Provincial Legislative Update – February 16, 2024

An overview of the Provincial Legislative and Territories Legislative Updates for the week of February 16, 2024.​ Written by Wes McLean.

New Brunswick

  • The head of Elections New Brunswick says her office was in contact with Premier Blaine Higgs’s staff last fall, warning that money was being spent based on Higgs’s musings about an early election call. Chief electoral officer Kimberly Poffenroth appeared before the legislature’s committee on procedure, privileges and legislative officers Thursday.
  • New Brunswick is projecting a budget surplus for the current fiscal year of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars, six times higher than originally planned and despite surging health-care expenses, new figures show. In a third-quarter fiscal update delivered Thursday, New Brunswick Finance Minister Ernie Steeves said a torrent of unexpected sales tax revenue is helping to absorb significant cost overruns in several government departments, especially in the Department of Health, with enough left over to produce the province’s fourth significant budget surplus in a row.
  • American Iron & Metal wants a judge to quash the environment minister’s suspension of the company’s approval to operate a Saint John harbourfront scrapyard, alleging he acted “arbitrarily and unreasonably,” exceeded his jurisdiction and breached his duty of procedural fairness. The company has filed a notice of application with the Court of King’s Bench in Saint John, seeking a judicial review of the decision, which followed a massive fire at the site Sept. 14.
  • Amid all their disagreements with the Higgs government over the last several years, two Wolastoqey chiefs say one bright light emerged: cabinet minister Arlene Dunn. Dunn, who resigned as Indigenous affairs minister on Feb. 2, seemed sincere and committed to building a trusting relationship with First Nations leaders, they say. That approach reassured Chief Shelley Sabattis of Welamukotuk, or Oromocto First Nation, that it was safe to sign a development agreement with the province last November.

Nova Scotia

  • The Nova Scotia government is once again planning to spend roughly $1.5 billion on capital projects in the coming fiscal year. It’s the third year in a row the governing Progressive Conservative government has earmarked around that amount to spend on roads, schools, hospitals and other construction projects. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Finance Minister Allan MacMaster suggested the province’s capital spending plan was being dictated in part by an ongoing shortage of skilled workers in the construction trades.
  • Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Zach Churchill says he’s concerned the provincial government is not moving fast enough to replace the emergency department at Yarmouth Regional Hospital. “This is a critical emergency department,” Churchill, the MLA for Yarmouth, said in a phone interview on Thursday. “We need a modern facility that’s big enough to handle the volume of patients that go there.”
  • A corporation co-owned by 13 Mi’kmaw communities is investing in new battery plants with Nova Scotia Power in what both parties are calling a step toward reconciliation. The project, announced Thursday by Wskijinu’k Mtmo’taqnuow Agency Ltd. (WMA), is expected to draw and store electricity during off-peak periods and release it back to the grid when needed. It is getting up to $18 million in an equity loan from the Canada Infrastructure Bank to help facilitate the partnership.
  • The Nova Scotia government is spending $3.6 million to test drive a faster way to train continuing care assistants. Nova Scotia Community College will offer the program in partnership with Shannex, one of the province’s largest nursing home operators. The company owns 17 nursing homes in Nova Scotia. It also operates nursing homes and retirement properties in New Brunswick and Ontario. Shannex will choose 48 Nova Scotians who will spend six months learning from a new curriculum that will include paid on-the-job training at one of the company’s facilities.

