Category Archives: Daily News Roundup

Federal News Highlights and Parliamentary Business for November 25

Federal Morning News Round-up

  • The Liberals have introduced new legislation that repeals changes the Harper government made to Canada’s Election laws. Amongst the changes being made under Bill C-33 are: the reinstatement of  voter information cards as identification; allowing vouching; and creating a national register of electors to pre-register youth aged 14 to 17.
  • According to anti-poverty group Campaign 2000, Canada’s child poverty rate has jumped from 15.8 per cent in 1989 when parliament passed a resolution to abolish child poverty, to 18.3 per cent today. According to its annual report, for those under age 6, the rate is almost 20 per cent nationally and closer to 45 per cent for young children in Nunavut.
  • Canada’s premiers intend to push the Trudeau government hard on increasing health care transfers when the Premiers meet the Prime Minister in two weeks ostensibly to talk about climate change.
  • The Liberals are admitting that more could be done to plug holes in the new CPP enhancement – but that does not include amending the bill that includes the omissions. Responding to pressure from New Democrats in the committee studying Bill C-26, regarding omissions that hurt Canadians who temporarily drop out of the workforce to raise their children or to cope with an illness, the government admitted there was a problem but promised only to consult with the provinces when federal and provincial Finance Ministers meet in December.

Op-Eds and Editorials

  • Gerry Caplan makes the case that despite ratifying the United Nations Convention against Torture in 1987, Canada is guilty of many of the practices banned in the convention. Caplan says that “Torture – physical, psychological or both – has been inflicted by our prisons and our security and intelligence services on many Canadians – a disproportionate number of them indigenous or people with a Middle Eastern background – as well as on foreign citizens”. Caplan gives as an example, Adam Capay, the young indigenous man kept in solitary for more than 1,500 days in an Ontario correctional facility.
  • Thomas Homer Dixon says Donald Trump is “a bizarre hybrid of an idiot savant and a Mafia don” and that these personality traits are likely to result in constant “bedlam”. You think?
  • John Ivison takes a swipe at the Trudeau Liberals’ “cash for access” fundraising tactics.

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Projected House Business for Friday, Nov. 25:

Main Chamber Business

The House is meeting between 10:00 – 7:00 p.m. today.

  • 10:30 – Government Business – Second reading debate on Bill C-18 An Act to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act, the Parks Canada Agency Act and the Canada National Parks Act.  Watch Here!
  • 2:15 – Question Period. Watch Here!
  • 3:15 p.m.  – Government Business – Second reading debate on Bill C-30 – Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement Implementation Act. Watch Here!
  • 5:45 p.m. Private member’s Business. Bill C-274 – Mr. Caron (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques) — An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (transfer of small business or family farm or fishing corporation). Watch Here!

Projected  House Committee Business for Friday, Nov. 25

  • There are no Committee meetings scheduled for today.

Federal News Highlights and Parliamentary Business for October 26

parliament-daily-news-updateTrudeau holds out hope for CETA but is a change in strategy called for?

 

 

 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is holding out hope for a last-minute breakthrough that will allow Canada’s trade deal with the European Union to be signed, despite objections from Belgium that have put the agreement in doubt.

But the signing ceremony planned for Thursday appears in jeopardy as Belgium appears to be unable to endorse the trade agreement because of ongoing objections by the regional government of Wallonia.

Belgium is the single holdout among the 28-nation union, but the country’s inability to ratify the deal effectively puts the trade pact on hold.

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland is making it clear that the Canadian government  believes that it’s up to the Europeans — not Canadians — to engage in last minute bargaining to resolve the concerns that have stalled the agreement.

However, putting the ball back in Europe’s court may prove to be short sighted given that Canada has an obvious way out of the impasse – it could offer to drop the controversial Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision in CETA entirely. The ISDS provision allows large corporations to sue government’s if they think their economic interests are hurt by government legislation.

Why this might save the deal is that the main objection of the economically hard-hit Wallonia province in Belgium that is single-handedly holding things up, is precisely the controversial ISDS provisions.

