Provincial Legislative Update – January 8-12, 2024

An overview of the Provincial Legislative and Territories Legislative Updates for the week of January 8-12, 2024.​ Written by Wes McLean. The federal Liberals will hold a cabinet retreat from January 21 – 23 in Montreal. The federal Liberal Caucus will hold its retreat the following week.

New Brunswick

  • The head of Horizon Health Network says they’re making progress to improve wait times at their four emergency departments, but there’s much work yet to be done, particularly when it comes to people waiting in hospitals for long-term care. A total of 542 people are currently waiting in Horizon hospitals for nursing home or special care home beds, said interim president and CEO Margaret Melanson. This is more than previous years, according to Melanson, and represents 33 percent of Horizon’s total inpatient beds, or one in three.
  • Weeks after Premier Blaine Higgs publicly indicated that it’s too easy for children to get gender-affirming care in Canada, he still refuses to answer questions about his remarks, even in a statement. In December, Higgs told Radio-Canada and other news outlets that “60 percent” of children have prescribed hormones or puberty blockers at their “first appointment” and that concerns him. He made the comment while defending changes he made to a school pronoun policy.
  • After backing away from a possible early election call last fall, New Brunswick’s governing Progressive Conservatives are accelerating their preparations for a 2024 campaign. The party has chosen two candidates since New Year’s Day and has scheduled eight more nominating conventions in January, all of them in redrawn ridings where PC incumbent MLAs are expected to run again.
  • International students studying in New Brunswick along with the province’s business community say they hope the federal government will increase the number of hours they are permitted to work each week. They fear Ottawa will reimpose the 20-hours-per-week limit that was temporarily waived in November 2022 to address a Canada-wide labour shortage.

Nova Scotia

  • Halifax’s Macdonald Bridge is gearing up for a $75-million makeover that will strip away decades of old paint to start fresh. Since the bridge opened in 1955, Halifax Harbour Bridges said crews have mostly been doing spot touch-ups and small repairs on the structure. The new project will be the first time workers sandblast the bare steel over the entire bridge and apply three new coats of paint.
  • About one year after a milestone report warned no amount of alcohol is safe, Nova Scotia is developing a campaign to inform people about the health impacts of drinking. The report — Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health — jolted many when it warned even drinking small amounts carries risk. It also made a link between alcohol and at least seven types of cancer. 
  • Nova Scotia is the fourth province to sign a new health accord with the federal government, with Ottawa sending $355 million to improve access to health care. British Columbia was the first to sign a one-on-one deal with the federal government in October, followed by Prince Edward Island and Alberta just before Christmas. The deals are part of a new health accord Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered to premiers early last year after provinces demanded Ottawa help address a healthcare crisis including a shortage of health workers and overwhelmed hospitals.
  • Nova Scotia’s environment minister refuses to release the results of a recent survey of property owners about the Coastal Protection Act. Tim Halman told reporters Thursday the information is “being used in the ongoing work on coastal protection.” “So that feedback has gone into the development of the work we’re doing now on what coastal protection will look like,” he said following a cabinet meeting in Halifax. “And once we’re ready to release what coastal protection will look like, that information of what we found from . . . coastal property owners, we’ll be releasing that information at that time.”

