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Mini-budget to help Canada compete

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OTTAWA –

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is to table her mid-year budget update in the House of Commons today focused heavily on driving investment to Canada’s clean energy industries in response to new American tax incentives signed into law last summer.

The government is already further ahead financially than expected as inflation and a stronger economic recovery drove up tax revenues.

But after years of expensive COVID-19 relief packages, Freeland is retreating to what the government believes is a fiscal position warranted by the need to reduce deficits and prepare for the likelihood of an economic recession in 2023.

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“Obviously, I’m not going to scoop the minister of finance, but it is a fall economic statement that will ensure fiscal responsibility,” said Rachel Bendayan, a Liberal MP from Montreal and the parliamentary secretary to the associate minister of finance.

Freeland isn’t expected to do more to help Canadians weather the cost-of-living crisis. In September she offered up $4.5 billion to temporarily double GST rebates, create a dental care benefit for most kids under the age of 12, and offer a one-time top-up of $500 to a national low-income renters’ allowance.

That GST aid will start being felt Friday as the deposits begin to land in the bank accounts of 11 million low and moderate-income families. The legislation to create the dental benefit and housing allowance top-up is still before the Senate.

The government has signalled the mini-budget will be quite mini, focused on targeted investments rather than grand-scale new programs.

It will include a new tax on corporate stock buybacks to encourage companies to invest in their own operations and introduce new or enhanced tax incentives to aid the growth of clean energy including hydrogen.

Both are part of the Inflation Reduction Act President Joe Biden negotiated and signed into law in August. Industry players have repeatedly warned the government that Canada needs to match the U.S. or investment will flee south and put Canadians out of work.

The act includes nearly US$400 billion in tax incentives, grants and loan guarantees for clean energy sectors including electricity production, electric cars and battery manufacturing.

It also includes a one per cent tax on corporate stock buybacks, something Freeland is expected to mirror in today’s update. That falls well short of the windfall tax the NDP want Ottawa to impose on corporations they say are getting wealthy at the expense of Canadian families.

Matt Poirier, senior director of policy and government relations for Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, told a House of Commons committee Tuesday the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act comes with red flashing warning lights all over it for Canada’s manufacturing sector.

Poirier said Canada’s response in the fall economic statement needs to include matching programs on this side of the border, or “at least signal to industry that the fix is on the way.”

Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Wednesday the government is on top of it.

“We will remain competitive,” Champagne told reporters following the Liberal caucus meeting. “We know that the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States and the CHIPS act is a catalyst for us to do more.”

The CHIPS act, also signed into law in August, provides US$280 billion to spur domestic research and manufacturing of semiconductors.

The Liberals have faced criticism for pandemic spending going on longer than necessary and potentially fuelling inflation. At the same time, Canada’s strong economic bounce back from the COVID-19 recession has been attributed in part to the fiscal response.

The Conservatives have led the charge against the Liberals for spending too much but the Liberal caucus is also showing signs of concern.

Thunder Bay — Rainy River MP Marcus Powlowski said it’s not so much about “reining in” spending because that presupposes that the funds Ottawa offered up to help people get through COVID-19 was out of control, “which I don’t think is the case.”

Still, Powlowski said it’s a different time now with interest rates higher and debt costs going up.

“There’s more of an opportunity to be frugal now,” he said.

Former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page said he expects the fall economic statement to be a traditional mid-year update but could also be an opportunity for Ottawa to review its targets and rules for spending.

“It is important for monetary and fiscal policy to be working in a coherent manner,” Page said in an email.

Freeland has said on multiple occasions that the federal government will be focused on fiscal restraint as the Bank of Canada works on bringing inflation down with interest rate hikes.

Since March, it has raised its key interest rate six consecutive times, bringing it from 0.25 per cent to 3.75 per cent. The central bank has also signalled interest rates will have to go higher to bring inflation to its two per cent target.

The good news for the federal government is that its finances have been improving substantially over the last year. The same inflation that forced Canadians to pay more for groceries, gas and home heating costs helped drive up government tax revenues.

Federal coffers have also profited from Canada’s strong economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and high corporate profits.

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Canada commits $800 million to support Indigenous-led conservation projects

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Ottawa will spend up to $800 million to support four major Indigenous-led conservation projects across the country covering nearly one million square kilometres of land and water, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday.

Trudeau made the announcement at the Biosphere environment museum in Montreal accompanied by Indigenous leaders and federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault as a UN meeting on global biodiversity, known as COP15, takes place in the city.

Trudeau said the four projects — which will be located in British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, northern Ontario and Nunavut — will be developed in partnership with the communities in question.

“Each of these projects is different because each of these projects is being designed by communities, for communities,” he said.

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Chief Jackson Lafferty, of the Tlicho government in the Northwest Territories, said Indigenous groups have long been working to protect their lands and water but have lacked the resources and tools to fully do so.

Lafferty, who attended the announcement, called the funding “a significant step forward on a path to reconciliation across Canada.”

Among the projects to be funded is a marine conservation and sustainability initiative in the Great Bear Sea along British Columbia’s north coast, championed by 17 First Nations in the area.

Another project includes protection for boreal forests, rivers and lands across the Northwest Territories, spearheaded by 30 Indigenous governments.

Funds will also go to an Inuit-led project involving waters and land in Nunavut’s Qikiqtani region and to a project in western James Bay to protect the world’s third largest wetland, led by the Omushkego Cree in Ontario.

Trudeau told reporters that the exact details of the agreements have yet to be worked out — including which portions of the lands will be shielded from resource extraction.

The Indigenous partners, he said, will be able to decide which lands need to be completely protected and where there can be “responsible, targeted development.”

