Western Canada News and Updates – July 8, 2024

Western Canada News and Updates - July 8, 2024: Welcome to our weekly news and updates newsletter that focusses on the policy influencing Western Canada. Look out for our newsletter in your inbox at the beginning of each week.

Manitoba News

  • Manitobans who buy or lease electric vehicles may now apply for the rebates NDP Leader Wab Kinew promised during the 2023 provincial election campaign. As of July 2, any Manitoba resident who buys or leases an electric vehicle with a manufacturer’s suggested list price below $70,000 may now apply for a rebate of up to $4,000, provided the purchase or lease is made within the province, Environment Minister Tracy Schmidt announced. Anyone who buys or leases a used electric vehicle from a Manitoba dealer is eligible for a rebate of up to $2,500. The new rebates make Manitoba the seventh Canadian province to offer incentives for EV purchases that may be applied on top of federal rebates of up to $5,000 for long-range electric vehicles. The potential PC leadership candidate — Obby Khan is among several MLAs mulling a run — claimed interest in EVs is waning. Khan also said the province has not addressed a looming hydro-electric generating capacity crunch that could be exacerbated when more consumers replace personal vehicles with internal combustion engines with electric vehicles.
    READ MORE HERE: LINK

  • Southwestern Manitoba’s biggest city broke ground Wednesday on a planned 24-unit transitional housing space for those who are homeless, at risk of homelessness or exiting corrections. The three-storey building will help people get on their feet by providing a roof and connections to different community agencies, said Ross Robinson, executive director of the John Howard Society of Brandon. To date about $10.6 million has been raised for the project through federal, provincial and municipal funding along with community partnerships and fundraisers, but they still need around $300,000 to complete the building, Robinson said. Construction is aiming to be completed by June 2025. The main floor will include space to help residents develop skills while offering access to different resources.  The second floor has 16 small one-bedroom suites and the third floor has eight larger suites with full baths and kitchens for all genders. The goal of the John Howard project is to create barrier-free housing that connects residents with social programs and resources, and it will take community input to ensure the project is successful and sustainable. Agencies will be able to come to the space and provide support and make the connections available to residents so that when they’re ready to move out of the facility they have the skills to do so.
    READ MORE HERE: LINK

  • Manitoba Hydro says it must spend billions in the coming years to replace or overhaul aging generating stations, transmission towers and distribution lines that are degrading to the point where their declining condition poses a threat to Manitoba’s existing power supply. The Crown corporation says it must ramp up spending on existing infrastructure by an additional $200 million a year in order to avoid what it described in a 2022 asset-management report as “accelerated system performance degradation and diminished supply.” The report, presented to the Public Utilities Board as part of its rate application for the 2024-25 fiscal year, warned it must start spending the additional funds for “the foreseeable future to sustain an ever-growing and continuously degrading asset base.” Those assets include most of its hydroelectric generating stations, the oldest of which dates back to 1911, as well as some of the major transmission lines that convey power down the spine of the province and smaller distribution lines that deliver electricity to customers. Hydro has started spending more money on replacing and overhauling infrastructure. In the 2022-23 fiscal year, Hydro increased its spending on asset maintenance by $27 million to $531 million overall, said Scott Powell, the Crown corporation’s communications director. The increased tab for replacing and overhauling existing infrastructure comes in addition to a pending need for Manitoba Hydro to spend billions more on new generating capacity — expected to be wind farms — as well as new transmission lines.
    READ MORE HERE: LINK

  • The City of Winnipeg has a plan to deal with a nearly $40-million projected deficit this year. The fiscal stabilization reserve, which provides a cushion for the city when operating expenses go over budget, started the year with a balance of $15.7 million — less than half of what would be needed to cover the projected $39.3-million deficit. The city plans to forgo transferring more than $15 million from its general revenue into the reserve fund as a way to cut down the deficit. It will also use debt deferral, interest savings and expenditure management to further reduce the shortfall. The plan does not call for service reductions or staff cuts. The finance committee approved the plan at its meeting on Friday.
    READ MORE HERE: LINK