A bold move by the Trudeau government to drop the ISDS provisions from a high profile deal like CETA would also signal a return to the original intentions of trade deals – the lowering of protectionist tariffs. It is the expansion of trade negotiations from agreements that once focused primarily on tariff reductions to far broader agreements that require governments to change local laws and establish dispute-resolution systems such as ISDS, that have undermined support for trade agreements worldwide. This enlarged approach to trade deals, which is a staple of trade agreement like NAFTA and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, run the risk of surrendering domestic policy choices to other countries (or more precisely, the corporate interests of other countries).

The truth of the matter is that if CETA were limited to tariff reductions, it would be relatively uncontroversial in Europe. Again, the objections to the agreement lies in the mandated changes to domestic laws and the creation of a dispute settlement mechanism (ISDS) that place corporate concerns over local laws.

Regulatory provisions in CETA outside the ISDS mean that both Europe and Canada face the prospect of changing national laws to accommodate foreign businesses. For example, CETA requires Canada to expand patent protections, largely due to demands from European pharmaceutical companies such as Bayer. Over time, the required changes could potentially add billions to Canadian health-care costs by extending the term of protection for popular drugs.

Moreover, there are real issues related to the enforceability of ISDS provisions – particularly in the European context. The ISDS may be challenged on various grounds by European national and sub-national governments, all of which relate to the fact that its very design grants foreign investors a privileged legal status. Essentially, the whole purpose of the ISDS provisions is to grant corporate investors with enforceable legal rights that are superior to the rights available to everyone else under the current legal system. In other words, ISDS effectively places foreign investors above the law.

No doubt, a move by the Canadian government to drop the ISDS provisions would face fierce opposition from powerful corporate interests in both Canada and Europe who benefit from such mechanisms. Moreover, such a move by Canada would certainly delay ratification. But while the political temptation of  trying to somehow salvage the current deal is understandable, the long-term political interests of the Liberal government may very well be served by a change of tactics. At the very least, proposing to drop ISDS from CETA would earn kudos from Canada’s labour movement and other progressive groups, and further move the Liberals into political territory once owned by the NDP.

Over the past 35 years, governments have ignored the protests and concerns associated with trade agreements that have moved far beyond their original intention of reducing tariffs. But as opposition to these agreements steadily increases in the form of Brexit and the Trump  protest vote, ignoring concerns with trade agreements that many view as unfairly tilting the balance between the public good and corporate interests, is proving to be very dangerous and a serious threat to global economic and political stability.

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Projected House Business for Wednesday, Oct. 26:

Main Chamber Business

The House is meeting between 2:00 – 7:00 p.m. today.

Projected  House Committee Business for Wednesday, Oct. 26

Search up-to-date Canada Fact Check databases for the full text, approval status, committee hearings and other details of all Federal bills and regulations from the current session here!

Federal News Highlights and Parliamentary Business for October 25

parliament-daily-news-updateFederal Government announces new Food Health Strategy to revamp Canada Health Guide and improve food labelling.

 

 

 

Health Minister Jane Philpott announced Monday a new food strategy  comprised of policy measures that include revamping the Canada Food Guide, making the nutrition labels on food more readable, reducing harmful food additives such as trans fats and sodium, and restricting the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children.

The main components of the strategy are as follows:

Firstly,  she has asked Health Canada to come up with a replacement for the venerable Canada Food Guide in the form of a “suite of products” – from the classic chart you can stick on the fridge to an app – that are: Evidence-informed, relevant, written in plain language, easy-to-understand and follow and adaptable to food preferences. There will be a 45 day public consultations process beginning October24.

The second major initiative is to improve the Nutrition Facts labels on food. The plan here is to modify the labelling rules so there are standard serving sizes, more info on sugars, identifying additives such as dyes with common names and making the ingredients easy-to read, and actually put labels on the front of packages.

The third initiative in the minister’s food program is a plan to restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children, something Quebec has has been doing for over a decade with some success.

The fourth element in the strategy is the reduction of harmful food additives such as trans fats and sodium. In a written statement , the Heart and Stroke Foundation said it was “especially pleased to see regulations forthcoming to prohibit artificially produced trans fats in our foods and restaurants. This is important because although we have made great progress, there are still high levels of trans fats in baked products and foods often consumed by children.”

