Provincial and Territorial Update – October 20, 2023
An overview of the Provincial and Territories Legislative Updates for the week of October 14 - 20, 2023.
To read our analysis of New Brunswick’s Speech from the Throne, click here.
Inaugurating the province’s regular sitting day of the new session was a very “raucous” question period, in which Policy 713 and a snap election took centre stage. On Policy 713, the Liberal and Green parties demanded an apology from Higgs, while Higgs defended his position that parents must be told if their child under 16 wants to change their name, gender, and pronouns at school. Opposition Liberal Leader Susan Holt also demanded Higgs and Education Minister Bill Hogan commit to not using the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to override any legal ruling regarding the Policy. Finally, Higgs warned Holt to “stay ready for an election.”
Premier Higgs said on Thursday that he’ll be holding off on inflation relief in case he needs to announce the measures in a possible election. These comments were made shortly after Opposition Liberal Leader Susan Holt announced that she will push for a fall election. If an election is called, Higgs’ inflation relief will be released with his party’s platform, probably during the third week of the election. That said, Higgs has indicated that his government could release relief measures prior to an election, and they would most likely focus on reducing income and property tax. The timeline for this has not been given.
The provincial government is extending its supervision of the procurement process for goods, services, and construction services to encompass NB Liquor and Cannabis NB. This expansion may entail legislative modifications or policy adaptations to streamline the management of the Crown Corporations or bodies responsible for the liquor and cannabis sectors in the province.
Arthur Irving is no longer chair of Irving Oil and his daughter Sarah Irving is no longer executive vice-president, according to the company’s website. These changes have fuelled speculation about the future of the company, which is New Brunswick’s largest employer. The leadership changes come in the midst of a strategic review that’s evaluating “a series of options” related to the company’s future, including “a full or partial sale.”
Ottawa, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have agreed to a “modified Atlantic Loop” project on Monday. The modification is to expand only one existing connection between the two provinces, instead of also building new lines to connect the provinces with Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. The agreement establishes a commitment for collaboration between the provinces and the federal government to phase out coal as a power source in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick by 2030 and to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation by 2035. The initial step in this endeavor involves a modified loop, which restricts the extensive project to the enhancement of an existing connection between Salisbury, N.B., and Onslow, N.S. Additionally, it extends this connection westward to Point Lepreau, situated to the west of Saint John.
As part of the province’s ambitious goal to double the province’s population, on Thursday Premier Tim Houston announced an investment of $100 million to add up to 5,000 new apprentices to the provincial system. With the province’s current demand, it needs about 11,000 new certified trade professionals by 2030. Moreover, the investment aims to target the province’s retention problem and reach a retention rate of 60% – the highest in the country.
Another investment this week was an $8 million loan program for homeowners to build a secondary or backyard suite to combat the ongoing housing crisis. The province will provide up to $25,000 in forgivable loans to homeowners who can build a suite on their property. This program is set to last three years and build up to 300 units.
The following amendments, which will come into effect April 1, 2024, will be made to legislation that implements a renegotiated Service Exchange Agreement between the province and municipalities:
removing the requirement under the Corrections Act for municipalities to make an annual contribution towards corrections;
removing the requirement under the Housing Supply and Services Act for municipalities to pay a portion of the net operating losses for public housing;
changing the Education Act so that, in the future, ownership of schools built prior to 1981 would transfer back to the Province when they are deemed obsolete, with municipalities given the first right of offer to purchase the building at a negotiated price;
updating the Municipal Grants Act and moving elements of the Municipal Financial Capacity Grant formula into regulation so it is more flexible and easier to adapt to the changing needs of municipalities, and enabling the government to implement the new formula agreed to by municipalities.
Prince Edward Island
Topping headlines this week was a 60-page report by an external review panel on the province’s long-term care homes and the spread of COVID-19, finding that the facilities were inadequately equipped for a pandemic, and the resulting crisis negatively impacted the quality of life for residents. To read the details of the report, click here.
