Provincial Legislative Update – January 5, 2024

An overview of the Provincial Legislative and Territories Legislative Updates for the week of December 22, 2023 - January 5, 2024.​ Written by Wes McLean.

New Brunswick

  • A researcher says New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs is sharing “misinterpretations” of the gender-affirming care data she’s been collecting and analyzing for years. In a year-end interview with Radio-Canada, Higgs shared his concerns about how easy it is for children to get gender-affirming care. “In Canada, it’s about over 60 percent, after one visit, can be put on the puberty blockers,” Higgs said. He was also quoted by The Canadian Press saying 60 percent of kids “are given automatic affirmation and put on some sort of hormone therapy” at a first appointment.
  • N.B. Power is suggesting a “second refurbishment” of the Point Lepreau nuclear generating station might be possible around the year 2041 if an expensive five-year plan to fix ongoing problems from the first refurbishment works out favourably. “However, such an extension is not being proposed at this time,” the utility added as part of an evidence package it submitted to the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board for an upcoming rate hearing.
  • Fredericton ER filthy and overflowing during holidays, visitors say. The woman says her mother spent 6 days in a storage room waiting for a bed. Horizon says a patient with anything less than a life-threatening or emergency medical need will likely experience a longer than normal wait for care in the network’s emergency departments.
  • Premier Blaine Higgs is not ruling out reviving some controversial ideas to overhaul French immersion and weaken the powers of district education councils if he wins a new mandate in a provincial election this year. Higgs said in an interview with CBC News that he is still concerned about problems in the anglophone school system and isn’t sure recommendations in a recent report — which his government accepted and will implement — go far enough.

Nova Scotia

  • A growing number of healthcare workers in Nova Scotia are not getting their annual flu shots, according to figures released by their employer, Nova Scotia Health. In response to a request by CBC News, authority spokesperson Jennifer Lewandowski wrote: “As of December 14, 2023, 7,231 (22.5%) employees have had the flu vaccine during the 2023-24 flu season.” That’s the lowest flu vaccination rate in at least a decade, according to statistics posted on the Nova Scotia Department of Health’s webpage. Vaccination rates ranged from 45.1 percent during the 2015-16 flu season to 29.8 percent last year.
  • People in Digby County are trying to bring renewed attention to their long-standing call to complete Highway 101 in the southwestern part of Nova Scotia. Municipality of the District of Digby Warden Linda Gregory said the issue has been a concern for the community even before she joined the council 29 years ago. The stretch of road in question runs between Weymouth and Marshalltown, where Highway 101 goes through multiple residential communities along St. Marys Bay with inconsistent speed limits and without controlled access, a design that would manage vehicles entering or exiting the highway.
  • Research commissioned by the province says Nova Scotians are spending about one-third of their grocery budgets on food that is produced locally. Dalhousie University professor Sylvain Charlebois led the study intending to set a baseline figure for local food consumption. “Nobody really knew and nobody had any data. So … we had to develop a methodology to assess exactly how localized the Nova Scotian diet actually is,” Charlebois said in an interview.
  • It’s an unaffordable start to 2024 for many Nova Scotians and their families, say the N.S. NDP. Claudia Chender, the leader of the provincial NDP, said that in the last year, the cost of living has skyrocketed making it harder for more and more Nova Scotians to make ends meet. Now, 2024 kicks off with another seven percent increase in power rates for Nova Scotia families. And the Houston government has announced it will raise the minimum wage by only twenty cents in 2024. “Everything from the cost of power to fuel to food and medication has gone up.