All of the actions announced by the minister were part of the Liberals campaign platform and her ministerial mandate letter.

In developing and implementing the details of the policy, Philpott will have to contend with intense behind-the-scenes intense lobbying from groups such as Food and Consumer Products Canada (FCPC), the lobby group for Canada’s packaged food industry. In its release in response to the food strategy announcement, the industry lobbying group said that the strategy represented “an unprecedented amount of change that will require an unprecedented level of investment and resources (on the part of the industry) in an unprecedented timeframe. This will change what’s in our products, what’s on our product packaging and how those products are marketed”.

In an excellent article in the New York Times published October 5, noted food expert Michael Pollan detailed the enormous resources that the American food industry threw into derailing President Obama’s healthy food initiatives.

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Federal News Highlights and Parliamentary Business for October 24

parliament-daily-news-updateParliament begins debate on bill to increase Canada Pension Plan rates

 

 

 

On Friday, Second Reading debate began on Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act and the Income Tax Act, new legislation to implement the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) enhancement agreed to in June by Federal and Provincial Finance Ministers.

If passed, Bill C-26 would, among other things, amend the CPP to:

  • increase the maximum level of pensionable earnings by 14% as of 2025 with the replacement rate increasing from 25% of pensionable earnings to 33%.
  • phase in a 1% increase in contributions over 5 years from 2019 to 2024.
  • Increase the upper limit on maximum pensionable earnings from $72,500 to $82,700 between 2024-2025 and phase in a 4% contribution rate on earnings in this range over those 2 years.

Additional related amendments to the Income Tax Act outlined in Bill C-26 would:

  • increase the Working Income Tax Benefit to compensate low income pensioners for the automatic clawback of the GIS due to the increase in CPP benefits.
  • provide a deduction (as opposed to tax credits) for additional employee contributions related to the increase in the maximum limit on pensionable earnings.

True to form, the Conservatives criticized the modest CPP enhancement as a tax increase on hard working Canadians and seemed likely to vote against the measure.

The NDP was largely supportive of the enhancement but was critical of the modest scale of the increase and the drawn out phase-in schedule.

The full text of Friday’s House debate on Bill C-26 can be found here.

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Federal and Ontario News Highlights for October 20

Federal News Highlight for Oct. 20

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott has agreed with her provincial and territorial colleagues on new areas of health care that need investment but the two sides walked away no closer to an agreement on the question of increasing the Canada Health Transfer.

The areas that Minister Philpot and the provincial and territorial health ministers have agreed that new money should be directed toward, include: home care, mental health and addiction, indigenous health, innovation and pharmacare.

The Liberal government has adopted a plan, put in place by the previous Conservative government, to cut the annual increase in the transfer from 6 per cent to a minimum of 3 per cent, starting next year. Although Dr. Philpott has committed – over and above the 3 per cent increase – to giving provinces and territories another $3-billion over four years to improve home care, she did not back down on limiting the growth of unspecified health transfers to 3%.

Although the actual increases in health care spending across the country have barely hit 2 per cent annually over the past five years, according to the Canada Institute for Health Information, the provinces say a growing proportion of elderly people will put increasing demands on a system that, in some jurisdictions, is already under considerable strain.

On Monday, Dr. Philpott said the federal government has no way of knowing how money from the Canada Health Transfer, which flows from the federal government into the general revenues of the provinces, is spent. On Tuesday, she explained that she did not mean to imply that the amount of money being transferred, “and then some,” is not used to deliver health care but rather that she could not tell where in the health care system the federal money was allocated to by the provinces.

What the federal government is telling the provinces, of course, is that any increase in health transfer funds – over and above the 3 per cent increase the feds have already agreed to – will reflect the priorities of home care, mental health and addiction, indigenous health, innovation and pharmacare.

And the provinces don’t like the prospects of such federally targeted even though most provinces, including Ontario, are engaged in precisely the same exercise in re-allocating health care funds towards provincial health priorities, as the federal government.

And just as the provinces are fighting for a “no strings attached” approach to federal  health transfers to provinces, the hospitals and doctors are fighting provincial targeting within their provincial  transfer envelopes.