Prince Edward Island

  • MLAs on P.E.I.’s health committee have drawn up a long list of witnesses they plan to call on to talk about plans for the new medical school at the University of Prince Edward Island. Members of the standing committee on health and social development met Thursday to discuss their priorities heading into the spring session of the legislature that’s set to begin Feb. 27. Opposition leader Hal Perry is leading the push to scrutinize the plans and decision-making that led to the development of the medical school, which is slated to accept its first students in the fall of 2025.
  • A provincial byelection in Borden-Kinkora has drawn candidates from all four of P.E.I.’s main political parties. Residents of District 19 will vote for a new MLA to represent them in the P.E.I. legislature on Feb. 5. The governing Progressive Conservatives set the date after choosing Carmen Reeves as their candidate during a nomination meeting Tuesday night at Amherst Cove Consolidated School in Borden-Carleton. The need for a byelection was triggered after the district’s former MLA, Jamie Fox, resigned his seat so he could run for the federal Conservatives in the Malpeque riding.
  • A provincial program that helps people pay for home heating has received $500,000 in applications in the first ten days of 2024, after seeing record-high demand last year. “I’m really hoping it’s a mild winter, but it just shows the need that’s out there,” said John Burton of the Salvation Army, which administers the provincially-funded program. “Everybody needs to be warm. That’s a basic human need.” The Home Heating Program gives eligible Islanders up to $1,200 per calendar year, meaning anyone who applied in the fall is now eligible for more money. 
  • With the flu and COVID-19 making the rounds this winter, Island workers are still waiting for answers on when they’ll get access to more paid sick leave days. In November, the P.E.I. Liberals saw an opposition bill they proposed to expand paid sick days pass, but not before the governing Progressive Conservatives amended parts of it. One aspect the PCs removed was a requirement that the changes in the bill be implemented within six months. Now it’s at the discretion of the government, meaning the Liberals have no idea when the legislation they themselves proposed will come into effect.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Oxygen created from the production of green hydrogen could help stem a growing dead zone at the bottom of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, according to new research by Canadian scientists. Marine dead zones are occurring around the world, including in the Baltic Sea and off the coast of China. The Gulf of St. Lawrence dead zone is the result of nutrients that consume oxygen and a shift in ocean currents carrying colder rich waters away from the Gulf. Dead zones threaten marine species, which need oxygen to live, eliminating habitat for less mobile species like crabs and mussels and shrinking habitat for others, making them more vulnerable to predators.
  • Unusually choppy waters off the west coast of Newfoundland mean the island’s only transport truck ferry service has been seeing an onslaught of delays. And those repeated delays, says Marine Atlantic spokesperson Darrell Mercer, mean trucks carrying food, clothing and household goods aren’t arriving on time. “There have been continuous storm systems that have been moving through with high winds,” Mercer said in an interview. “There have been disruptions.” Crossings were cancelled Wednesday, the latest in a string of suspensions of service since the days leading up to Christmas.
  • The president of Memorial University’s faculty association thinks institutional funding cuts might have had something to do with the cyberattack that targeted the university late last month. The incident affected IT services at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook, which delayed the commencement of winter semester classes. Memorial hasn’t released much information to the public or faculty about the exact nature of the cybersecurity incident, said Josh Lepawsky, president of the Memorial University Faculty Association (MUNFA), adding the union’s request for an emergency meeting was refused.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Health Services is planning to roll out mobile clinics that can go on the road, and to wherever they are needed. The provincial health authority has requested proposals for three recreational vehicles that can be converted into mobile clinics. The aim is to reduce pressure on hospital emergency rooms, says Melissa Coish, senior director of primary health care and community services for the eastern urban zone of N.L. Health Services.

Quebec

  • According to a new study by the Angus Reid Institute, just 18% of Quebecers believe the Quebec government led by François Legault is doing a good job on healthcare in the province. This marks a 15-point decrease since approval was last measured in June 2023. 77% say that the Legault government has done a poor job on healthcare.
  • The number of sick and injured people in Quebec’s emergency rooms is the highest it has been in five years and doctors and nurses are struggling to provide care. The crisis is centred in the greater Montreal area, where most emergency rooms were above 100 percent capacity on Wednesday afternoon and some at 200 percent. In a province where emergency rooms are often — if not always — clogged around the holidays and primary care is difficult for a large slice of the population who lack access to a family doctor, “crowded ERs” has become a perennial headline. 
  • The campus director for Champlain College Lennoxville has been placed on temporary paid leave effective immediately following allegations of psychological harassment and a motion of non-confidence from the teachers’ union. The resolution came during a special meeting of the Champlain Regional College’s board of governors on Wednesday evening. It follows CBC’s investigation into ongoing hearings about Nancy Beattie at Quebec’s labour tribunal. 
  • Denis Coderre, a former Montreal mayor who also spent 16 years as a federal MP, has his eye on a career in provincial politics. During a column on the CKLV community radio station Wednesday, Coderre confirmed that he was seriously considering a run to become the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ). Coderre is a well-known political figure in the province. He was the mayor of Montreal from 2013 to 2017 when he was defeated by Projet Montréal’s Valérie Plante.

