Provincial Legislative Update – September 11-15, 2023
An overview of the Provincial and Territories Legislative Updates for the week of September 11-15, 2023.
Blaine Higgs is staying. The New Brunswick premier announced Friday he will remain as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and seek another mandate in the next provincial election. There’s been speculation for months about whether Higgs, who will be 70 years old next March, would retire before the next election. In February, at the annual state of the province speech, he teased the crowd by exiting the stage to the Clash song Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Three former Progressive Conservative cabinet ministers are bringing a new level of inquisitorial zeal to the New Brunswick Legislature’s public accounts committee. The trio of Tories left Premier Blaine Higgs’s cabinet in June over their differences with the premier. They’re now using their time on the backbenches to bring extra scrutiny to how government departments spend money and administer programs.
New Brunswick opposition parties have accused the government of trying to downplay COVID-19 by changing the way it reports on the virus. On Tuesday the province launched a new Respiratory Watch report, which provides updates on both COVID-19 and influenza. Among the changes is a new definition for COVID deaths that will see only deaths that occur in hospitals counted. “It feels a lot like Blaine Higgs is trying to minimize the number of deaths associated with the COVID pandemic by imposing this really restrictive definition for what will count as a COVID death,” said Green Party Leader Coon. “And that’s just wrong on so many levels.”
A shelter-in-place order remained in effect Thursday evening for all Saint John residents as a stubborn scrapyard fire continued to send huge clouds of hazardous smoke over the New Brunswick port city. Crews had been battling flames at the American Iron and Metal recycling plant by Saint John Harbour since early Thursday morning. Premier Blaine Higgs released a statement Thursday evening promising a full investigation into the incident.
Premier Tim Houston shuffled his cabinet Thursday, appointing the first Black woman to cabinet in the history of the Nova Scotia Legislature and announcing he’ll be nominating a close political ally as the province’s first female speaker of the house. Twila Grosse, fresh off a commanding byelection win in Preston, becomes the new minister responsible for the public service and minister responsible for African Nova Scotian Affairs. Karla MacFarlane’s resignation from her portfolios clears the way for her to be nominated next month as Speaker of the House. Although it requires a vote by MLAs before it’s official, the Tory majority in the House means MacFarlane will become Nova Scotia’s first female Speaker.
Sean Fraser, the federal minister of housing, infrastructure and communities, wrote Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston on Thursday to urge the removal of the provincial portion of the Harmonized Sales Tax off rental home construction. “We must build more homes — and we must build them by the millions,” Fraser said in the letter. “Let us be bold so we may give hope to millions of Canadians who are not living the life they had hoped for themselves, in large part because they do not have a place to live that they can afford if they have a place to live at all.”
The housing crisis facing Nova Scotia and the rest of the country is everyone’s problem and not a time for pointing fingers, Premier Tim Houston told reporters Thursday before criticizing the Halifax Regional Municipal Council for almost three minutes and accusing them of contributing to the problem. “You know, look, stomping your feet and pointing at somebody else — no,” Houston said during a news conference following a cabinet shuffle. “Roll up your sleeves and get to work.”
The mayor of Amherst, N.S., is concerned about the impact Hurricane Lee could have on the Chignecto Isthmus, which connects Nova Scotia to the rest of Canada. Amherst borders the Chignecto Isthmus, a strip of marshland that’s below sea level and is vulnerable to storms and flooding due to climate change. While the exact track of Hurricane Lee isn’t fully clear yet, it is projected to pass over the isthmus this weekend. “We’re very concerned about these hurricanes and the threat they have to our community here, right on the border of the isthmus,” David Kogon told CBC News in an interview on Thursday.
Prince Edward Island
A lack of ability to pump fuel at Irving’s tank farm after post-tropical storm Fiona led to shortages across P.E.I. for days, but the arrival of a backup generator on Thursday should mean no repeat of that issue this weekend. Provincial Public Safety Minister Bloyce Thompson confirmed Thursday, at a news briefing to give details of the province’s preparation for the remnants of Hurricane Lee, that a generator has arrived on P.E.I. to act as backup power for the tank farm.
With another storm heading toward Prince Edward Island, homeowners with solar panels are still waiting for a change in provincial regulations that would allow them to have backup battery storage in their homes. P.E.I. Environment Minister Steven Myers told CBC News he fully supports the idea, and has asked staff in his department to find out what it would take to implement the change. But the department in charge of electrical inspections said it’s waiting for national changes to the electrical code, expected next spring.
A huge elective surgery backlog in P.E.I. has patients frustrated and health-care workers scrambling to keep up. There are an estimated 1,000 people on the wait-list for elective surgeries in the province, Health P.E.I. says. That includes everything from hip and knee replacement, to cataracts, to plastic surgery. Wait times can vary even for the same surgery. Someone getting cataract surgery could be waiting for six to 18 months. For a hip or knee replacement, it could be six months to a year. Even a routine MRI is taking about 14 months, Health P.E.I. says.