Prince Edward Island

  • Christmas on P.E.I. was something of a bust for creating part-time jobs in retail, and as a result, the province’s unemployment rate remained above eight percent for the second month in a row in December. The rate was unchanged at 8.1 percent. Total employment was virtually unchanged from November to December in seasonally adjusted numbers, up just 100 jobs to 99,100. The unemployment rate had leaped by 1.9 percentage points in November, mostly due to a loss of 900 part-time jobs, with retail being a big factor in that loss.
  • Free meningitis B vaccines are now being offered to all post-secondary students on Prince Edward Island. The province previously made students in residence eligible for free vaccinations, but that has been expanded after new cases were diagnosed in Ontario. “University-aged students are at a higher risk of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD), with up to 10 percent of IMD cases being fatal,” Chief Public Health Office Dr. Heather Morrison said in an email to CBC News.
  • A consultant hired in 2022 to assess production problems at a wind farm owned by the P.E.I. government found severe damage, with turbine units possibly constituting a safety hazard and turbine blades at “high risk of imminent failure.” Last month, high winds ripped two 56-metre blades off one of the turbines at the facility in Hermanville, near the northeastern tip of Prince Edward Island. For comparison, the province’s tallest building is only 39 metres tall; it’s the 10-storey Holman Grand Hotel in Charlottetown.
  • UPEI’s draft five-year action plan contains hundreds of proposed changes to address everything from discrimination to sexual harassment to bullying, but the university’s faculty association says more could be done immediately to change the culture on campus. The action plan, released this week, was in response to the June 2023 Rubin Thomlinson report that said a toxic environment had developed at the Charlottetown institution and looked into how misconduct allegations against a former UPEI president were handled. 

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • The leader of the NDP says more than ever, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has to focus on ensuring the stability of people’s lives. Issues like healthcare access, homelessness, and the increased cost of living have dominated concerns across the province, especially in the last year. Jim Dinn says the Liberals calling an election ahead of the fixed date of 2025 would be a selfish move.
  • PC Leader Tony Wakeham says he believes his party can better help the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, but an election this year would not be in anyone’s best interest. Wakeham also talks to CBC’s Peter Cowan about equalization — and how the N.L. Liberals should be leading the charge to their Ottawa counterparts for a formula change.
  • As students of Memorial University’s Grenfell campus remain in limbo, the student union’s academic vice-president says it’s getting harder for international students to reach their families. Campus IT systems, including Wi-Fi, are down due to a cybersecurity attack that also pushed back the start of the winter semester to next week. And while students are moving back on campus as normal, some are finding themselves cut off from home. 

Quebec

  • Quebec Premier François Legault acknowledged that 2023 “wasn’t the easiest year” in a video message Monday, but stressed that he has confidence for 2024 “because Quebec is an extraordinary nation … we’re capable of doing big things.” The premier posted the video on Facebook to highlight the arrival of 2024, marking the end of a year that saw him take a hit in the pollslose a Quebec City riding to the Parti Québécois and renew tensions with the province’s anglophone population.
  • Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in Quebec might be close to cutting a deal with the provincial government as their unions have signed a tentative agreement. The Front Commun – a coalition of unions representing more than 420,000 public sector workers in the province – has tentatively agreed to a 17.4% salary increase over five years for the workers.
  • The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians says it is “concerned” about comments made by Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé in December suggesting that unnecessary emergency department visits significantly contribute to overcrowding. If patients feel they need emergency health care, they shouldn’t hesitate to go to the ER, the association told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. On Dec. 19, Dubé told reporters in Montreal that “there is a large percentage of people who consult at the emergency department who don’t have an urgent problem … I’m not saying they’re not worried, but they don’t have an urgent problem.”
  • A new class-action lawsuit is seeking compensation for Indigenous people who attended day schools in Quebec that were under the jurisdiction of the provincial government. A Quebec Superior Court judge authorized the lawsuit last month on behalf of Indigenous people who allege they received lower-quality education than other Quebecers and that abuse was rampant at these institutions. The lawsuit differs from a 2019, $1.47-billion settlement between the federal government and survivors of federally-run schools. That settlement excluded provincially run schools.