Saskatchewan News

  • Saskatchewan’s auditor has warned that the province’s decision to not collect and remit part of the federal carbon tax could cause “significant errors” in the province’s future financial statements. Earlier this year the provincial government said it would no longer remit the federal carbon levy on natural gas. It would later extend that decision to electricity used to heat homes. Saskatchewan implemented the change in response to the federal government’s decision to exempt home from heating oil, which is primarily used in Atlantic Canada. The province said Ottawa’s decision to not similarly exempt natural gas was unfair. According to the province, approximately 370,000 residential SaskEnergy customers use natural gas to heat their homes. That’s 85 per cent of homes in Saskatchewan. Thirteen per cent of households heat their homes using electricity, according to the province. The provincial government did not directly respond to the auditor’s findings. Instead, it provided a statement saying it believes the province’s taxes are paid in full. Saskatchewan’s Opposition NDP similarly did not answer questions about the auditor’s findings. Instead, it targeted Premier Scott Moe’s financial record.
    READ MORE HERE: LINK

  • As the fallout from a cybersecurity attack on Co-op enters its second week, the company in charge of the stores is asking customers to be patient. Shelves in some Saskatchewan Co-op stores were adorned over the past week with laminated messages apologizing for a lack of some products in the wake of a cyberattack. While supply problems varied by store, stocks of food items like bread, fresh produce, baking supplies and dairy products were slim or non-existent. The nature of the cyberattack on FCL is unclear, but cybersecurity expert Francis Syms said these types of incidents are typically ransomware attacks. Syms said that while it’s still unclear what kind of attack happened, people can proactively change passwords for the website and other similar passwords, ensure their related accounts are protected with two-factor authentication and be wary of scam calls, but should not panic.
    READ MORE HERE: LINK

  • The provincial government is increasing guard dog rebates for Saskatchewan ranchers. On Wednesday, the province announced changes to the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation’s guardian dog rebate program, following consultation with the Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board. The rebate is being increased from $100 to $400 per guard dog, or the full amount of the dog if the cost is less than $400. Gord Schroeder, the development board’s executive director, said the industry organization asked for the increase because demand is increasing for guard dogs, which he said are important to help producers protect their animals from predators. One dog costs anywhere from $1,000 to $1,200 a year to maintain, and the new rebate is retroactive to April 1, 2024, according to the province.
    READ MORE HERE: LINK

  • SaskPower has announced that a new battery-based energy storage system is online in Regina. It’s the first facility of its kind in Saskatchewan and is meant to add flexibility to the power grid, especially when there is high demand during the frozen depths of winter or the sweltering heat of summer. The $34-million project was partially funded by the federal government, which chipped in $13.1 million. The rest was covered by SaskPower.  The storage happens in large ion batteries housed in modified shipping containers at a substation on Fleet Street. The containers are fenced off from the public and appear to be nothing special on the outside, but officials say this and similar projects will help Saskatchewan in the future. SaskPower hopes to add up to 500 MW of battery energy storage system as the province looks to incorporate 3,000 MW of renewable energy into the grid by 2035.
    READ MORE HERE: LINK

Alberta News

  • Weeks after Alberta’s last coal-fired power plant went offline, the federal government has stepped up with more than $39 million in grants to help six communities that lost jobs in the transition to cleaner energy. The funding, announced Wednesday by Dan Vandal, the minister responsible for PrairiesCan, will support 10 projects ranging from training centres, industrial parks and new community amenities. In 2015, when the then-NDP government announced plans to phase out coal power, there were six coal-fired plants in Alberta, which generated about 64 per cent of electricity in the province. The last plant, Capital Power’s Genesee 2 facility, was taken offline on June 16. Parkland County, on Edmonton’s west border, was home to three plants. Mayor Allan Gamble said the area lost 800 jobs when they were converted from coal to natural gas. But the county is also getting the lion’s share — almost $30 million — of the funding announced Wednesday. It is getting $17.5 million to upgrade its wastewater facility, refurbish the waterfront and add a water feature. The county is also receiving $12.4 million to upgrade two intersections off Highway 16A so vehicles can more easily get to the Acheson Industrial Area. LINK
  • The City of Edmonton has stopped funding a pilot program that saw teams of nurses and outreach workers preventing and responding to overdoses on downtown streets. Teams from Boyle Street Community Services had been assigned to walk around the Stanley Milner Library, downtown malls and pedways and the LRT system. Their duties focused on responding to drug poisonings but they also helped educate business owners, pick up needles and refer people to services. The city funded the first phase of the pilot, which began in the spring of 2022, then extended its funding in December 2023, but Jen Flaman, deputy city manager of community services, told city council in a May 27 memo  that there were no administrative funds available to extend it further. The pilot cost $3.3 million, and included funding for a data analyst at Boyle Street. Boyle Street is now seeking other funding sources, with help from nearby businesses and organizations. LINK
  • WestJet says its operations have “stabilized” following a mechanics’ strike last weekend that led to hundreds of cancelled flights, affecting thousands of customers. The Calgary-based airline said in an update Wednesday it now expects “minimal” future cancellations in relation to the job action. The airline said it had cancelled 1,171 flights across Canada as a result of the strike as of Wednesday, including 79 on Tuesday and 30 on Wednesday. It expects eight flights to be cancelled Thursday. The strike ended late Sunday after an agreement was reached with the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, though the airline warned the impact would be felt for several days. LINK
  • In the city’s final daily update on its water supply crisis, officials said the state of local emergency that was enacted on June 15 expired on Thursday and will not be renewed. However, Stage 4 outdoor water restrictions and a citywide fire ban remain in place as crews determine how the system will respond to the easing of indoor conservation measures. Earlier this week, the city said indoor water use could return to normal in Calgary and the neighbouring communities that rely on its water supply, though Mayor Jyoti Gondek urged residents to ease back into their regular water-use habits as crews work to fully stabilize the system. City officials say the Bearspaw south feeder main — which ruptured on June 5 — is operating at 50 per cent capacity for now. Restoring the city’s normal water supply also means taking some of the stress off of the rest of the system. Bouchart also noted the next step in removing outdoor water restrictions might not come for some time, but Calgarians can expect that it will be lifted in steps. LINK