Search the full text, approval status, committee hearings and other details of all Federal bills from the current session here!

Ontario News Highlight for October 20

On Wednesday, the Ontario government passed Bill 13, The Ontario Rebate for Electricity Consumers Act. Bill 13 will allow for a rebate of the provincial portion of the HST from  electricity bills as of January 1, 2017.

The bill will reduce electricity costs by 8 per cent on the amount before tax. This means that a household with an average hydro bill (excluding tax) of $100/month, will pay $8 less monthly.

Rural electricity ratepayers will receive additional relief separate from the bill. According to the government, measures to assist rural ratepayers will lower rural electricity bills by an average of $540 a year or $45 each month.

Commercial, institutional and industrial ratepayers will also benefit from a separate expansion of a program called the Industrial Conservation Initiative.

The Industrial Conservation Initiative (ICI) provides an incentive for large, institutional electricity consumers to shift their electricity consumption to off-peak hours to reduce their bills. Currently, eligible ICI participants include large institutional power users (mining companies, steel makers, etc.) with monthly peak demand exceeding three  megawatts. Under ICI, these large consumers are charged Global Adjustment on the basis of their share of the total system demand during the highest five peak hours of the year. If they reduce use on these five days, they save money. There are now about 300 participating entities in the ICI program.

The changes passed Wednesday allow for an expansion of the ICI program to include approximately 1,000 newly eligible institutional customers with monthly peak demand greater than one megawatt, down from the current threshold of three megawatts. In addition, sector restrictions would be removed and smaller institutional and commercial businesses would be eligible to participate.

The details of the three measures can be found in a regulation still under development. The government is accepting public comments on the proposed regulation until Nov. 13.

Search the full text, approval status, committee hearings and other details of all Ontario bills from the current session here!

 

 

 

Federal and Ontario News Round-up For October, 7

Federal News Round-up for Oct. 7

The federal minister in charge of employment insurance, Jean-Yves Duclos,  says he wants to hear from Canadians before making any changes to benefits that could have far-reaching implications for new parents and those caring for an ailing loved one.

It will only be for four weeks, but the online consultations launched Thursday may open the door for Canadians who want more changes to the benefits system beyond what the Liberals put in their campaign platform.

That could include  allowing pregnant women in dangerous or challenging jobs to start taking their 15 weeks of maternity leave before they give birth. Or retooling a barely-used program aimed at giving financial help to the parents of murdered or missing children.

The Government will be consulting with Canadians between October 6 and November 4, 2016. The consultation is divided into two parts: one covering possible changes in caregiver leave and a separate consultation related to possible changes in parental leave.

Ontario News Round-up for October 7

On Thursday, the government reintroduced its Patients First Act in the form of Bill 41 (formerly Bill 210).

Provisions in the proposed Bill 41 include:

  • Giving Ontario’s 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) an expanded role in integrating planning and delivery of front-line health care services.
  • Improving services such as a single number to call when pateints need health information or advice on where to find a new family doctor or nurse practitioner close to home.
  • Improving local connections and communication between family doctors, nurse practitioners, inter-professional health care teams, hospitals, and home and community care.
  • Providing smoother patient transitions between acute, primary, home and community, mental health and addictions, and long-term care.
  • Eliminating Community Care Access Centres (CCAC’s), the bodies now responsible for co-ordinating home care.
  • Strengthening the ability of the Minister of Health to issue directives to health care providers.
  • Establishing a formal relationship between LHINs and local boards of health, to ensure local communities have a stronger voice in health planning.

When the legislation was first introduced last June, both the Ontario Hospital Association and the Ontario Medical Association (representing the provinces doctors),  expressed concerns about aspects of the legislation, especially the enhanced powers related to Ministerial and LHIN directives to hospitals and other health care providers.

At least with respect to LHIN oversight of hospitals, the government seems to have backed off somewhat. A major change to Bill 41 relative to the spring version of the bill, is that LHIN’s no longer have the power to issue directives to hospitals on operational and policy matters. However, the enhanced ministerial directive power over hospitals and other health care providers on operational and policy matters, remains in place.