“We know we need jobs, we know we need protected areas, we know we need economic development,” he said. “And nobody knows that, and the importance of that balance, better than Indigenous communities themselves that have been left out of this equation, not just in Canada but around the world, for too long.”

Dallas Smith, president of Nanwakolas Council, said the B.C. funding to help protect the Great Bear Sea would allow Indigenous groups to build on previous agreements to protect the terrestrial lands of Great Bear Rainforest, which were announced about 15 years ago.

“I did media all over the world, and I got home and my elder said, ‘Don’t sprain your arm patting yourself on the back, because until you do the marine component, it doesn’t mean anything,'” he said.

Grand Chief Alison Linklater of the Mushkegowuk Council, which represents seven Cree communities in northern Ontario, said their traditional territory includes ancient peatlands that store “billions of tons” of carbon, as well as wetlands that are home to many migratory birds and fish, and 1,200 kilometres of coastline.

She said caring for the lands is one of her sacred duties as grand chief and one of the main concerns of the people she represents.

“Without our lands and waters we do not exist,” she told the news conference.

In a statement, the federal government said the program would employ a “unique funding model” bringing together government, Indigenous Peoples, philanthropic partners and other investors to secure long-term financing for community-led conservation projects.

The government did not specify how much of the funding would be allocated for each project.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

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B.C. Premier David Eby unveils his new cabinet

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B.C. Premier David Eby to reveal new cabinet with health, safety, housing priorities

Here is a list of British Columbia Premier David Eby‘s ministers following his first major cabinet shuffle since taking over as leader:

Agriculture and Food — Pam Alexis (new to cabinet)

Attorney General — Niki Sharma (new to cabinet)

Children and Family Development — Mitzi Dean (unchanged)

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Citizens’ Services — Lisa Beare

Education and Child Care — Rachna Singh (new to cabinet)

Minister of state for child care — Grace Lore (new to cabinet)

Emergency Management and Climate Readiness — Bowinn Ma

Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation — Josie Osborne

Environment and Climate Change Strategy — George Heyman (unchanged)

Finance (includes Columbia River Treaty) — Katrine Conroy

Forests and minister responsible for consular corps. — Bruce Ralston

Health and minister responsible for Francophone affairs — Adrian Dix (unchanged)

Housing and government house leader — Ravi Kahlon

Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation — Murray Rankin

Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation — Brenda Bailey (new to cabinet)

Minister of state for trade — Jagrup Brar (new to cabinet)

Labour — Harry Bains (unchanged)

Mental Health and Addictions — Jennifer Whiteside

Municipal Affairs — Anne Kang

Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills (includes immigration/foreign credentials) — Selina Robinson

Minister of state for workforce development — Andrew Mercier (new to cabinet)

Public Safety and Solicitor General (ICBC) — Mike Farnworth (unchanged)

Social Development and Poverty Reduction — Sheila Malcolmson

Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport — Lana Popham

Transportation and Infrastructure (BC Transit and Translink) — Rob Fleming (unchanged)

Minister of state for infrastructure and transit — Dan Coulter (new to cabinet)

Water, Land and Resource Stewardship — Nathan Cullen

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022

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Tick-borne germs increasingly widespread in Canada: study

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Researchers from Quebec and Ontario are calling for better testing to track the spread of tick-borne germs as disease-causing bacteria gain new ground in Canada.

Ticks are blood-sucking arachnids that can carry pathogens – bacteria, viruses and parasites – like those that cause Lyme disease. Now, McGill University PhD candidate Kirsten Crandall says pathogens that are local to other regions are beginning to show up across central Canada.

“While the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne pathogen in Canada, other tick-borne pathogens are moving in,” she said in a media release published on Nov. 17.

In a study published in the medical journal Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases on Nov. 9, Crandall and her co-authors from McGill and the University of Ottawa warned that two pathogens, Babesia odocoilei and Rickettsia rickettsii, had been detected in Canada outside of their historic geographic range.

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Babesia odocoilei causes a malaria-like parasitic disease called babesiosis. Babesiosis can be asymptomatic or it can cause flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea or fatigue.

Rickettsia rickettsii causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever and anaplasmosis, and is normally found in the United States, Western Canada, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Bolivia.

Both bacteria can infect animals and humans, and both were found in ticks and small mammals in Quebec. According to the study, climate change, habitat fragmentation and changes in the abundance of tick populations and their hosts are all driving the spread of emerging tick-borne pathogens like these across Canada.

“The presence of these pathogens changes the risk of disease for Canadians and animals in some densely populated areas of Canada,” Crandall said.

Crandall and her team made the detections using methods that went beyond those normally used in tick monitoring studies. By testing ticks at all life cycle stages, they discovered that female ticks can actually pass pathogens to their larval young. They also tested for pathogens not already listed as nationally notifiable diseases in Canada.

She said the findings demonstrate the need for better testing and tracking to detect the spread and potential risk of tick-borne pathogens to humans and animals throughout the country.

“Only two tick-borne pathogens are listed as nationally notifiable diseases in Canada: Lyme disease and tularemia,” she said. “However, we are seeing increased cases of diseases like anaplasmosis and babesiosis in humans in Canada.”

Jeremy Kerr, a professor and research chair at the University of Ottawa’s department of biology, said the study highlights the importance of funding more research into tick-borne diseases that haven’t historically been common in Canada.

“If we don’t know that pathogens are present, we can’t equip Canadians with the information they need to protect themselves,” he said in a statement released on Nov. 17. “COVID has diverted public health resources away from challenges like this one, and we need to remember that these tick-borne diseases are on the move too.”

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