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What to watch for as Canada's premiers meet in Victoria – CBC News

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It’s been three years since what used to be a staple of the political calendar — the annual summer premiers’ gathering — was held in person.

As the Council of the Federation reconvenes, Canada’s premiers are packing a lot of familiar baggage, particularly when it comes to their demands of the federal government.

After meeting frequently — sometimes weekly or biweekly — earlier in the pandemic, the premiers now feel “ghosted” by Ottawa, B.C. Premier John Horgan, the chair and host of this year’s gathering, told CBC Radio’s The House on the weekend.

It’s unclear what might be delivered between now and Tuesday night, since only one side of the federal-provincial table is gathering in Victoria. Nevertheless, here’s what’s on premiers’ minds.

Health care

It was already the biggest expenditure in premiers’ budgets and an oft-cited top priority for voters. Then COVID-19 put unprecedented stress on health infrastructure that advocates warned wasn’t up to code even before the pandemic.

“When you look at our health-care system compared to other, comparable countries, it’s been deteriorating in terms of the quality of care and the timeliness of care over a long period of time,” Canadian Medical Association president Katharine Smart told CBC’s The Current last week. “That’s not only about dollars. That’s about failing to modernize the system.”

WATCH | Needs of Canadians outpacing heath-care system, CMA president says

Needs of Canadians outpacing health-care system, CMA president says

7 hours ago

Duration 6:02

In many ways, Canada’s health-care system has not been modernized since the 1960s, says Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Katharine Smart. She’s urging Canada’s premiers to address these ‘structural issues’ at their annual meeting in Victoria this week.

Still, it’s the dollars premiers were talking about before travelling to Victoria. They reminded Canadians, yet again, that the federal share of health-care spending (22 per cent, they calculate) is nowhere near where it used to be (35 per cent) or needs to be (as much as the 50 per cent it once was, as Alberta’s Jason Kenney and Manitoba’s Heather Stefanson have told us).

So they’re asking Ottawa, yet again, to sit down and negotiate larger Canada Health Transfer payments.

WATCH | More health care funding is a key demand for provincial premiers:

Health care on the agenda at upcoming premier talks

19 hours ago

Duration 2:01

Canada’s premiers are set to meet this week for the first time in person since 2019. Health care is expected to be one of the top items on the agenda, with hospitals in parts of the country struggling with major staffing shortages.

It’s not that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government doesn’t agree that more health-care funding is necessary, although officials take issue with the 22 per cent calculation, arguing the premiers’ math ignores their revenue from federal tax points transferred to the provinces since 1997.

While both sides call for a more “adult conversation” on health-care funding in place of a “sterile” debate on percentages that now resembles a stalemate, the premiers’ request last fall for an urgent first ministers’ meeting on health care was rebuffed.

Why? Provincial elections in Ontario (this spring) and soon, Quebec (this fall), apparently made for difficult political timing in Ottawa’s eyes, even though last winter’s supply and confidence agreement with the federal NDP has presumably given Trudeau’s Liberals more space to work something out without fear of a writ period of their own.

As chair, Horgan (a New Democrat) along with Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey (a Liberal) and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe (representing more conservative premiers), have been trying to engage Trudeau in what they say is a non-partisan way. But it hasn’t worked.

“As the kids say, we’ve been ghosted by the federal government,” Horgan said. “I know the prime minister is committed to this, but it’s a matter of timing and tick-tock goes the clock, as far as I’m concerned.”

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced $2 billion to help with surgical backlogs last March. But last spring’s federal budget didn’t have a large, permanent and non-specific boost to health transfers on its short-term horizon.

A woman in a lab coat talks to a politician in front of a laboratory.
In March, Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, right, announced $2 billion to help provinces deal with surgical backlogs. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

In Ottawa’s defence, some provinces have sparked skepticism that additional federal health transfers would be used for their intended purposes. Last month, Alberta’s auditor general found it couldn’t properly account for how billions in COVID funding was spent. Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office reported last fall that Doug Ford’s government didn’t immediately spend billions transferred for urgent COVID needs. New Brunswick used federal COVID transfers to pad its provincial surplus.

Horgan seems to understand that repeating another request for unconditional transfers would be a non-starter.

“This is not about blank cheques, this is not about no-strings-attached,” he told The House. “We need to work on what those accountability mechanisms will be.”

Beyond funding, it’s unclear whether any other kinds of health-care innovations are on the agenda in Victoria.