Ontario

  • A report from Metrolinx suggests it was seeking strategic direction from the provincial government more than halfway through a two-year London to Toronto GO service pilot because of low ridership, something a transit critic says can be partly blamed on a broken 2022 election promise by Premier Doug Ford. CBC News obtained the heavily redacted 12-page Metrolinx report entitled “Strategic Direction for London GO Service” through Ontario’s Freedom of Information Act.
  • Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles is calling on the premier to take specific action to halt the growing health care and wait time crisis in Ontario. Stiles told a news conference Thursday that the Conservatives continue to ignore obvious health care concerns and are not living up to Premier Doug Ford’s promise to end the hallway medicine problems that cropped up under the previous Liberal government.
  • The Ford government plans to close some ServiceOntario locations and move them to kiosks at stationery stores, a spokesperson for the premier has confirmed. The move comes as part of a plan pitched by the province to “streamline” operations and deliver services in a “cost-effective way.” A spokesperson for Ontario Premier Doug Ford said a pilot program to relocate some ServiceOntario locations to kiosks inside Staples stores comes after “lengthy” consultations. ServiceOntario locations offer various provincial programs, including health cards, driving licences and licence plate renewals.
  • Toronto staff are recommending a nine percent hike to the city’s residential property tax — the largest single-year increase since amalgamation in 1998 — as they look to fill a nearly $1.8 billion budget shortfall in 2024 and a grim long-term fiscal outlook. With the recommendation of an additional 1.5 percent increase to the city building tax, property owners could see their tax bill jump 10.5 percent this year if the figures go unchanged during five weeks of scheduled budget debates and consultations. The city building tax is a special levy introduced in 2016 that goes toward major transit and housing projects.

Manitoba

  • The Manitoba NDP’s caucus chair is filing two ethics complaints over allegations the former provincial government tried to ram through approval of an Alberta mining company’s sand-drilling proposal, days after the Progressive Conservatives lost the Oct. 3 provincial election. Mike Moyes said he planned to formally lodge the complaints Friday with the legislative assembly’s ethics commissioner against former premier and current PC Leader Heather Stefanson, and Red River North MLA Jeff Wharton, a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister.
  • The province of Manitoba and the union representing 11,500 civil servants have reached a tentative agreement for a four-year contract. The Manitoba Government and General Employees Union says it reached a deal with the provincial government Friday and is recommending its members accept it. If approved, the agreement, retroactive to last year, will increase wages by approximately 14 percent over four years, the union said — 2.5 percent in 2023, 2.75 percent in 2024, and three percent in both 2025 and 2026.
  • Pierre Poilievre used a cold blustery day in Winnipeg to argue the temperature isn’t the only reason the cost of heating a home is rising. The federal Conservative leader brought his travelling “Axe the Tax” campaign, targeting the carbon tax he’s promised to remove if elected, to the Manitoba capital Friday morning. He made his case indoors, beside the cabs of two semi-trailer trucks. “Everything transported in these trucks becomes more expensive because of the Trudeau tax on carbon and on diesel,” Poilievre said at a news conference at Gardewine, a trucking company in Winnipeg. 
  • The niece of a couple killed in a bus crash north of Carberry this summer says the settlement Manitoba Public Insurance offered for her loved ones after the tragedy feels like a slap in the face. Frank Perzylo, 82, and Rose Perzylo, 80, from Dauphin, Man., were among the 17 people who died after a semi-trailer collided on June 15, 2023, with the small bus they were travelling on. Their niece, Chantel Uhrich, says MPI told their family at the end of December that the maximum amount of compensation they could receive was $72,500 for each victim. “I am absolutely appalled and disgusted that they would ever put that low of an amount on a person’s death,” she said. 

Saskatchewan

  • More medical professionals are on track to join Saskatchewan’s healthcare system, as the province’s action plan progresses. The Health Human Resources (HHR) action plan, which was announced in September, prioritizes four points: recruit, train, incentivize, and retain. Registered nurses (RNs) from the Philippines with conditional offers have started working through the RN Pathway, which includes language, bridging education, and licensing, according to a release from the provincial government.
  • Ochapowace Nation Chief Okimaw Iskwew Margaret Bear has issued another call to the Saskatchewan government to reconsider recent action to assert control over natural resources in the province. Bear spoke, as an invited guest, at a recent news conference with the Sask. NDP opposing the continued sale and lease of Crown land without due consultation with First Nations.
  • The First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) is receiving more than $2 million for a new outdoor education centre that it is calling its fourth campus. The funding is being provided by both the provincial and federal governments. It is part of more than $19.7 million in joint funding for 25 infrastructure projects across the province.