After using the wrong model to estimate property tax revenues, 23 municipalities are now on hook for millions in overpayment from the province. Bruce MacDougall, chair of the finance committee for the City of Summerside and president of the Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities, said the value of the overpayments for Summerside alone was $1.3 million, and other municipalities would add up to millions more. Later on Monday, the province confirmed the total of overpayments totalled $4.53 million, which it said “represented approximately 5% of their annual payment amounts.
On Thursday, Minister of Heath and Wellness Mark McLane announced the next steps in preparation for a smooth leadership transition. Dr. Michael Gardam, current Chief Executive Officer for Health PEI, gave notice in July 2023 that he would be resigning from his position effective March 31, 2024. To ensure a smooth transition of leadership, Minister McLane and Chair of the Board of Directors Diane Griffin have appointed Corinne Rowswell as Acting CEO effective January 1, 2024 until a permanent CEO is appointed. Rowswell is currently Health PEI’s Chief Operating Officer. Dr. Gardam has agreed to continue to work with Health PEI until March 29, 2024 in an advisory role to aid in transition. An executive search firm, Odgers Berndtson, has been engaged to lead the search for the next CEO of Health PEI.
Newfoundland and Labrador
A tent encampment of now 14 tents has been set up for more than two weeks across from Newfoundland and Labrador’s legislature. Catching media attention is the fact that Paul Pike, Liberal Minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development, hasn’t visited the site yet, lagging behind the province’s NDP leader and the PC caucus. Concurrently, an investigation was released by CBC on Wednesday, stating that tent city protester do not want to go into shelters because of their dire conditions. Over the last year, the Newfoundland and Labrador’s Housing Corporation has flagged a litany of health and safety concerns about for-profit shelters, while the provincial government still funds them by the millions. How the province’s government will respond to both the encampment and the report will be a story to follow in the coming days.
In related housing news, Paul Pike has announced that 750 new homes have been built over the past two years, when in reality the real number is significantly smaller. CBC writes that the number of ready-to-live-in social housing units that have been built since 2021 is 11. Additionally, another 107 social housing units have been announced, but construction has not begun for the majority of them. Housing policy will certainly be taking the heat in the province as winter approaches.
On Tuesday, Premier Furey launched a New Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) Innovation Challenge. The CCUS Innovation Challenge, initiated by the Department of Industry, Energy, and Technology, is soliciting expressions of interest from eligible businesses, organizations, and researchers involved in research and development endeavors focusing on CCUS advancement within Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore. A total of $6 million in Provincial Government funding has been earmarked for two distinct streams:
A maximum of $3 million is allocated to bolster research and development efforts aimed at advancing CCUS technology to reduce carbon emissions associated with ongoing oil production in the province’s offshore.
A maximum of $3 million is designated to facilitate assessments exploring the potential and feasibility of the province’s offshore region to serve as a regional CCUS hub for the storage of both locally and externally generated carbon dioxide.
The Parti Québécois didn’t mention the province’s independence in the Jean-Talon by-election it won last month. Yet next Monday, the party will present its budget for Year 1, when Quebec will be a country. This has prompted numerous reactions from the parties in Quebec’s National Assembly. The CAQ and QLP have indicated that this is not an economically viable option for Quebec, while QS supports the PQ. Currency, army and borders of an independent Quebec were on the agenda this week.
Higher education minister Pascale Déry drew approval from nationalists and disapproval from the English-speaking community when she announced a reform of the fees charged to foreign university students who do not reside in Quebec. Students not residing in Quebec would pay around $17,000 to study in the province – nearly double the current fee. English-speaking universities account for 25% of places in the network, a proportion far greater than the demographic weight of English-speaking Quebecers. The Minister may re-evaluate fees for Canadian students not residing in Quebec.
Following the Jean-Talon by-election, the Parti Québécois (PQ) has added a 4th MNA to its caucus. Pascal Paradis was elected by a large majority (44% of voting intentions) on October 2. In his speech following his swearing-in, he made a plea for cultural diversity and Quebec sovereignty. With his election, the PQ will benefit from one question per day in the House. Mr. Paradis is a lawyer and one of the founders of Lawyers Without Borders.
