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Incoming, outgoing Liberal MPs meet, PM calls it chance to reflect on campaign

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OTTAWA – Today’s meeting of the 157-person Liberal caucus and outgoing MPs on Parliament Hill was about “reflecting” on the campaign and the electoral message Canadians sent when reducing the Liberal team to minority status, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“This is a moment to gather amongst friends to reflect on the experiences we had over the past few months… understanding what Canadians told us about the need to work hard every day and work together to respond to their concerns,” Trudeau told reporters on his way into the meeting.

On his way out two hours later Trudeau said it was a “lovely meeting,” but offered no other comment.

The informal “gathering with national caucus” included a combination of newly-elected, re-elected, and defeated Liberal MPs.

Liberals welcomed the fresh faces and celebrated their victories, but also took the chance to say goodbye and glean parting wisdom from the MPs who lost their seats.

On their way in, Liberals were both reflective on the losses but optimistic about the gains that the party experienced over the 40-day election campaign.

Incumbent rookie Liberal MP Steven Guilbeault said that what he’ll be asking first is: “How can I be a good MP?”

It was thought that inside the closed-door gathering the Liberals would likely plot out some initial plans for the new parliament, hear perspectives on what the priorities and approach should be to the new minority government dynamics, and allow MPs to offer their takes on what worked and didn’t, but most MPs coming out said the meeting really was more personal than political.

That included returning MP Maryam Monsef and defeated MP Matt DeCourcey announcing their engagement. “We’re very happy,” Monsef said on her way out.

“Today from my perspective the mindset is really to celebrate the colleagues who have given so much to Canadian politics, but we will have ample opportunity to discuss… to look at both from an election readiness point of view, House strategy, but today is really about the MPs who served,” said Liberal minister and one of the campaign co-chairs Navdeep Bains.

Liberal MP Chris Bittle described the meeting as a “good discussion, good reflection, and a good opportunity to hear from colleagues who won’t be joining us in the next phase.”

Western alienation talk

Caucus members also spoke to reporters about the challenge facing Trudeau when it comes to how to address the representation gap the party now has in Alberta and Saskatchewan since being shut out electorally.

When asked how he intends to approach what appears to be a growing sentiment of western alienation, Trudeau said it remains a “significant issue,” and noted that he is still reaching out to leaders from the western provinces to understand what more the federal government can do to govern for the whole country.

“The prime minister will be examining every procedural or structural option,” said defeated longtime Saskatchewan MP and cabinet minister Ralph Goodale. He added though that more critical will be resolving the more “substantive” question of what the issue or issues were that led to that outcome.

Defeated Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault said that the Liberal team has a lot more listening to do.

“We have to have those face-to-face conversations with people and get past the vitriol on social media, look people in the eyes and not just talk about our agenda, but how do we keep building a unified Canada?” he said.

Compromise needed

Liberal whip Mark Holland, who organized the meeting today, knows what it’s like to be defeated. He lost his seat in 2011, after sitting through three minority parliaments prior, and returned in 2015 and he says from his experience “trying to be clairvoyant” about what’s ahead in a minority parliament is often “ill-fated.”

“There’s going to be a need for us to work with different parties on different issues, so I think that compromise is going to be very fluid and dynamic,” Holland said.

In the last parliament Trudeau faced criticism for his and his inner circle’s caucus management and communication style. These frustrations became apparent during the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Trudeau came out of the months-long affair vowing to improve the environment in which MPs can bring concerns to him, and added a new caucus-PMO liaison.

The minority dynamics are going to mean some changes in the day-to-day realities on Parliament Hill, which will likely be noticed most by the MPs who were new in 2015 and spent four years building up their procedural understandings.

In minority governments the opposition parties hold the majority of seats at committees, and given the numbers-game aspect, whips for each party will have to keep a close eye on the number of MPs they have on-hand. This will likely mean less travel and more House time for MPs and cabinet ministers.

“There may be a difference of opinion but people are going to have to talk those through and that to me is the key to making Canadians believe that this parliament will work,” said Liberal MP Anthony Housefather when asked whether it’ll be a challenge for Liberals, as they no longer have the ability to shut down potentially probative or politically-charged hearings. He chaired the House Justice Committee in the last parliament, the epicenter for much of the SNC-Lavalin-related drama.

Liberals will also have to consult in a more meaningful way, and constantly find compromises with the other parties or be confident to force an election on the issue at hand. Factoring in where they may be able to find support, or will face pushback, will need to be done on every item of government business they look to advance.