Ontario

  • Recently obtained emails between Premier Doug Ford’s senior staff challenge a pair of claims the government has made about the Greenbelt changes, including when its planning began and to what extent the premier’s office was involved. A chain of emails, obtained by The Trillium using a freedom of information request, shows Ford’s then-chief of staff told a colleague he’d “check with officials” in November 2021 about a developer’s request to unprotect Greenbelt land to allow for housing to be built.
  • The new year brings new opportunities for Premier Doug Ford to try to move past the controversies that plagued his government in 2023. The Greenbelt scandal dominated Ontario politics for much of last year. Although Ford’s government has reversed its move to give select developers the right to build housing in the protected area (potentially boosting their land values by $8.3 billion), the RCMP is investigating how it all happened.
  • Electra Battery Materials fully expects government funding to roll in shortly to finish its incomplete cobalt and nickel refinery expansion in Temiskaming. The Toronto company issued a Dec. 29 news release that it expects government funding “very early in 2024” to resume construction that was brought to a halt last year. Electra is short US $60 million to finish its refurbishment and expansion of the former Yukon refinery located between the town of Cobalt and Temiskaming Shores.
  • The Government of Ontario has apparently been taking a closer look lately at off-grid communities that residents are increasingly turning to in an effort to escape the exorbitant cost of housing and life in general in cities like Toronto. Located in remote regions further north, the locales offer an alternative way of life, advertising the chance to have a place of your own for just a small fraction of the price of the average home in the province.

Manitoba

  • An online registry disclosing whether Manitoba teachers have been found guilty of misconduct is expected to be available by this time next year, the province’s education minister says. The NDP government is following through on legislation from the previous Progressive Conservative administration that will help regulate the teaching profession, Nello Altomare confirmed on Thursday. “It’s a good bill to move forward,” the education minister said.
  • The chair of Winnipeg’s police board is pushing the city to reconsider giving officers body-worn cameras in the wake of three fatal police shootings over roughly the past month. “This is a measure of transparency and accountability,” said Markus Chambers, who is also a councillor for south Winnipeg’s St. Norbert-Seine River ward. “But we have to look and see what the problem is that we’re trying to resolve, and reverse engineering it to see if body-worn cameras is actually the tool that will assist.”
  • Dr. Eric Jacobsohn will be spending less time on the front lines, but he says he’s still committed to working toward improving Manitoba’s healthcare system. Jacobsohn, an anesthesiologist, intensive care physician and professor at the University of Manitoba’s Max Rady College of Medicine, has been named special adviser to Health Minister Uzoma Asagwara. Jacobsohn will officially start his new post in mid-January.
  • A former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and current MLA is speaking for the first time since two former colleagues accused him of trying to push through a controversial proposal to drill for sand in southeastern Manitoba. In an interview with The Canadian Press, Jeff Wharton said he called the two departing MLAs simply to gather information about the planned Sio Silica mine and share it with the incoming NDP government, following the PC Party’s defeat last fall.

Saskatchewan

  • It’s only fair that federal rebates should not be reduced if Saskatchewan stops remitting carbon tax revenues to Ottawa, the minister responsible for SaskEnergy says. Dustin Duncan also says that if the province does ultimately decide to remit carbon tax revenue to the federal government, it will pay for it with either the general revenue fund, SaskEnergy earnings or both. But no final decision on that has been made yet, Duncan said during an interview on CBC’s Morning Edition on Thursday.
  • As neighbouring provinces address the cost of living at the gas pump by reducing or cutting their gas taxes, Saskatchewan has chosen to keep its tax in place and unchanged. It’s a decision that hurts residents looking for affordability assistance, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “Our neighbours are getting relief but Saskatchewan families aren’t,” Gage Haubrich, the organization’s Prairies director, said during an interview on Wednesday. 
  • Saskatoon City Hospital’s emergency department reduced its services Tuesday evening, raising a “red flag” about issues facing health care in the city, according to one of the hospital’s physicians. “Closures happening is not new, but closures happening in a place like Saskatoon is new,” Dr. Brittany Ellis, an emergency physician who works at all three of Saskatoon’s hospitals, told CBC Wednesday. In a post on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, she shared a note from the Saskatchewan Health Authority warning of “limited” capacity at the hospital’s ER on Tuesday.
  • The son of a Regina cancer survivor who he says is “fighting for her life” is urging the Saskatchewan government to immediately reopen a temporarily shuttered oxygen therapy program he believes could help keep his mother alive. Tamara Heppner, 52, underwent three rounds of radiation after being diagnosed with cervical cancer in October 2020 and has been in remission since February 2021. In the nearly three years since she has been in and out of hospital with severe bleeding and blood clots caused by necrosis — the death of body tissues — as a result of the cancer treatment, according to Heppner’s son, Brayden Dutchak.