Prince Edward Island

  • A rising number of seniors in Prince Edward Island are feeling the pinch of poverty, and demand for both provincial and community services is as high as it’s ever been.  The latest report from Campaign 2000, which tracks child and family poverty across the country, suggests at least 6,000 seniors in P.E.I. are living below the poverty line. The most recent data available is from 2021, before two years of steep increases in the cost of living. Last year, the province had the highest year-over-year food inflation in the country at over 7 percent.  
  • Opposition politicians on P.E.I. are questioning the value of a new deal between the National Hockey League and Tourism Prince Edward Island, while the provincial tourism minister is defending it. The province announced Tuesday that it had entered into a three-year marketing partnership with the league that will see the Island branded as the NHL’s official travel destination. The provincial government is paying the NHL $2.5 million for the first year of the agreement, with an option to back out or renew after that. 
  • Health P.E.I.’s efforts to recruit physiotherapists to work at new primary care clinics are creating challenges for other facilities that rely on them. The association representing Island physiotherapists says there are too few of them working in the province to meet the growing demand. “It’s great that we’ve had the creation of all these new jobs. We advocated for them. We really do think that physio needs to be in primary care,” said Sheila MacMurdo, president of the P.E.I. Physiotherapy Association. 
  • The P.E.I. government will find suitable shelter, with a fixed roof, for anyone who calls its shelter support line, provincial Housing Minister Rob Lantz said while reacting to news of a Summerside group offering ice-fishing tents. The Village, a housing advocacy group in that city, is looking for a property to create a tent encampment for people who can’t find affordable housing that fits their needs. The group has already purchased 26 ice-fishing tents. The province is not collaborating or coordinating with The Village in any way, Lantz said in an interview on Tuesday.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • For the first time, there are plans to develop a major highway project in Newfoundland and Labrador through a public-private partnership — a project that’s ignited controversy because it means unionized government road crews won’t be welcome. “That is something that we are not prepared to accept,” Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, said on Wednesday after being informed of the government’s intentions by CBC News.
  • An impaired driving sentence handed down to a Labrador fire chief shows the justice system isn’t doing enough to deter drinking and driving, says the Labrador West vice-president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Josephine Gaulton-Rowe says she’s frustrated by the case and doesn’t know what it’ll take for people to listen to advocates’ pleas to drive sober. “We don’t know what else we can do to try to get through to people,” she said. “This [impaired driving] kills people every single day in Canada.”
  • A petition calling for a much longer recreational food fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador has collected more than 2,200 signatures. The tour operator who started it has been pushing for changes to the food fishery for about a decade. Now he’s hoping about 5,000 people will support his proposals. “Speak up and be heard and hopefully we’ll get the federal minister to decide on giving us back some freedom to be able to retain some fish in our waters,” Graham Wood, owner of Mussel Bed Boat Tours, told CBC News.
  • A new report shows the rate of child poverty has increased in Newfoundland and Labrador. The 2023 Newfoundland and Labrador Child and Youth Poverty Report Card was prepared by the Jimmy Pratt Foundation and Choices for Youth. It’s based on information from 2021. The report card shows that during 2020, child poverty rates fell across Canada and in this province, with government benefits like CERB helping families on the poverty line make ends meet.

Quebec

  • Premier François Legault maintains that assisting businesses is part of the role of the Ministry of the Environment amid accusations from the opposition of preferential treatment and potentially offering a free ride regarding the Northvolt battery plant project in Montérégie. La Presse reported on Friday that the government had had discussions with the company even before it was registered, and Radio-Canada revealed that civil servants had supported Northvolt in its approval process. 
  • The Innu First Nation of Pessamit will have to eventually hold a referendum following some disagreement in the community over the signing of its $45-million agreement described by both its council and the Quebec government as  “historic.” The framework agreement, which also involves Hydro-Québec, was signed on Thursday. It would enable the provincial utility to discuss potential projects in the area and increase electricity production.
  • Premier François Legault’s moralizing tone toward young francophones could backfire and make the French language “uncool,” Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois says. The co-spokesperson of Québec solidaire, often referred to by his initials, GND, was referring to Legault complaining publicly about young Quebecers sprinkling English into their conversation. “It’s a shame youth find English words cool,” Legault told the National Assembly bilingually on Thursday, apparently before realizing he had just uttered an English word — cool — himself.
  • A new study by Léger has found that the approval rating of Quebec Premier François Legault in Montreal is now 32%, down 1 point since last measured in December, and down 13 points since September. Legault’s approval rating in Quebec City is 26% (+1), and 35% in the ROQ (+3). Overall, 33% of Quebecers say they are satisfied with the Legault government. The study also found that the Parti Québécois is now leading with 32% support in voting intentions, ahead of François Legault and the CAQ in second place.

Ontario

  • The Doug Ford government is poised to give independent clinics a greater role in performing surgeries and scans currently done in hospitals, and some doctors are speaking out in favour of the controversial plan. Ontario’s Ministry of Health is currently laying the groundwork for the creation of what it calls community surgical and diagnostic centres, to open later this year. The centres will perform OHIP-covered procedures such as hip and knee replacements and MRI scans. The clinics could be privately owned. 
  • Ontario will repeal a wage-cap law on public sector workers that the Court of Appeal found unconstitutional Monday. The law from Premier Doug Ford’s government — known as Bill 124 — capped salary increases for public sector workers at one percent a year for three years. A lower court struck it down as unconstitutional and the Appeal Court, in a 2-1 decision, largely upheld that decision, writing that the infringement couldn’t be justified.
  • The Ontario government said Thursday it plans to ban new tolls on provincial highways and that it hopes to have an automatic licence plate registration system in place by summer. Minister of Transportation Prabmeet Sarkaria said the proposed prohibition on new tolls will be included in omnibus legislation set to be tabled when the legislature resumes for its spring sitting next week. 
  • Public health officials say testing has confirmed xylazine, a potent tranquillizer used in veterinary procedures, was found in a drug sample taken around the time of last week’s overdose emergency in Belleville, Ont. In a brief update Thursday afternoon, Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) said testing carried out by Health Canada found the animal sedative, the depressant benzodiazepine and an opioid in the most recent sample collected by police amid the spike in drug poisonings. Officials said 23 people overdosed in Belleville between the afternoon of Feb. 6 and the morning of Feb. 8. Witnesses described multiple people collapsing at the same time.