Alberta

  • An Alberta cabinet minister has denounced the mayor of Edmonton’s plan to declare a housing and homelessness emergency, calling it “bizarre” and “a complete political stunt.” Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said in a statement Thursday that he plans to make a motion to declare a city-wide emergency at a special city council meeting on Monday. “It is clear what we are doing now is not making the progress we hoped for,” Sohi said.
  • The new president of emergency medicine for the Alberta Medical Association says ER physicians already coping with long hours, staff shortages and jammed waiting rooms are also being obligated, in some cases, to work for free. Dr. Warren Thirsk says Premier Danielle Smith’s government has yet to follow through on a promise to reimburse emergency room doctors for so-called “good faith” payments. “There’s been lots of excuses, but the bottom line is no one has received a penny for those suspended good-faith payments,” Thirsk said in an interview.
  • The Alberta Teachers’ Association is calling for the provincial government to stop using new software for Grade 12 diploma exams until problems with the platform are fixed. Students using a new digital assessment platform to write essays for the high-stakes standardized tests hit technical problems during the fall 2023 exam sittings and again during exams this week, according to the government, school boards and teachers. Although the province hasn’t said how many students were affected, some school boards say thousands of their students wrote digital language arts exams this week that included a significant error.

British Columbia

  • British Columbia must do things differently to break the cycle where Indigenous people comprise five percent of the population but about 30 percent of those incarcerated, Premier David Eby and First Nations leaders said Thursday. “So much of this work is at its most acute in our justice system,” Eby said at a news conference announcing the establishment of five new Indigenous justice centres over the past year. The centres are part of the government’s work with the First Nations Justice Council to build safer communities and help change lives, he said at the new Vancouver facility.
  • The B.C. New Democrats have suffered a dramatic drop in public approval following their handling of the health care file since the last election, according to an opinion survey by the non-profit Angus Reid Institute. Today, the pandemic has retreated to the background and the health-care debate is dominated by concerns about waiting lists and the difficulty of finding a family doctor. Even Premier David Eby admits that wait times and access to cancer care are “unacceptable”. His government has been sending an unprecedented number of patients to the U.S. for radiation therapy.
  • Premier David Eby says he’s “profoundly concerned” about allegations made in a scathing letter from leaders within B.C.’s search and rescue community, calling out the province’s Emergency Management and Climate Readiness ministry. The letter details claims of bullying, intimidation, sexism, and threats by some of the province’s staff members. It also claims the provincial government has been “ignoring” new, useful advances in technology and calls for a provincial audit of ministry staff.
  • A study conducted by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has found that prescribing medical-grade opioids dramatically reduced the rates of deaths and overdoses for drug users living in B.C. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, is described as “the first known instance of a North American province or state providing clinical guidance to physicians and nurse practitioners for prescribing pharmaceutical alternatives to patients at risk of death from the toxic drug supply.”

Northwest Territories

  • The executive director of the Salvation Army in Yellowknife says staff are so far “winning the battle” against freezing pipes at the downtown emergency shelter, although the ongoing frigid temperatures have made it a challenge. “Right now we have some pipes that are freezing. We’re doing everything we can with contractors here in town and bringing in portable heaters to try and stop it from getting any worse,” said Tony Brushett. During another cold snap in 2021, the pipes burst at the facility leading to a weeks-long evacuation and $4 million repair. 

Yukon

  • The federal and Yukon governments are together investing more than $248 million into work at the airport in Whitehorse — with the bulk of the money being spent on rebuilding the main runway. Yukon’s minister of Highways and Public Works, Nils Clarke, said in a media statement on Friday that the work would ensure the airport continues to meet the needs of the territory. The Yukon government is contributing $62 million toward the overall work, while the federal government is putting in more than $186 million. 
  • A Yukon Supreme Court decision about flawed consultations over a contentious mine project in Kaska traditional territory is being welcomed by First Nations, environmentalists, and the mining company involved. In a ruling issued last week, Justice Suzanne Duncan found that the Crown largely met its duty to consult First Nations throughout the environmental assessment of the proposed Kudz Ze Kayah mine in southeast Yukon. However, she also found that the Crown failed to give proper consideration to a final, 48-page submission from the First Nations before giving the mine the green light.

Nunavut

  • The Government of Canada will invest over $27 million to fast track 459 housing units in Nunavut communities over the next three years. Construction of over 3,100 homes is expected to take place over the next decade with a focus on enabling higher density housing, land availability, capacity building and affordability, a Government of Canada release stated. “The most pressing need in Nunavut is the lack of housing. Building more affordable homes in Iqaluit can result in benefits to all Nunavummiut. Working together, we can support Nunavummiut to contribute to Nunavut and Canada’s economy, and while more needs to be done, this will help,” Nunavut MP Lori Idlout said in a statement.

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