The government is in the middle of negotiations with the union front of the public sector. It represents 420,000 workers, notably in education and healthcare, affiliated to Quebec’s four largest central labour bodies. The common front obtained a strike mandate, with historic support from 95% of its members. The mandate includes the ultimate recourse of an unlimited general strike. Quebec has put on the table wage increases of 9% over five years, a $1,000 lump-sum payment and 2.5% bonuses for certain categories of workers. The common union front is asking for around 20% over three years.
Following its defeat in the Jean-Talon by-election, the CAQ has put the project for a third bridge link between Quebec City and Lévis back on the table. An engineer from the Quebec Ministry of Transportation has indicated that one of Quebec City’s two bridges could easily last another 50 years. A call for tenders is underway to ensure its maintenance. When asked about the report, Transportation Minister and Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault retorted that the two bridges are not eternal. In her opinion, a third link would eventually replace one of the current two.
A Umicore plant, which will produce components for electric vehicle batteries, will be built in Loyalist Township. The federal government is investing up to $551 million and the province another $424 million. This project is expected to bring hundreds of jobs to the eastern Ontario region: the first phase of the project is anticipated to generate 600 new jobs and the government has stated that a further 700 cooperative positions will be established over the course of the project. The $2.76 billion plant has been coveted as the “first of its kind in North America,” as it will produce cathode active materials and its precursor on an industrial scale.
We may soon see strikes across the Ontario school board, including in Catholic and public elementary schools and Catholic high schools. On Thursday, Ontario’s English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) has voted 97% in favour of strike action, but a specific deadline on the strike and further negotiations are not yet clarified. This association represents 45,000 teachers. On Wednesday, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario also voted 95% in favour of a strike. Catholic and public high school teachers have agreed to a bargaining process with the government until Oct. 27, while other unions rejected this option. In response to both votes, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said he is disappointed.
A $500 million investment has been announced for northern, rural and small municipalities through the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund in 2024. The unconditional funding will be distributed to 390 municipalities.
NDP MPP Sarah Jana sent a cease-and-desist letter to Premier Doug Ford after his “defamatory” remarks regarding the MPP’s statement on the Israel-Gaza war. In a statement posted to X, which was viewed over 1.5 million times, Ford accused Jama of a “long and well-documented history of antisemitism.” Additionally, the Ford government put forward a motion Monday to the House Speaker asking not to recognize Jama until she retracts her statement. Jama has since pinned her statement to the top of her X profile, which can be viewed here. According to CP24, “The cease-and-desist letter says the public comments have done serious harm to Jama’s reputation and imply that she is racist towards Jewish people and sympathetic to terrorism.”
The Ontario NDP brought forward a motion Thursday calling Ford to hand over his personal cellphone records. The motion cites investigations related to the Greenbelt and the government’s plans for Ontario Place: “Government members have applauded the premier’s frequent use of his personal phone to conduct government business, a flagrant disregard to the information and privacy commissioner’s recommendation that the government members and political staff only use government devices and platforms,” NDP Leader Marit Stiles said during Question Period.”
Premier Wab Kinew was sworn in today as premier of Manitoba, alongside the 14 other members of his cabinet in a colourful and tradition-filled ceremony honouring the seven Indigenous nations in Manitoba. The premier’s executive council will have 15 ministers who reflect the province geographically, culturally and as a society including ensuring gender parity in cabinet. For a full cabinet list: Link.
For the first time in Manitoba’s history, the premier will hold the title of minister of Indigenous reconciliation in addition to the title of minister of intergovernmental affairs and international relations. The premier noted the important message this sends to leaders of Indigenous nations in Manitoba – that they will be treated as leaders of governments, much like the relationship between the province and its federal and municipal counterparts.
This cabinet is historic on several fronts. Kinew is the first First Nations Premier in Canada, Uzoma Asagwara became the first Black non-binary Deputy Premier in history, and both Bernadette Smith and Nahanni Fontaine are the first First Nations women to sit in cabinet.