The OMA is still not happy with the legislation and within hours of the bill’s tabling, issued a blistering critique.

Federal and Ontario News Round-up for Oct. 6

Federal News Round-up

In the House, Wednesday, the Liberal government promised new pay-equity legislation that will put the onus on employers in federally regulated industries (representing roughly 15% of the workforce) to ensure men and women are paid equally for work of equal value.

But the government is being criticized by labour groups for a timeline that won’t see the legislation tabled until 2018.

The Liberals’ approach will reverse the radical overhaul of pay equity the previous Conservative government took with the Public Service Equitable Compensation Act, which critics argued effectively killed workers’ rights for equal pay for work of equal value.

Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk said Wednesday the legislation will take a “proactive” approach that’s aimed at helping employers comply with the law rather than forcing employees to lodge complaints about discriminatory wages.

Such complaints in the past have resulted in costly legal battles that are “burdensome, costly and unfair to workers,” she said.

The government intends to draw on the recommendations released in June of the special parliamentary committee on pay equity, as well as consultations it plans with experts and stakeholders for reforms that will force employers to review their compensation systems for gender-based wage disparities and fix them.

Ontario News Round-up

Ontario is undertaking a comprehensive review of how the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) operates and its role in the province’s land-use planning system.

According to the government, possible changes to the OMB may include:

  • Allowing for more meaningful and affordable public participation
  • Giving more weight to local and provincial decisions and support alternative ways to settle disputes
  • Bringing fewer municipal and provincial decisions to the OMB
  • Supporting clearer and more predictable decision making

In March, 40 municipalities passed motions calling for major changes to the land use tribunal.

At the announcement of the review, Municipal Affairs Minister Bill Mauro said the government is considering giving more deference on decision-making to local councils.

That would make it harder for developers to go around municipal decisions and appeal to the OMB to intervene.

Ontarians wishing to participate in the consultation may submit comments online or in person at one of the town hall meetings being held across the province this fall. A consultation paper detailing the issues under review can be found here.

The deadline for providing online feedback is December 19, 2016.

Federal and Ontario News Round-up for Oct. 5

Federal News Round-up

The federal government has thrown down the gauntlet to provinces without some form of carbon pricing.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a federal carbon pricing deadline all provinces must comply with by 2018 — or the federal government will impose a price.

The federal government’s direct-pricing plan means polluters in provinces without a carbon pricing scheme will pay $10 per tonne starting in 2018, increasing to $50 per tonne by 2022.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is leading the provincial opposition to the move. According to the Saskatchewan government, the carbon tax will draw more than $2.5 billion out of the provincial economy (even though Trudeau promised to return funds related to any federal carbon levy to the provinces) and make it a less competitive place to do business. Wall also said the government estimates the carbon tax will cost the average family $1,250 a year. Wall is joined by a number of Maritime provinces in opposition to the move.

British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec all have implemented (or will soon implement) carbon pricing schemes that will exceed the floor price announced by Trudeau. However, Alberta appears to making its support for the measure conditional on federal approval of proposed pipelines.

Ontario News Round-up

The Liberal government’s election financing legislation, Bill 2,  passed second reading unanimously Tuesday – but the opposition parties still have complaints about the government’s reform efforts.

Both opposition parties object to the proposed ban on backbench MPP’s attending fundraising events and the limits placed on the Auditor-General’s ability to monitor government advertising it considers partisan.

Bill 2 has been referred to the Standing Committee on General Government and committee hearings are likely to be held shortly.

The key changes in the province’s election financing rules included in Bill 2 are as follows:

  • Reducing the total amount individuals can donate by almost 90 per cent (from $33,250 to $3,600 per year) — to a maximum of $1,200 to a political party, $1,200 to its candidates and $1,200 to its constituency associations or nomination contestants in an election year;
  • Strengthening the rules to address coordination between political actors and third parties;
  • Limits on third party, election-related  advertising; and
  • New rules capping spending on party leadership campaigns.

The government has also proposed further amendment to ban MPPs, candidates, party leaders, nomination contestants and leadership contestants from attending political fundraising events. That amendment was not included in the version of Bill 2 approved Tuesday and will be tabled in committee.