelessness within eight years, Premier Wab Kinew said in a year-end interview. “Cities and municipalities do have expropriation powers … but if there’s more that’s required, we’re open to that,” Kinew said. The province won’t be able to build housing quickly enough or in a cost-effective enough way to meet housing needs, he said.
  • Premier Wab Kinew says Manitoba will do away with paper medical records in favour of digital documentation that healthcare practitioners and patients can access with a swipe of a phone or click of a mouse. The premier said his NDP government wants to scrap Manitoba’s existing patchwork of paper and electronic records, which he suggested is antiquated. “Our government is committed to moving away from papyrus as a method of health-care documentation,” Kinew said Wednesday in an interview.
  • Manitoba’s NDP government plans to ban the hiring of replacement workers during labour disputes. In a letter dated Dec. 18, Labour and Immigration Minister Malaya Marcelino asks the chair of the Manitoba Labour Management Review Committee for advice about implementing such a ban. “To protect good jobs, support fair collective bargaining and minimize labour disputes, our government plans on amending the Labour Relations Act to prohibit the use of replacement workers during a legal strike or lockout,” Marcelino tells review committee chair Michael Werier in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by CBC News.
  • By all accounts, Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew is still in a honeymoon phase, almost three months after leading his New Democrats to an election win that ousted the former Progressive Conservative government. Recent opinion polls suggest he is riding high, including an Angus-Reid survey earlier this month that suggested his approval rating is tops among Canada’s premiers. But political analysts say the real test lies ahead, as Kinew tries to fulfil promises to boost health care, improve education and give raises to public-sector workers while dealing with the province’s chronic deficits.

Saskatchewan

  • The Saskatchewan Health Authority released an action plan Thursday morning that it hopes will address overcrowding and hallway care in Regina hospitals. The announcement came one day after the Opposition NDP released internal SHA memos showing a Regina fire inspector warned the authority that patients receiving care in hallways at the Regina General Hospital and The Pasqua Hospital were leading to fire code violations.
  • A Saskatchewan family-based agriculture company is being bought out for $640 million. Linamar Corp., an Ontario-based agricultural manufacturing company, has agreed to purchase Bourgault Industries Ltd. of St. Brieux, Sask. “Bourgault was started by my father and has a rich history in agriculture,” Bourgault’s president Gerry Bourgault said in a release.  “The Bourgault family is incredibly proud of the legacy we have created both here in St. Brieux, Saskatchewan, but also around the world.”
  • The balmy winter conditions are coming with a price for Victor Fern, a resident of Fond du Lac, Sask., as a lack of ice roads means essential supplies become restricted. “The weather doesn’t look too good. The water is so open right in front of Fond du Lac in the channel. Usually, that’s all frozen by now,” he said. “The way it looks like now, it’s going to be a really tough year to have any ice roads.” Residents of the isolated community, located 797 kilometres north of Saskatoon, depend on ice roads to get themselves and supplies in and out, Fern said.
  • Following a year of uncertainty around the world – Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe believes his province has fared better than most in 2023 – pointing to efforts in making energy affordable and legislative endeavours such as the Parents’ Bill of Rights. The year 2023 was marked by numerous jurisdiction battles between Saskatchewan and the federal government – mostly concerning environmental regulations.

Alberta

  • Alberta Premier Danielle Smith defended the province’s pared-back fall immunization campaign on Thursday and encouraged people to speak with their doctors about vaccines, while her Health Minister acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of Albertans are without family physicians.
  • ‘There may be more’: Alberta’s Danielle Smith on the fights she’ll take to Trudeau in 2024. In a year-end interview with the National Post, Danielle Smith talks about her priorities for 2024. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith: “We have so many actions to take against the federal government that we are developing a team to be able to prioritize all of it.
  • “If anyone needs a car, they better buy it now,” Premier Danielle Smith said after hearing of new federal rules for electric vehicles. If you don’t, she adds, “You’re going to be sitting on a list waiting your turn . . . we’re entering into a period of rationing.” Scary, if even halfway true. In a year-end interview, Smith called the proposed rules unworkable and unconstitutional.
  • Why some daycares are thinking about opting out of the province’s grant agreement? New terms don’t keep up with inflation, advocacy group says. The federal-provincial arrangement — touted as $10-a-day daycare, although that target isn’t set to be reached until 2026 — uses federal funding to limit child-care fees through grants to operators, who are reimbursed for costs per child based on a fixed rate set out in the provincial implementation plan.

British Columbia

  • Premier David Eby says his government is looking into “expanding” daytime access to shelters and services in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. When Eby took over as B.C. premier one year ago, he pledged the province would take over running a coordinated approach to the DTES, saying he had “not seen it look worse.” “I don’t support encampments,” Eby said at the time, explaining the province would take over coordinating services and measuring outcomes.
  • Premier David Eby said British Columbians understand the depth of challenges facing the province, adding he is prepared to be judged by the concrete results his government can deliver between now and the next provincial election in October 2024. “My core belief is that government can really be a force for good and can achieve things we can’t achieve on our own,” he said. “I want British Columbians to look around their community and see, whether in their own lives or in their community, an area where government is making a difference on something that they really care about.”
  • Premier David Eby concedes that B.C. has to do more to respond to unacceptable cancer care wait times that are currently among the longest in the country. In a year-end interview with Postmedia on Thursday, Eby addressed the frustration and angst of cancer patients and their families who say they were let down by a cancer care system that is so backlogged, that some patients have died while waiting for treatment.
  • British Columbia Premier David Eby says an emotional conversation with the father of a 12-year-old B.C. boy who died by suicide after falling prey to online sextortion has prompted him to push for more protections for youth. Eby says the B.C. The New Democrat government plans changes in the new year honouring the memory of Carson Cleland of Prince George, whom police said died in October after being victimized online. 

Northwest Territories

  • R.J. Simpson, the new premier of the Northwest Territories, met with Justin Trudeau for the first time this week, during which they spoke about emergency management, the transition to renewable energy and the territory’s vision of how it will work with Indigenous governments. In an interview with CBC North’s Hilary Bird, Simpson spoke about the meeting. 
  • The N.W.T. has received $84 million “advance payment” from the federal government to help cover the costs of 2023’s disastrous wildfire season.
  • The money, provided through the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA), will help offset costs related to the wildfire response and recovery, according to a news release Wednesday morning. 

Yukon

  • Yukon Energy says it’s all for adding more solar power into the territory’s power grid — but not if it destabilizes the system and increases the risk of outages. The utility recently asked the territorial government to put a pause on a rebate program for people who install renewable energy systems, such as solar, at home and then feed their excess power into the grid. The government agreed and is no longer accepting new applications to its microgeneration program until at least next spring when a study is done. Microgeneration projects that have already been approved or built are not affected.

Nunavut

  • Two community health centres in Nunavut will temporarily close over the holidays due to staff shortages, according to a statement from the territorial government. The health centre in Kinngait will close from Dec. 21 to 24, and the same will happen in Arctic Bay from Dec. 28 to Jan.2. The government said that during the temporary closures, paramedics will still be on-site to provide emergency care in life-threatening situations.

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