Smart, for example, has argued for national, not provincial, licensing for health-care professionals, to improve interprovincial mobility for a workforce desperately in demand and making it easier to scale up virtual health-care delivery across jurisdictions. Premiers like Horgan aren’t keen, arguing that their provincial budgets funded the training of these professionals and they can’t risk losing them if licensing barriers are removed.

Pharmacare

Prescription drug expenditures are a major component of health-care costs, but they’ve been broken off into a separate political conversation.

At past summer premiers’ meetings, agreements were hammered out to collaborate on bulk purchasing of medicines to wrestle these costs down. That work continues.

But more recently, pharmacare has become a federal file, with the Trudeau government first appointing a former Ontario health minister to study how a national drug plan could be implemented and the federal NDP demanding serious progress toward this goal as a condition for its ongoing support in the House of Commons.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, has rebuffed suggestions that the federal government should have increased provincial health transfers earlier, by suggesting a pandemic isn’t the right time for long-term funding negotiations. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

If a federal universal drug insurance plan ever came to fruition, it could not only allow for more equal coverage for Canadians no matter where they live, but also let provinces that already provide a lot of provincial drug coverage to reallocate that money in their respective health budgets. So why aren’t all the premiers leaning in?

Similar to the $10-a-day federal child-care proposal, it could help each jurisdiction, but differently, based on what they already offer. Because of these potential redundancies, implementing what may seem like a simple idea becomes complex.

Interprovincial trade barriers

This past Canada Day marked five years since the country’s interprovincial “free trade” deal took effect. So why do business groups still complain about interprovincial barriers costing Canada billions in lost productivity and economic growth?

In its recent report card, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses found a lot of work remains, with many “F” grades awarded for a lack of progress on specific barriers, like mutual recognition of credentials or the harmonization of business regulations and registrations.

Past summer premiers’ meetings have featured specific headline-grabbing but incremental announcements about “freeing the beer” or “freeing the grapes” (wine), notwithstanding a 2018 Supreme Court decision that allows provinces to continue to restrict interprovincial alcohol trade.

Some premiers have liberalized a lot, and others might be willing to liberalize more, but there’s never been unanimity around the table, particularly among premiers who represent remote Northern communities with high rates of alcohol-related health and social challenges.

Sovereignty, Part 1: immigration

In a scrum with reporters last week, Scott Moe openly mused about the need for Saskatchewan to “use up the full scope of autonomy that we have” and follow Quebec’s lead in seeking more powers to regulate immigration. Moe argued that he needs more newcomers to pursue the economic growth agenda he wants for his province in this tight labour market.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has expressed an interest in allowing provinces to do more to regulate immigration. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

By week’s end, Ontario Premier Doug Ford was also talking about “historic labour shortages,” with his labour minister saying thousands of jobs go unfilled and that it’s urgent for the business community to add more skilled workers in particular. Federal immigration allocations are inadequate, Ontario is arguing, so it needs to be free to do something about it.

Could Quebec Premier François Legault offer some tips in Victoria for seeking more independence? Maybe, but the federal government may be reluctant to enable it. Less restrictive immigration policies could exacerbate inequities: it could be hard for less-popular regions to attract skilled workers and investors if wealthier provinces fling open their doors.

Sovereignty, Part 2: energy

Moe also told reporters he wants to focus on energy security this week.

The war in Ukraine has disrupted global markets and created new demand for not only Canadian oil and gas exports, but uranium and other critical minerals.

Framing this economic opportunity in “energy security” terms also counters the federal government’s climate change objective of gradually weaning Canada off its dependence on fossil fuel exports and keeping its international commitments to cut carbon emissions.

The Alberta government issued a press release Thursday touting how all nine provinces have signed on as intervenors in the upcoming Supreme Court case on the constitutionality of C-69, which Jason Kenney’s government has dubbed the “No More Pipelines Act” for what it says are changes to the federal impact assessment process that threaten the future of Alberta’s economy.

Just like the recent provincial challenge to the federal carbon tax, the Alberta Court of Appeal found C-69 unconstitutional, but legal experts aren’t sure the Supreme Court will agree. In the meantime, this latest legal fight appears to have united the premiers on the need to push back.

New faces, lame ducks and powerful incumbents

This year’s talks will feature new faces, like Nova Scotia’s Tim Houston and Manitoba’s Stefanson. The former is coming up on his first anniversary in office, and the latter will find out next year if voters want to keep her party in power.