Manitoba

  • A proposal by Sio Silica to mine ultra-pure silica sand in southeastern Manitoba has been denied by the province, just two days after the NDP government approved a different silica mine near Lake Winnipeg. The province has decided not to issue an environmental licence for the sand extraction project near Vivian, in the rural municipality of Springfield, Premier Wab Kinew and Environment and Climate Change Minister Tracy Schmidt announced Friday.
  • Members of nearly two dozen First Nations across Manitoba and Ontario that gathered in Winnipeg for the first time this week say they want their distinct identity to be correctly recognized. The Anisininew Gathering of Nations, a three-day event in Winnipeg that ended Thursday, was hosted by Anisininew Okimawin — a coalition of four First Nations from Manitoba’s Island Lake area — and attended by leaders and members of 18 Ontario First Nations.
  • Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew said Thursday he is confident a landfill search for the remains of two slain First Nations women will begin this year, while the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said it was still waiting for signs of progress. “We are going to search the landfill at Prairie Green. We are going to work with the families along the way and Indigenous leadership,” Kinew said in response to a reporter’s questions at an unrelated news conference on health care.
  • The federal government is sending $633 million in health care and long-term care funding to Manitoba to help the province hire more staff, address long waits for emergency care and improve home care and long-term care for seniors. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the commitment Thursday during a joint news conference alongside Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew and other provincial and federal officials in Winnipeg. The funding will help Manitoba hire about 1,000 more healthcare workers, Trudeau said at Red River College Polytechnic.

Saskatchewan

  • A judge has ruled a court challenge can proceed over the Saskatchewan government’s law requiring parental consent for children under 16 who want to change their names or pronouns at school. Justice Michael Megaw says the court can hear the challenge surrounding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms even if the Charter’s notwithstanding clause has been invoked. Lawyers for UR Pride, an LGBTQ group in Regina, urged Megaw last month to allow the challenge, arguing the law limits the rights of gender-diverse youth who are entitled to a safe educational environment.
  • Saskatchewan teachers will resume job action on Friday on two fronts. The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) said school divisions in the Battlefords and Prince Albert areas will be the latest in a series of one-day rotating strikes. The STF also said teachers provincewide will not supervise students over the lunch break. That has prompted school divisions to announce schools will close over lunch. According to notices sent to parents by various school divisions this week, it will also change when school buses take students home. Most buses won’t be available at the usual time after the school day.
  • The Government of Saskatchewan has announced a $200,000 one-time emergency grant to help keep the Regina Symphony Orchestra (RSO) afloat amid financial woes. “The basic cause for the circumstances is the lingering effects from the COVID pandemic,” said Ian Yeates, the Board Chair of the RSO. “The return to normal has not yet been experienced by the RSO and the Canadian orchestral world in general.” Audience turnouts for the RSO aren’t what they once were. Ticket sales only cover 25 to 30 percent of operating expenses, which include salaries for musicians and staff and the costs of renting venues, said Yeates.
  • Manitoba, Saskatchewan works out a deal that gives dialysis patients treatment close to home. In a statement to CBC, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health said the two provinces are working collaboratively with each other to increase access to their respective kidney health and renal programs. “Through this collaboration, Manitoba Health has agreed to provide access to renal dialysis spots in Flin Flon for two Saskatchewan patients,” said a statement emailed to CBC from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health. “It is anticipated this will minimize the burden of travel for these patients and their families, and provide care closer to home.”