A group of senators is touring farms on Prince Edward Island to get a clearer picture of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and ways of improving it. It’s part of a study that launched in November looking at the demands of industries like agriculture and aquaculture and how to balance that with the needs of temporary foreign workers. “We wanted to see the experience of the workers, what their lives are like, what their issues are, whether it’s access to healthcare or housing,” said Ratna Omidvar, a senator from Ontario who chairs the committee on social affairs, science and technology.
Newfoundland and Labrador
The federal government wants to drop the tax on the construction of new apartment complexes to address a growing housing shortage across the country, and Newfoundland and Labrador was one of the first province’s to back the plan. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday a series of measures to deal with a widening housing crisis and other cost-of-living challenges such as higher grocery prices.
The autonomous Inuit government of Labrador is dealing with a cyberattack affecting thousands of its members. The Nunatsiavut government says it became aware of the breach on July 24, when Advanced Data Systems, the company it contracts to maintain its databases, said someone had hacked into its networks.
Atlantic Liberal MPs say they want an additional rural carve-out on the carbon tax to ease cost-of-living pressures specific to Canadians living outside of major urban centres. MP Ken McDonald, who represents the riding of Avalon in Newfoundland and Labrador, said many of his constituents feel abandoned by the federal government. He brought their concerns to the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the national Liberal caucus meetings this week in London, Ont. “I told him exactly as it is,” McDonald said. “We’re punishing the rural areas of our country and the most vulnerable people in our society.”
The only Tory MP from this province is looking for answers from other MP’s in Newfoundland and Labrador as to why the federal government is making it tougher for people to qualify for EI and, in some cases, reducing benefits. The FFAW first raised the issue a few days ago, and even the provincial government is calling on their political cousins in Ottawa to slow down and rethink some aspects of the changes. Clifford Small, whose riding encompasses primarily the northeast coast and central Newfoundland, says he is being bombarded by residents, especially in coastal areas where employment opportunities pale in comparison to urban centres.
Quebec Premier François Legault will be attending a United Nations climate summit in New York next week. Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres invited Legault to attend the UN General Assembly and to participate in the first Climate Ambition Summit.
According to a new study by the Angus Reid Institute, the approval rating of Quebec Premier François Legault has decreased to 47%, now 8 points lower than when it was measured in March. Legault is currently tied with Danielle Smith of Alberta in fifth place for top premier approval. The premiers with the highest approval are Scott Moe of Saskatchewan (50%) and Tim Houston of Nova Scotia (50%).
Premier François Legault is calling on Québec solidaire (QS) and the Quebec Liberals to stop buying Facebook ads, even though he doesn’t rule out the possibility that his own party will buy some as well. The parties had agreed in July to a boycott of Meta’s platforms, in support of Quebec media, but QS and the Quebec Liberal Party (QLP) are reversing their decision, citing the ongoing by-election in Jean-Talon. For their part, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) and the Parti québécois (PQ) are continuing the boycott, denouncing what they describe as a lack of solidarity and fairness.
Quebec politicians on Wednesday railed against a Quebec City junior college’s decision to host a weeklong event promoting English, suggesting the initiative undermines efforts to protect French. The ongoing “English Week 2023” is a five-day event at French-language Cegep Garneau to encourage students and teachers to practise the language. “The Language Department invites the entire Cegep Garneau community to speak English,” the event description on the college’s online news page reads. “The important thing is to have fun … in English!”
It’s a back-to-work week at the National Assembly in Quebec City, where François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec government is looking to pass some major health and education bills. In addition to completing Bills 15 and 23, which provide for structural changes to these networks, the government wants to renew collective agreements with public-sector unions that expired in March. But Premier Legault said last Friday that he feared “disruptions” this autumn, as the common front of public service unions and the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE) are threatening an unlimited general strike.
The five candidates vying for the Ontario Liberal Party leadership squared off for the first time on Thursday, taking aim at the Progressive Conservative government, but some targeted perceived front-runner Bonnie Crombie with one suggesting she is “Doug Ford lite.” Thursday’s debate in Thunder Bay, Ont., was the first of five featuring the candidates looking to lead the third-place party: Ms. Crombie, the Mississauga mayor who is taking a leave of absence next month; Liberal MPs Nate Erskine-Smith and Yasir Naqvi; and MPPs Ted Hsu and Adil Shamji.
Ontario’s first Progressive Conservative transportation minister in 15 years was given a seismic task by Premier Doug Ford when they took on their new portfolio: to bring the provincial transit agency Metrolinx to heel and re-evaluate its role entirely. The 2018 mandate letter written for then-minister of transportation John Yakabuski — who was dropped from cabinet in 2021 — laid out a series of significant and potentially controversial changes. It included a complete re-evaluation of Metrolinx, a key Crown agency responsible for billions of dollars and millions of commuters, as well as the task of uploading Toronto’s subway system into the provincial fold.
Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow says she hopes the province follows city planning division guidelines when it comes to its newly revised plans for Ontario Place. “Normally, approval [comes] first and then something happens to the land, not the other way around,” Chow told reporters on Thursday. The Doug Ford government said in a news release on Thursday that it has submitted a revised Planning Act application to the city for its Ontario Place redevelopment project, saying it has made changes to its original plans for the site that reflect feedback from the city, Indigenous peoples and community members.
The union representing Ontario secondary school teachers is slamming Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce for suggesting that public educators are trying to “indoctrinate” kids who decide to use different pronouns. “OSSTF/FEESO resoundingly rejects statements made by Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Education Stephen Lecce that attempt to manufacture false divisions between parents, educators, and students over issues of student privacy and gender expression,” the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) said in a statement released Wednesday.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government is being accused of burying a worrying report about the effects of climate change, which outlines in stark detail the risks of extreme weather events on all aspects of life, from food production to the economy. The report called the Provincial Climate Change Impact Assessment, predicts extreme heat and precipitation and other factors such as wildfires and droughts will have the biggest repercussions on climate in the future. It says Ontario has the institutional and financial capacity to do more to fight climate change, but it has “not yet been mobilized widely despite the imperative.”
While Progressive Conservative Leader Heather Stefanson already became Manitoba’s first female premier when she won her party’s leadership race in 2021, a victory for her party on Oct. 3 would make her the first woman to ever win the role in a general election. Meanwhile, if NDP Leader Wab Kinew wins, he will become the only First Nations person to ever hold the title of premier in Manitoba. With polls suggesting the two leading parties are popularity news, all eyes are now on their leaders — a level of scrutiny that’s heightened because neither candidate is what people may think of as a stereotypical politician, says an expert who studies perceptions of politicians who belong to marginalized groups.
Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew on Friday outlined a five-step plan to speed up the process for internationally trained healthcare workers to start work in their specialized fields. “There are hundreds of nurses and health-care professionals who could be working on the front lines right now,” Kinew said at a news conference across the street from Concordia Hospital in Winnipeg. Too many health workers who were educated as nurses, doctors and healthcare aides in other countries, and who are now living in Manitoba, are “getting bogged down in the regulatory process around credentialing,” he said.
Manitoba Public Insurance and the union representing 1,700 of its employees have agreed to meet with a conciliator to help put an end to ongoing strike action. Both parties agreed to conciliation on Thursday, a spokesperson for the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union said. The announcement comes a day after the union asked the Crown corporation to consider the idea. While MPI also confirmed the agreement Thursday, a spokesperson said conciliation “is not required” to end the strike.
Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives are promising to subsidize the construction of a new sound stage to help the province’s film and TV industry if they’re re-elected this fall. PC Leader Heather Stefanson pledged Thursday to contribute $4.5 million toward such a facility, which she said would help Manitoba in “getting to that next level” to compete with other jurisdictions that host TV and movie productions. She made the announcement in the lobby of Big Sky Studios, a film and television production facility in Winnipeg’s Inkster Industrial neighbourhood that has several stages.
A specialized RCMP team that deals with high-risk situations was not immediately available to respond to a stabbing rampage and hunt for a mass killer in Saskatchewan because of contract negotiations, internal emails show. Documents obtained under freedom of information laws show Ottawa’s Emergency Response Team-Special Activities Group, also known as ERT-SAG, was initially offered to help as Mounties responded to the stabbing attacks on the James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon on Sept. 4, 2022.
The Saskatchewan government is dealing with a cyberattack affecting websites that house its online publications and those that require user log-ins, such as MySaskHealthRecord. The denial-of-service attack — which crashes servers by flooding them with internet traffic — shut down the Saskatchewan Account and Publication Centre just before 5 a.m. CST, a provincial spokesperson confirmed in an email Thursday afternoon. “Work is underway to counter this threat and there is no indication that any data has been compromised at this time,” the spokesperson said in the email.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is ready to use the notwithstanding clause to protect a new rule requiring parental permission for transgender and non-binary students under 16 to use different names or pronouns at school. In the face of a court challenge brought against the new education policy, Moe announced late last week that his provincial government would seek to enshrine the changes in legislation to be introduced this fall.
Wednesday’s city council meeting ended with shouting and threats to clear the public gallery amid a heated debate on how to address homelessness in Regina. One person was removed and a dozen more were left while loudly condemning the council once it became clear a majority of the city government would vote to not declare a “homelessness crisis” in Regina. “The blood is on your hands, Sandra,” one person shouted to Mayor Sandra Masters as they walked out.