Doug Ford may return to the table with some swagger after winning another majority in Ontario last month. Legault, who posed with Ford for the cameras on Sunday night, is tracking toward a potentially even more resounding re-election this fall.

This week will be a swan song for not only chair Horgan, who has announced he won’t run again, but fellow lame-duck Premier Kenney, whose party showed him the door in May.

After a period of suits-only visuals, the premiers’ annual photo call will include a couple of women again: not only Stefanson, but Caroline Cochrane from the Northwest Territories.

Talks begin Monday morning as they have in the past — hearing from representatives of Canada’s national Indigenous organizations.

The Assembly of First Nations will be represented by its B.C. regional chief, Terry Teegee, while Elmer St. Pierre, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, will also attend. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami will not be present this year, but Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron will attend, as well as a regional representative of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

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Medical assistance in dying given to 10K Canadians in 2021 – CTV News

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More Canadians are ending their lives with a medically-assisted death, says the third federal annual report on medical assistance in dying (MAID). Data shows that 10,064 people died in 2021 with medical aid, an increase of 32 per cent over 2020.

The report says that 3.3 per cent of all deaths in Canada in 2021 were assisted deaths. On a provincial level, the rate was higher in provinces such as Quebec, at 4.7 per cent, and British Columbia, at 4.8 per cent.

“It is rising remarkably fast,” University of Toronto law professor Trudo Lemmens, who was a member of the Council of Canadian Academies Expert Panel on Medical Assistance in Dying, wrote in an email to CTV News. He noted that some regions in the country have quickly matched or surpassed rates in Belgium and the Netherlands, where the practice has been in place for over two decades.

Advocates say it isn’t surprising because Canadians are growing more comfortable with MAID and some expect the rising rates may level off.

“The…. expectation has always been it (the rate) will be something around four to five per cent, (as in) Europe. We will probably, in the end, saw off at around the same rate,” said Dr. Jean Marmoreo, a family physician and MAID provider in Toronto.

The report uses data collected from files submitted by doctors, nurse practitioners and pharmacists across the country involving written requests for MAID.

Among the findings:

  • All provinces saw increases in MAID deaths, ranging from 1.2 per cent (Newfoundland & Labrador) to a high of 4.8 per cent (British Columbia);
  • More men (52.3 per cent) than women (47.7 per cent) received MAID;
  • The average age was 76.3 years;
  • Sixty-five per cent of those provided with assisted death had cancer. Heart disease or strokes were cited in 19 per cent of cases, followed by chronic lung diseases (12 per cent) and neurological conditions like ALS (12 per cent);
  • Just over two per cent of assisted deaths were offered to a newer group of patients: those with chronic illnesses but who were not dying of their condition, with new legislation in 2021 allowing expanded access to MAID.

Documents show that 81 per cent of written applications for MAID were approved.

Thirteen per cent of patients died before MAID could be provided, with almost two per cent withdrawing their application before the procedure was offered.

Four per cent of people who made written applications for medical assistance were rejected. The report says some were deemed ineligible because assessors felt the patient was not voluntarily applying for MAID. The majority of requests were denied because patients were deemed not mentally capable of making the decision.

But other countries with long-established programs reject far more assisted death requests, said Lemmens, citing data that shows 12 to 16 per cent of applicants in the Netherlands are told no.

“It ….may be an indication that restrictions (in my view safeguards) are weaker here than in the most liberal euthanasia regimes,” he wrote in his email to CTV News.

But Marmoreo, who has offered MAID since 2016, sees Canada’s low rejection rate differently.

“It is more like that the right cases are put forward,” she said.

“We have a very good screening process right from the get-go. So before people actually even make a formal request to have assisted dying, they have a lot of information that’s been given to them by the intake….here’s what’s involved in seeking an assisted death, you must meet these eligibility criteria.”

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B.C. ‘clear’ there’s not enough housing as Vancouver encampment ordered dismantled

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VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s acting attorney general says the province was “clear” with Vancouver officials that the Crown corporation responsible for subsidized housing does not have enough spaces available for people who are being told to dismantle their tents along a street in the city’s Downtown Eastside.

Murray Rankin, who is also the minister responsible for housing, says housing is a human right, and the “deeply concerning scenes from Hastings Street demonstrate how much more work we have to do to make that a reality for everyone in our communities.”