Alberta

  • Thirty-six law professors, legal researchers and other staff from two Alberta universities are asking the province to reconsider proposed policy changes affecting transgender youth. The open letter is from staff at the University of Alberta and University of Calgary law schools. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has said the fall sitting of the legislature would bring new rules, including restrictions on youth changing their names or pronouns at school, as well as on hormone treatment and surgery for gender affirmation.
  • Alberta remained a powerful magnet for investment in Canada’s renewable sector last year, home to a whopping 92 percent of the country’s growth in installed wind and solar capacity. It’s a figure the Canadian Renewable Energy Association, which tracks the data, calls “remarkable,” but it also arrives as a contentious pause has been placed on approving new wind and solar projects in Alberta — at least until the end of this month.
  • Alberta Premier Danielle Smith presented a new long-term tourism strategy to help Alberta’s visitor economy reach $25 billion per year by 2035. Smith made her announcement during a visit to Jasper on Wednesday, Feb. 14. She highlighted how Jasper and Banff were the two most visited national parks in Canada and noted the number of other attractions Alberta had to offer.
  • Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has promised to stop using tabulators in Alberta elections. Smith’s base has long called for more election transparency and decried the use of electronics in the ballot-counting process, believing tabulators increase the potential for tampering with results.  The premier’s promise comes after tabulators were widely used in the 2023 provincial election, which the UCP narrowly won. As part of Elections Alberta’s Vote Anywhere Service, electors could show up at any voting place and receive a ballot for their riding. Electors would fill out their paper ballot and slip it into a tabulator. The tabulators counted the votes and printed a form with the results for each riding on election day. 

British Columbia

  • Many of Metro Vancouver’s roads are currently undergoing significant upgrades but there is now some concern the federal government might not be a partner in those projects. Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told a crowd in Montreal on Monday that “our government has made the decision to stop investing in new road infrastructure,” according to quotes published in the Montreal Gazette. The reaction to Guilbeault’s comments was swift. B.C. Premier David Eby said, “The province is not waiting for the feds. You’ll see the early work that is already going on out there.”
  • British Columbia’s Opposition Leader Kevin Falcon is pitching a housing plan that aims to get more first-time buyers into homes, and it comes just days after Premier David Eby promised to build more affordable rental units for the middle class. Falcon says B.C. United’s “Fix Housing” plan includes four initiatives to reduce the high cost of housing and increase supply, which he pledges to introduce if his party takes power in this fall’s election.
  • Premier David Eby’s long-awaited B.C. Builds plan promises to create at least 4,000 affordable units for middle-income British Columbians, with an aim to fill the gap between social and market housing that is increasingly out of reach. While one non-profit housing provider said the plan was “light-years ahead” of what other provinces are doing on housing, critics said it just recycles a middle-income housing program announced by former premier John Horgan.
  • A critical pump station that came dangerously close to being overwhelmed by floodwaters in British Columbia in November 2021 will receive almost $80 million in upgrades to provide future disaster protection, Premier David Eby said Wednesday. With the looming threat of climate change, Eby said protecting Fraser Valley residents, farmlands and economically important transportation infrastructure must be addressed ahead of future floods. 

Northwest Territories

  • The president of the union representing N.W.T. public servants says she is “gravely concerned” by a new fiscal plan the territory announced earlier this week. Gayla Thunstrom, president of the Union of Northern Workers, said in a news release on Wednesday that the threat of cuts to services during a health-care crisis, skyrocketing costs of living, and extreme climate events “seems very short-sighted.” “If the GNWT is going to highlight healthcare costs as one of its greatest fiscal challenges, it needs to get serious about recruitment and retention,” she said. 

Yukon

  • The firm managing the affairs of the company that abandoned the Wolverine mine in southeastern Yukon will soon be stepping away. PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has been the receiver for the now-defunct Yukon Zinc Corporation since 2019, successfully applied to be discharged from the receivership in the Yukon Supreme Court this week. The move marks the end of a major chapter in the saga of the Wolverine mine, located on Kaska territory roughly halfway between Ross River and Watson Lake, Yukon. A judge previously described it as an “irresponsible mining venture” that has forced the Yukon to spend tens of millions of dollars in emergency environmental protection measures since Yukon Zinc began neglecting the property in 2017 before fully abandoning it and declaring bankruptcy. 

Nunavut

  • Multiple investigations, including one by the RCMP, are underway at the Naja Isabelle group home in Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, after two young residents died in hospital. In a news release Friday morning, Margaret Nakashuk, Nunavut’s minister of family services, said three people were hospitalized as a result of “critical incidents” at the care home. Two died. Nakashuk refused an interview request, citing the investigations. The Nunavut coroner’s office confirmed a 12-year-old died on Jan. 6 in Nunavut, while the 19-year-old died on Oct. 17, 2023, outside the territory.

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