Families will receive $2,000 for each child sickened in the E. coli outbreak at Calgary daycares and the province will review its regulations governing food provision to the facilities, Premier Danielle Smith said Friday. Smith, who choked up while acknowledging the suffering of impacted children and their parents, said families many of whom have endured financial loss and emotional distress since the outbreak began, adding “Our goal is to get money out to the families as quickly as we can.”
Premier Danielle Smith will fly to Dubai for November’s COP28 climate change conference, hyping Alberta’s plan to stick with fossil fuels while promising to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Speaking at Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association’s annual conference in Edmonton Thursday, Smith said she plans to personally attend this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference after former environment minister Sonya Savage led the Alberta delegation last year. This year, Smith will be travelling to the United Arab Emirates with Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith saw her approval rating climb this summer, new polling shows. The Angus Reid Institute has Smith’s approval rating at 47 percent – up two percentage points since June. It’s the Alberta premier’s highest approval rating since taking office last fall, according to Angus Reid. Smith scored best among other Canadian premiers with the number of respondents who said they “strongly approve” of their provincial leader – at 23 percent.
A slim majority of Albertans would support some kind of national cap on carbon emissions from the oil and gas sector, two new polls suggest. The polls, conducted by different polling firms at the same time with the same questions, come after Alberta Premier Danielle Smith warned Ottawa last month not to test the “resolve” of Albertans to oppose such measures. “(The results) conflict with the narrative that our current government is telling Albertans and Canadians that Albertans do not support this kind of action,” said Joe Vipond of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, which commissioned the polls.
The B.C. United Party is denouncing the NDP’s recent firing of Utilities Commission CEO David Morton, calling it “a drastic move” ahead of an election. Premier David Eby announced Thursday that Mark Jaccard had been appointed chair and CEO of the commission, effective immediately. Jaccard, who previously served as the chair and CEO of the BCUC from 1992 to 1997, is a professor at Simon Fraser University. Jaccard takes over from Morton, who served as chair of the BCUC since his appointment in 2015.
British Columbia Premier David Eby says he is “white-hot” angry over the day release of a man from a forensic psychiatric hospital before he was arrested for a triple-stabbing in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Eby said the decision to release the man boggles the mind and he wants to get to the bottom of how it occurred. He said the government “will ensure an independent person looks into the specifics of this case. The decision-making process. How we arrived at this awful place.”
As wildfire activity increases in central British Columbia, Premier David Eby returned to one of the hardest-hit areas of the province on Monday. Eby, along with Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma, are visiting Kamloops and Salmon Arm in the province’s southern Interior on Monday to meet those affected by this season’s devastating fires. Prior to a news conference at the airport in Kamloops, Eby announced a new task force would be struck to look at lessons learned and best practices around the response to wildfires, drought, heat, floods and other emergencies affecting the province.
Canfor is moving forward with plans to build a new mill in the community of Houston, B.C. after it shut down operations at its existing mill in the community earlier this year. The B.C.-based company, which has operations around the world, says the decision represents an approximately $ 200 million investment to create a manufacturing facility in the community of about 3,000 people, 300 kilometres west of Prince George. Canfor says the new facility will have an annual production capacity of approximately 350 million board feet annually — about two-thirds of what the previous sawmill produced — and will be flexible enough to produce different wood products based on market demands.
Residents planning to fly back to Hay River, Kátł’odeeche First Nation and Fort Smith in the N.W.T. once evacuation orders lift now have a bit more time to register for flights. The registration deadline, originally 8 p.m. Thursday has now been extended to 5 p.m. Friday. Phone lines will be open until 10 p.m. Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, with residents asked to call 1-888-383-6649 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As essential workers continued to return Thursday to Kátł’odeeche First Nation, the highways leading to Hay River, Fort Smith and Fort Resolution remained closed to everyone else. Highways 2, 5 and 6 are all closed to general traffic, though Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation are in the midst of planning for residents to return possibly as soon as Sunday, according to Kátł’odeeche First Nation Chief April Martel.
The Yukon government’s website and its internal systems are once again functioning after being brought down by a cyberattack on Thursday. The territory was among several jurisdictions where government websites crashed on Thursday, including Nunavut, P.E.I., Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The Nunavut government has not confirmed a cyberattack but confirmed to CBC News that it’s “still investigating the nature of the outage” affecting its main government page. The page appeared to still be down on Thursday evening.
Meetings on a proposal that could change the future of Agnico Eagle’s Meliadine gold mine get underway in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, on Tuesday. The Nunavut Impact Review Board will host technical meetings and a site visit followed by a community roundtable that will run until Sept. 20. the Meliadine gold mine lies about 25 kilometres north of Rankin Inlet and 80 kilometres southwest of Chesterfield Inlet. It was first approved in 2015. The proposal now under review would extend the life of the mine by 11 years, until 2043. Part of the proposal includes an 11-turbine wind farm to provide power to the mine.