After the swearing in, Premier Kinew created new cross-departmental committees with the goal of finding solutions to pressing issues in the province including poverty, MMIWG2S+ and gender-based violence, as well as building more opportunity through economic development, and the health and well-being of children in Manitoba.
Saskatchewan’s “Parent’s Bill of Rights”, a bill requiring parental consent if a youth under the age of 16 wants to be referred by a different pronoun or name at school, is at third reading in the provincial legislature. The government is expected to pass the controversial bill in spite of protests from students, the Saskatchewan NDP and members of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. The notwithstanding clause, or Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, allows a government to override some specific rights in the Charter. The provincial government has pre-emptively invoked the clause in its legislation.
Saskatchewan welcomed the Supreme Court of Canada’s (SCC) 5-2 ruling against the federal government’s environmental Impact Assessment Act (IAA), formerly Bill C-69. “This decision is nothing short of a constitutional tipping point and reasserts provinces’ rights and primary jurisdiction over natural resources, the environment and power generation,” Justice Minister and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre said. “It should also force the federal government to reassess other areas of overreach, including capping oil and gas production and electrical generation. The IAA has stalled everything from Canadian highway and mine projects to LNG facilities and pipelines. It has thwarted investment, competitiveness and productivity across the country. This major decision will correct course.”
Four new treaty boundary signs will be posted along some of the Saskatchewan’s most travelled highways by the Office of the Treaty Commissioner and Saskatchewan Government. The new signs will mark the boundaries of Treaty 2 and 4 on Highway 18, east of Estevan and the Treaty 2 and 4 border on Highway 1 near Moosomin. There will also be a sign at the Treaty 4 and 6 border on Highway 16, seven kilometres west of Lanigan and also the Treaty 6 and 10 boundary on Highway 102 north of La Ronge. Mary Musqua-Culbertson, Treaty Commissioner for Saskatchewan said, “They are all symbols of reconciliation. They are also tools to build awareness of the important treaty relationships that were built on the lands known today as Saskatchewan.”
The Alberta government continues to face backlash for its plan to leave the CPP. A white paper on the consultation process the Alberta government is using to determine whether to go to a referendum on exiting the Canada Pension Plan showed that process is falling short of its own objectives. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre also stepped into the pension debate between Alberta and Ottawa this week, blaming the dispute on the prime minister and urging Albertans to remain in the Canada Pension Plan.
Some Albertans face cancellations for COVID vaccine just days after program launch. The province claims that there is no supply shortage – it is a result of trying to distribute dosages across the province and avoid waste.
The Alberta government says it will be investing millions to improve access to family doctors for all Albertans and tackle many of the challenges facing the province’s physicians. Health Minister Adriana LaGrange made the announcement in Calgary on Wednesday after releasing recommendations that came out of the government’s Modernizing Alberta’s Primary Health Care System (MAPS) initiative. Six of the 11 recommendations made by the report will be implemented immediately to improve primary health-care services. Some of those recommendations include:
Creating a primary health division in Alberta Health;
Investing $57 million over three years to provide family doctors and nurse practitioners with support to boost the number of patients they can handle, with each provider able to access $10,000 per year;
Establishing a task force of key partners from the Alberta Medical Association, College of Alberta Family Physicians and the Nurse Practitioners Association of Alberta with the goal of creating a new compensation model and reduce workloads;
Expanding online mental health services;
Ensuring doctors are paid even if their patients cannot provide proof of insurance coverage; and
Introducing a payment system that would allow nurse practitioners to open their own clinics.
Another four of 22 recommendations will be actioned to strengthen Indigenous health-care services, officials said. Those include:
Creating an Indigenous health division within Alberta Health;
Setting aside $20 million for Indigenous communities to develop and operate their own primary health care services and projects;
Hiring an Indigenous patient complaints investigator to help address concerns First Nations members experience while accessing the healthcare system; and
Creating a community-based Indigenous patient navigator system.