Rankin in a statement Friday says BC Housing has accelerated efforts to secure new housing for encampment residents including pursuing new sites to lease or buy and expediting renovations on single-room occupancy units as they become vacant.

He says BC Housing is aiming to make a “limited number” of renovated units available next week, with more opening later in the fall.

Vancouver fire Chief Karen Fry ordered tents set up along Hastings Street sidewalks dismantled last month, saying there was an extreme fire and safety risk.

Police blocked traffic Tuesday as city staff began what’s expected to be a weeks-long process of dismantling the encampment but little had changed by the end of the week with most residents staying put, saying they have nowhere to go.

The city has said staff plan to approach encampment residents with “respect and sensitivity” to encourage the voluntary removal of their tents and belongings.

Community advocacy groups, including the Vancouver Area of Drug Users and Pivot Legal Society, have said clearing the encampment violates a memorandum of understanding between the city, the B.C. government and Vancouver’s park board, because people are being told to move without being offered suitable housing.

The stated aim of the agreement struck last March is to connect unsheltered people to housing and preserve their dignity when dismantling encampments.

The City of Vancouver may enforce bylaws that prohibit structures on sidewalks “when suitable spaces are available for people to move indoors,” it reads.

The province is not involved in the fire chief’s order or the enforcement of local bylaws, which prohibit structures on sidewalks, but it is “bringing all of BC Housing’s resources to bear to do what we can to secure housing for people, Rankin said.

“I recognize the profound uncertainty and upheaval people impacted by the fire order are facing, and we will provide updates on this work as we have news to share,” he said.

Rankin, who had been serving as minister of Indigenous relations, was appointed acting attorney general after David Eby stepped down to run for leadership of the B.C. NDP.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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N.W.T. RCMP deploy controversial roadside cannabis screening devices

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YELLOWKNIFE — RCMP in the Northwest Territories have begun using roadside cannabis-screening technology that has faced criticism from defence lawyers elsewhere in Canada.

Mounties in the territory announced late last month that they had deployed devices designed to take a saliva sample and test for the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, the main psychoactive substance in cannabis. They said the technology would help them detect impaired drivers and make roads safer.

But some criminal defence lawyers have raised concerns about these devices’ ability to deliver reliable test results, particularly in cold temperatures. They argue the technology isn’t effective at determining whether someone is impaired.

“It can lead to people being arrested who are actually innocent,” said Kyla Lee, a lawyer based in Vancouver.

Lee said research has shown the devices may be more likely to deliver false results in extreme cold temperatures, and movement during analysis could also affect outcomes. She added that while the devices can deliver either a positive or negative test result, they do not indicate how much THC may be in a person’s bloodstream.

Lee recently represented a Nova Scotia woman in a constitutional challenge of the law that allows for roadside drug testing technology in Canada.

Michelle Gray, who uses cannabis for multiple sclerosis, had her car impounded and her licence suspended for a week after she failed a cannabis saliva test at a roadside checkpoint in 2019, even though she passed a sobriety test that same night.

“The technology just doesn’t exist yet to allow police to make a determination of impairment via drugs using physical equipment,” Lee said.

Lee is awaiting a decision on the constitutional challenge in Nova Scotia. She said she expects there will be further court challenges in other Canadian jurisdictions where these devices are used, including the Northwest Territories.

There are two devices approved for roadside cannabis screening in Canada: the Drager DrugTest 5000 and the Abbott SoToxa mobile test system. The companies that manufacture the devices recommend they be used in temperatures no lower than 4 C and 5 C, respectively.

Cpl. Andree Sieber of the Regina Police Service, which began using roadside devices to detect cannabis use in early 2020, said officers bring drivers to their vehicles for testing to prevent issues with weather conditions or temperatures.

“We’ve used it throughout all seasons here in Regina,” she said. “We have very cold winters and some pretty nasty, snowy cold days and you have the person attend back to your vehicle with you where it’s heated and it’s not an issue.”

Sieber said the more THC a person has consumed, the more likely they are to show signs of impairment and to test positive.

The RCMP said roadside screening devices are just one tool they use to detect and investigate drug-impaired drivers alongside officers’ observations. They said field sobriety testing and drug recognition experts remain the primary enforcement tools.

“Police officers rely on what they see and hear, as well as what they smell when investigating impaired drivers,” the RCMP said in a written statement. “Regardless of how a drug is consumed, there are signs of that consumption and police are trained to recognized them.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 13, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Emily Blake, The Canadian Press

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