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Manitoba aboriginal leaders meet

MANITOBA aboriginal leaders are meeting behind closed doors to discuss their next step in their battle with the federal government.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs started a two-day session Tuesday in Winnipeg.

Manitoba chiefs were among those critical of the Assembly of First Nations head Shawn Atleo earlier this month, when Atleo agreed to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Chiefs from Manitoba, Ontario, the Northwest Territories and some from Saskatchewan boycotted the meeting, because it did not include Gov. Gen. David Johnston.

Since then, the AFN has agreed to ask for a new meeting with both Harper and Johnston.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says it has no plans to update the media on the meeting.

National parks could hike fees

OTTAWA -- Cash-strapped Parks Canada is stuck between a rock -- or is that Rockies? -- and a hard place.

The federal agency is consulting the public on a long list of proposed fee hikes for the country's national parks and historic sites, pointing out the rates have been frozen since 2008 and costs are on the rise.

But at the same time as fees are going up, many services are in decline following $29.2 million in announced budget cuts and the resultant 600 jobs lost across the system.

Over the weekend, so-called "Occupy Winter" protesters gathered in some national parks across the country to demand a return of winter services that were abruptly shut down this year. Visitors are left to guide themselves at some historic sites, and visiting seasons have been shortened.

In eastern Ontario, Parks Canada's proposal to substantially increase the user fees along the Rideau Canal and Trent-Severn Waterway was greeted with a backlash.

The agency has already backed down from its proposal only two weeks into the consultation, restoring the concept of a day pass or season's pass at more discounted rates.

Manitoba has two national parks: Riding Mountain and Wapusk.

Keystone pipeline closer to reality

THE fate of TransCanada's controversial Keystone XL pipeline now rests with the U.S. State Department after Nebraska's governor gave his blessing to a new, less environmentally damaging route through his state.

Dave Heineman sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday confirming he would allow the oil pipeline to go through Nebraska along a revised path that skirts ecologically sensitive areas.

Because Keystone XL would cross an international border, it requires approval from the U.S. State Department and Obama.

"We did receive a letter from the governor of Nebraska approving the route through the state of Nebraska. We will obviously take that letter and the Nebraska environmental report into consideration as we continue our federal review process," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

It was previously expected a decision would be announced in the first quarter of 2013, but Nuland said it's looking like it will take longer than that.

Calgary-based TransCanada is seeking approval for a $5.3-billion pipeline that would carry crude from Alberta's oilsands and U.S. shale formations to Steele City, Neb.

That pipeline would link up with another $2.3-billion conduit line to Texas refineries, which is 40 per cent complete. That segment does not require a federal permit.

Hit man target denies abuse

ANGUS, Ont. -- The ex-husband of a woman who tried to have him killed because she said he was abusive -- a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court -- says the courts got it wrong.

Michael Ryan told The Canadian Press he never hit his wife, put a gun to her head or threatened to kill her, as she asserted in court.

At her original trial in Nova Scotia, Nicole Ryan, who tried to hire a hit man to kill her spouse, was acquitted of counselling to commit murder after she used the defence of duress.

The Supreme Court overturned that decision, but nonetheless granted a stay of her proceedings, essentially leaving her a free woman.

The top court in its decision referred to Michael Ryan's "reign of terror" over his then-wife.

Ryan says he was never called to testify at her original trial to refute the allegations of abuse, so he says the judge didn't have all the facts.

Signs point to Mali aid extension

OTTAWA -- The massive Canadian C-17 transport plane that's currently ferrying French war supplies to Mali has been seconded from regular duty in Canada and elsewhere for the next three months.

The decision by air force planners offers further evidence the Conservative government is poised to extend its commitment to what observers say could be a prolonged battle against Islamic extremists in the North African country.

The transport, which is attached to 429 Squadron out of CFB Trenton, has been flying vehicles and equipment between France and the Malian capital of Bamako in a deployment Prime Minister Stephen Harper said would only last a week.

Defence sources say the overseas command running the operation has not been notified of an extension; a spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay says the government's commitment has not changed.

That commitment is set to expire Thursday, but Harper is expected to announce an extension any day now.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 23, 2013 A9

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