Alberta

  • Alberta’s environment minister is reaching out to municipalities asking them to find ways to use less water this year in light of the province’s drought. In a letter sent on Dec. 20, Rebecca Schulz asked municipal leaders to develop a water shortage plan, monitor water intake, and review their water licences to see if there are any limits set during drought conditions. She also asked municipal water managers to be on standby in case they are contacted by the province’s new drought command team. 
  • On an Edmonton street once crowded with tents, workers in white hazmat suits sifted through tarps, sleeping bags and blankets on Wednesday morning, slowly stuffing trash bags into the back of a garbage truck. Tents scattered across central Edmonton are being torn down as a court battle over the city’s encampment removal policy continues. Makeshift shelters at four camps are expected to be removed today by city workers and police.
  • More pressing for Alberta Premier Danielle Smith than the timing of the next federal election is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s finding a new federal environment minister. A recent survey by Nanos Research states 46 percent of respondents want the next election to happen as soon as possible, or in 2024. Smith was asked about the survey — and whether she believes Albertans want to head to the polls sooner than the currently scheduled October 2025 — in an interview on CTV’s Your Morning on Friday.

British Columbia

  • It has been a busy first year in office for B.C. Premier David Eby, from launching “cost of living” credits for residents and businesses to unveiling a bill banning drug use in most public spaces amid an experiment in decriminalization meant to address rising toxic drug deaths. Among the changes he’s introduced since becoming premier in November 2022, he says, the most transformative have been part of the New Democrat government’s home-building agenda.
  • A British Columbia Supreme Court Justice has granted a temporary injunction against the B.C. NDP government’s legislation banning all drug use in a wide range of public spaces, pausing the law three days before it was set to come into force. The B.C. Restricting Public Consumption of Illegal Substances Act passed in early November and was set to become law on Jan. 1. However, it would not have immediately impacted people’s lives because the cabinet has not yet approved regulations to implement it. 
  • A conservation group says its latest purchase of exclusive hunting rights in a British Columbia rainforest is a major step toward protecting the area’s wildlife. Still, hunters say the move is an “abuse” of the licensing system. 
    The Raincoast Conservation Foundation, based in Sidney, B.C., said Thursday that it raised $1.92 million over two years to buy the rights from hunters that cover roughly a quarter, or 18,000 square kilometres, of the Great Bear Rainforest on the province’s north and central coast.
  • A 30-year professor of family medicine at the University of British Columbia has stepped down, citing rising instances of antisemitism within his faculty. In his resignation letter, Dr. Ted Rosenberg of Victoria said UBC had not addressed concerns raised about a medical student’s petition, antisemitism with the faculty, and a toxic work environment resulting from politicization and polarization of the Middle East conflict.

Northwest Territories

  • Air North has cancelled winter flights between Yellowknife, Whitehorse, and Toronto, saying the route wasn’t busy enough to cover costs. The company said the cancellations affect flights scheduled from Feb. 13 to May 1, 2024. Ben Ryan, chief commercial officer with Air North, said there wasn’t enough demand for the flights. “Our flights generally were looking like they would end up probably 60 percent full, which is just not full enough to justify operating in the winter, especially with the potentially high cost of de-icing that can occur during winter months,” Ryan said.

Yukon

  • A new expert council will assess risks and provide advice to the Government of Yukon in an effort to ensure the territory’s needs are considered in federal decision making about Arctic security. The Yukon Arctic Security Advisory Council was formally introduced at a media event on Thursday. The territorial government said the council is mandated to “study risks across the Yukon security landscape, determine what assets and infrastructure require additional protection and identify opportunities for the Government of Yukon to work with the Government of Canada to enhance security across the territory.”

Nunavut

  • A director with the Government of Nunavut warned his department that a plan for a new fuel tank farm in Arviat likely wouldn’t be approved elsewhere in the developed world and claimed the project was pushed for political reasons, according to emails obtained by CBC News. The emails reveal the debate among Community and Government Services (CGS) staff last spring over growing community concerns about the proposed fuel tank farm’s location. “This location would likely not be approved elsewhere in the developed world due to hazards to the community,” former CGS infrastructure director Ahsan Khan wrote to his colleagues on April 21, 2023. 

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