Cabinet unveiling coming

Next week Trudeau is set to hold one-on-one meetings with each of the opposition leaders to establish potential places for common ground and support for the Liberal agenda.

Trudeau, when asked, said it’s “certainly” his plan to lead the Liberals into the next election, and said he will determine when the House of Commons will convene, whether in weeks or months, after these meetings.

Then on Nov. 20, Trudeau will unveil the makeup of his new cabinet. He has been in private meetings for the better part of the last two weeks where he’s likely been having conversations about the composition of his front benches.

With all but two current ministers holding their seats and several newcomers considered by the party to be star candidates, there’s going to have to be a shakeup but how dramatic it’ll be remains to be seen.

Unlike yesterday’s 7-hour Conservative caucus meeting, the Liberals the Liberals did not decide on the four Reform Act measures that determine how much power caucus members will have. Those votes will likely come at their first official caucus confab.

By the end of that lengthy airing of Conservative campaign shortcomings and successes, Scheer came out asserting his team is unified and ready to hold the Liberals to account.

Scheer called for Trudeau to convene the new parliament as soon as possible. It’s yet to be unveiled when the new session will begin. In 2015 the throne speech was held in early December and MPs sat for a brief time before breaking for the holidays and returning late January.

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Person found dead after 5-alarm fire at Toronto apartment building

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One person has been found dead after a five-alarm fire ripped through a Toronto apartment building on Friday and police say they are treating the death as suspicious.

Fire crews said the deceased person was located on an eighth-floor balcony shortly after 1 a.m.

“When we were able to achieve an upper hand on the fire, that allowed us to be a little bit more systemic in the work that we were doing,” Deputy Fire Chief Tony Bavota told reporters at the scene Saturday morning.

“Some secondary searches were conducted and some investigations, at which point a body was located on one of the balconies.”

In a tweet sent at 10:40 a.m., police said they are now treating the death as “suspicious.”

There is no word on the victim’s age or gender.

Another person was transported from the scene with serious but non-life-threatening injuries. Five others were assessed by paramedics at the scene.

Emergency crews were called to the 15-storey apartment building on Gosford Boulevard, west of Jane Street and south of Steeles Avenue West, just before 5:30 p.m. on Friday after a fire spread to several units across multiple floors.

It took firefighters more than six hours to declare the blaze was extinguished.

“It was an extremely difficult fire for our staff to fight and that was coupled with the fact that the elevators weren’t working,” Bavota said, adding that several units have “a lot” of damage.

Toronto fire Chief Matthew Pegg said in a tweet Saturday that the “comprehensive investigation” into exactly where the fire started, what caused it and the circumstances contributing to its spread and growth is continuing.

Inspectors have since ordered the power shut off at the apartment building, causing hundreds of tenants to be displaced.

“The Electrical Safety Authority has determined that the power to the entire building must immediately be disconnected for safety reasons. The building must be evacuated,” Pegg wrote in a post on Twitter early Saturday.

Toronto police said in an update on Twitter that residents were asked to “seek temporary shelter with friends/family” as arrangements were being made to help those without accommodations.

Pegg said approximately 700 people live inside the apartment building. Many were initially told to shelter in place as others were evacuated. Several TTC buses were brought in to provide temporary shelter.

Mayor John Tory and Pegg announced displaced residents would be able to go the Driftwood Community Centre Friday night. It was opened with the assistance of the Canadian Red Cross.

Investigators from the Office of the Fire Marshal, Toronto Fire Services and Toronto Police Service were brought in to probe the fire’s origin and circumstances. As of Saturday morning, the cause of the fire wasn’t clear. Electrical and technical inspectors also attended the scene, but it’s unclear when utilities might be restored.

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Jason Kenney caucus to get free vote on conscience rights bill

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EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says members of his caucus would be free to vote as they wish on a private member’s bill that calls for giving further protection to health workers who invoke conscience rights.

Kenney says his United Conservative caucus allows free votes on issues of conscience.

“We’ll leave it to MLAs to make a decision,” Kenney said Friday.

Kenney said he has not read and therefore can’t say if he would vote yes to Bill 207, which was put forward by United Conservative backbencher Dan Williams.

But Kenney said, “As a matter of principle I, and I hope everybody, respects the constitutionally protected freedom of conscience.”

If Bill 207 is approved, it would mean a health-care provider could not be sued or sanctioned for refusing to provide a service — such as abortion, assisted dying, or contraception — that goes against their moral beliefs.

Right now, Alberta doctors who don’t want to perform those services must refer the patient to someone or to a service that can — but the bill raises questions on whether health providers could be sanctioned for failing to do even that.