B.C.’s new legislation on short-term rentals will triple the fines for hosts who break the rules, and bring in a number of new requirements for operators in an attempt to return units to the long-term market. BC’s long-term rental market is characterized by sky-high prices and extremely low vacancy rates, the province estimates there are currently 28,000 short-term rentals operating in communities across B.C. A significant percentage of these, the province says, are run by for-profit operators and not people renting out their own homes or vacation properties. Up to half are not compliant with existing municipal bylaws, according to the province.
The Government of BC transferred natural resource ministerial responsibilities between ministries to align with government priorities of reconciliation, resource stewardship and strong, sustainable economic development for people and communities.
The following legislative acts are being transferred from the Ministry of Forests to the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship: Water Sustainability Act; Land Act; Wildlife Act and 24 additional acts.
The provincial government is addressing the rules around changing police jurisdiction in B.C. This follows last Friday’s news that the City of Surrey that it’s going to the B.C. Supreme Court to fight the transition away from the RCMP to a municipal force. The proposed amendments to the Police Act include a suite of measures intended to prevent the chaotic back-and-forth Surrey experienced should other municipalities opt to move away from the RCMP in the future.
The Northwest Territories chief electoral officer issued writs of election on Monday, officially kicking off the 2023 territorial election campaign. The election was postponed six weeks to Nov. 14 because of widespread evacuations due to wildfires this summer. As of Monday morning, 36 people had told CBC of their intentions to run for a seat in the 20th Legislative Assembly. At least one person has announced in every riding.
Many community organizations and local governments in Northwest Territories are getting thousands of dollars for programs which support healthy lifestyles this year. The Healthy Choices Fund, an initiative from the territory’s Department of Health and Social Services, is meant to increase education and awareness around healthy choices, with awarded projects being able to win anywhere from $10,000 to $75,000 in funding.
The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) has introduced a new Vendor Performance Management Policy to help monitor performance and ensure that vendors fulfill their commitments to use NWT and local goods, services and labor when they are awarded government contracts. The policy allows the GNWT to assess and monitor vendor performance. This will lead to several benefits, including:
more transparent and accountable procurement processes;
motivating vendors to improve performance while also acknowledging good performance;
improved ability to select vendors based on their past performance;
improved contract management efficiency; and
higher quality goods and services provided to the government and residents of the NWT.
Opposition MLAs are critical of a plan introduced by the Yukon government to provide subsidies to landlords through a new $1 million fund, stating that it demonstrates the government’s disconnect from the needs of the most financially vulnerable residents. Last Thursday, the Yukon Liberal government unveiled a program aimed at offering one-time payments of $338 per unit to landlords. The purpose of this initiative is to mitigate the impact of a cap on rental increases, which restricts such increases to five percent, nearly two percent lower than this year’s inflation rate. The allocated $1 million is intended to cover the subsidy for every rental unit in the territory. The announcement prompted backlash from Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon, who pointed out that it was the Liberal government that initially implemented the rental cap. NDP housing critic Lane Tredger suggested that the government should use the funds to augment rent support programs instead.
Yukon’s government took the heat again this Monday, when Yukon NDP Leader Kate White alleged the Yukon Liberal government is diverting funds from social programs to finance the renovations of the dock in Skagway, Alaska. The government’s proposal involves allocating up to $44 million over the next two years for what they term a “marine services platform,” with an initial expenditure of approximately $21 million for this year. During Question Period, White contended that this $21 million is equivalent to the budget reductions affecting the Yukon Housing Corporation, along with community services, highways, and public works departments.
Nunavut’s Oct. 23 municipal elections in all 25 communities are fast-approaching. Topping platforms for Iqaluit’s election is water access, and to learn more about the 14 candidates running for council, click here. Additionally, Nunavut’s Minister of Community and Government Services David Joanasie applauded the significant number of female candidates in this year’s election.
Canadian North has brokered an historic partnership with Air Greenland to offer the first international flight from the territory. The 2-hour long flight is chartered between Iqaluit and Nuuk, and passengers can expect to board beginning in June 2024.