British Columbia News

  • Three levels of government say they’ve finalized a deal that will provide more than $1.6 billion in federal funding over the next five years to communities in British Columbia, in order to build and maintain “critical infrastructure.” Under the Canada Community-Building Fund deal, local governments in B.C. will receive $300 million in federal infrastructure funding in 2024-2025.  Projects previously supported by the fund include upgrades to highways and local roads, flood mitigation and organic waste transfer facilities. The statement also says more than $825 million, representing about half of the five-year total, will go to TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s transit authority. Lovgreen said the deal is a renewal of the Gas Tax fund, which provided around $165 million to TransLink each year for initiatives like replacing buses. She noted that the authority’s financial forecasting had assumed the federal funds would continue.
    READ MORE HERE: LINK

  • British Columbia’s power provider is planning to spend more than $3 billion on capital projects to upgrade and expand the electrical grid on Vancouver Island. Energy Minister Josie Osborne says the B.C. Hydro projects will create thousands of jobs over the next decade and ensure the region has enough clean, affordable and reliable electricity to power homes, businesses and the economy. The spending is part of B.C. Hydro’s updated 10-year capital plan was announced in January, which commits $36 billion to regional and community infrastructure. A statement from Osborne’s ministry says that represents a 50 percent increase in investments over the previous capital plan. The projects are expected to support an average of 10,500 to 12,500 jobs annually. The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation says the plan reflects rising demand for electricity due to population growth, housing construction, increased industrial development, and shifts away from fossil fuels for energy. The projects on Vancouver Island include seismic upgrades at three dams within the Campbell River system, replacing old transmission cables to power an additional 100,000 homes in Victoria, Esquimalt and Saanich, and a new substation to power an additional 40,000 to 70,000 homes in the Langford area by 2030.
    READ MORE HERE: LINK

  • A housing project in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is being expanded from one city lot to four and will include community health and social services. B.C. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon says the proposed development in the 300-block of East Hastings Street at the former site of a Buddhist temple will be expanded after a donation of adjacent land from the charitable 625 Powell Street Foundation. The original plan in 2018 called for 75 housing units, but foundation director Don McKenzie says the expansion will provide up to 200 people at risk of homelessness with affordable and supportive housing in a building up to eight storeys high. Kahlon says the first floor will be dedicated to community health services.
    READ MORE HERE: LINK

  • Many residents of retirement homes in British Columbia are facing illegal rent increases, the province’s seniors’ advocate says. In a report released Thursday, Dan Levitt called for increased protections for the 30,000 people in independent living facilities in the province. The report, titled Forgotten Rights: Seniors Not Afforded Equal Rent Protection, details how some landlords try to ignore the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) and illegally raise the annual housing costs of their senior tenants by as much as 24 percent. These landlords, it says, are often large companies that run independent-living residences. Levitt said his investigation into the issue found that some landlords tell their tenants the RTA and its rules on rent increases do not apply to their living situation, or that the rules only apply to rent and not to monthly fees for meals and cleaning. In response to the report, Health Minister Adrian Dix said his government will “take action immediately, where we can.”
    READ MORE HERE: LINK

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