NDP critic Sarah Hoffman said the bill is a back-door way to restrict access to abortion and contraception. She said she is hearing those concerns from officials in rural areas where access to physicians and services can be limited.

“There’s already enough challenges for women to access birth control and abortion services and they (the officials) think this has the risk to make it more difficult and to really hurt rural health care,” said Hoffman.

Williams said there is misinformation being circulated about the legislation. He said it seeks only to clarify that health-care providers rights are in line with the Charter.

“I want to be absolutely clear: This bill in no way categorically limits access to any services. That is not my intent. That is not what the bill does.”

The Alberta Medical Association has written to Health Minister Tyler Shandro to say the current rules are working and that Williams’ bill is unnecessary and is already causing anxiety for doctors and patients.

“The bill may have unintended consequences in limiting patient access to services,” AMA president Christine Molnar told Shandro in a public letter sent Wednesday.

“For physicians, the current state protects conscience rights while also ensuring that patients are given information or referral to allow them to pursue access to the desired service.

“This arrangement has served Albertans well and should be maintained.”

Williams has said his bill is in response to an Ontario Appeal Court ruling this spring.

Ontario’s high court affirmed a lower court ruling that found physicians who object on moral grounds to contentious issues like abortion must offer patients an “effective referral” to another health provider.

Kenney, a Catholic, has said his government would not legislate on judicially settled hot button issues like abortion.

Kenney said Friday he is keeping to that commitment because Williams, while a member of Kenney’s United Conservative caucus, is not in cabinet and is therefore not formally part of the UCP government.

“Private members have every right to bring forward bills, perhaps in some cases that they committed to their constituents on, and they will be voted on freely,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2019.

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2 B.C. First Nations drop out of Trans Mountain court challenge

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Two B.C. First Nations that had been part of a court challenge against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion have now left the group and sided with the Crown corporation.

The Upper Nicola Band, based in Merritt, and the Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation, based in Kamloops, have dropped their litigation with the Federal Court of Appeal and signed deals with Trans Mountain.

Four other B.C. First Nations are continuing with their case against the expansion project, which they argue was approved despite “multiple significant legal deficiencies.”

Court rules 6 Trans Mountain pipeline legal challenges allowed to proceed

In a joint news release with Trans Mountain Friday, the Upper Nicola Band said its deal represents a “significant step forward in establishing a relationship” that will address the First Nation’s environmental, archaeological and cultural heritage concerns.

The agreement actively involves the Upper Nicola in emergency response and monitoring of the project, while committing both parties to working to avoid and mitigate impacts on the band’s interests and stewardship areas.

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Band members are also encouraged to take advantage of employment and contracting opportunities with the project.

In the release, Upper Nicola Chief Harvey McLeod says the band’s negotiating team came up with the “best deal” possible “under the circumstances presented.”

“The bottom line is that the consultation process needs to change,” McLeod said, adding the First Nation still has “a number of significant issues that must be addressed directly with Canada.”

A news release from Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc says its leadership came together and determined an agreement could be a tool used as part of a larger strategy to protect its cultural, spiritual and historical connections to the land.

A Trans Mountain spokesperson confirmed the two bands dropped out of the court challenge last week after continued discussions with the corporation.

The Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations in Metro Vancouver, the Coldwater Indian Band in Merritt and a coalition of small First Nations in the Fraser Valley are still involved in the court challenge against Trans Mountain.

The First Nations launched the challenge in July with the belief that a victory on any of the legal grounds would be enough to quash the current approval and send the pipeline back to the drawing board.

The court has ruled that upcoming arguments can only focus on whether the latest round of Indigenous consultation was adequate.

Last week, the Tsleil-Waututh and three environmental groups sought leave to appeal that ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada, claiming the Federal Court was wrong to refuse to hear arguments about the risk of an oil spill or threats to endangered southern killer whales.

The federal government re-approved the pipeline in June after launching consultation with Indigenous communities. The National Energy Board also conducted new hearings and ultimately gave the project the thumbs up for the second time.

The legal filings from the First Nations argue there were constitutional violations, primarily around the failure to satisfy the duty to consult, accommodate and seek consent from First Nations. The lawsuits also allege regulatory legal errors were made by the National Energy Board.

First Nations communities are divided on the project. There are two groups led by Indigenous communities that want to purchase and operate the existing pipeline from the federal government, with the intention to expand it.

There are other First Nations arguing that the pipeline would destroy significant spiritual and historic sites as well as important aquifers, impeding their ability to practice their culture and exercise Indigenous rights.

— With files from Richard Zussman and the Canadian Press

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