October 23, 2020

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Liberals accused of invading provincial territory

OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government all but ensured a showdown with the premiers as it proposed reaching further into provincial jurisdiction to help Canada's economy recover, in measures outlined in its throne speech Wednesday.

The premiers are set to hold a teleconference Thursday to discuss Ottawa’s plans to increase funding and regulations for child care, long-term care homes and drug coverage.

Six climate promises

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  1. Canada will seek to exceed its 2030 emissions target, which is to lower emissions by 30 per cent over 2005 levels. (This promise comes despite the latest report from Environment and Climate Change Canada demonstrating a 19 per cent reduction was its best-case projection at this point.) Ottawa reaffirmed its commitment for Canada to be a net-zero emitter by 2050, and promised to legislate that pledge.
  2. There will be a focus on job creation to retrofit Canadian homes and commercial spaces to raise efficiency and cut energy costs.
  3. A commitment to "make zero-emissions vehicles more affordable" and invest in charging infrastructure.
  4. An effort will be made "to attract investments in making zero-emissions products" by creating a new fund that will allow for such companies to have corporate tax rates cut in half of what they would otherwise be. The goal, as it was laid out in the speech, is for Canada to be "the most competitive jurisdiction in the world for clean technology companies."
  5. 2021 will be the year single-used plastics are banned.
  6. Reaffirmed promise to plant two billion trees as an investment in natural solutions to climate change.

"We need to work together; beating this virus is a Team Canada effort," Gov. Gen. Julie Payette said in the Senate chamber as she read from the Trudeau government’s speech to relaunch its legislative agenda.

The Conservatives argued the Liberals want to invade provincial territory, and gave the throne speech an automatic thumbs-down, while the NDP want the federal government to lean even further into provincial jurisdiction.

Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen chided the Liberals for not addressing the recent request by the premiers to increase Ottawa’s portion of health-care funding from $42 to $70 billion this year — meaning it would pay 35 per cent of the overall health-care tab versus the current 22 per cent.

"They asked the prime minister to recognize that; to give them his support, and instead he ignored their requests and is wading into their jurisdiction," Bergen said on Parliament Hill.

"The Ottawa elite will tell Canadians, and will tell provinces, how to manage child care, how to manage health care; that's not acceptable," said the MP for Portage-Lisgar, who also decried the lack of specific measures for the oil and agricultural sectors, which are important to Manitoba's economy.

However, the NDP said it would welcome even more federal involvement.

The party said its support, which would avoid an election, partially hinges on getting paid sick leave for those waiting for a COVID-19 test result, even though labour standards are generally under provincial responsibility.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waits for Gov. Gen. Julie Payette to deliver the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa on Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waits for Gov. Gen. Julie Payette to deliver the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa on Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

"A federal government that’s serious about getting things done would be calling the provinces to the table to find out where there’s a agreement," said Elmwood-Transcona MP Daniel Blaikie.

The NDP MP said the Liberals are "talking about jurisdiction without having tried to get around the same page."

Blaikie also bemoaned MPs having just days to rejig federal unemployment benefits, as a result of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau imposing a month-long timeout on legislative work before Wednesday’s speech.

Google, Facebook put on notice

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The federal government promised to force web giants, such as Google and Facebook, to share revenue with media companies whose content is viewed on social media platforms.

“Web giants are taking Canadians’ money while imposing their own priorities. Things must change, and will change.

“The government will act to ensure their revenue is shared more fairly with our creators and media, and will also require them to contribute to the creation, production, and distribution of our stories, on screen, in lyrics, in music, and in writing,” the throne speech said.

In a statement, News Media Canada president John Hinds called the throne speech promise a “strong step in the right direction.”

The group of news publishers applauded the government’s decision to address the issue of corporate tax avoidance by the digital giants.

"There really just wasn’t much in i(the throne speech) that we hadn’t heard before, and I don’t think it in any way justified proroguing Parliament," he said.

To pass a confidence vote, the minority Liberals need the support of at least one party in order to avoid an election.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said he’d only play ball if the Liberals promise to increase Quebec’s health transfers, with no strings attached, within a week.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Trudeau ignored the premiers’ unanimous call for more health funding.

"Sadly, the federal government’s throne speech ignored one of the most pressing issues in our country to date: growing health-care wait times," Pallister wrote in a statement. He refused to do an interview Wednesday.

Quebec Premier François Legault echoed that sentiment on Twitter, calling the speech a disappointment that "does not respect provinces' jurisdiction over health." He arranged a Thursday afternoon call with all premiers to discuss the speech.

The Tories also pushed back on the Liberals' insistence that provinces need to ramp up testing capacity, noting that Health Canada lags behind other national regulators in approving rapid testing.

The regulator has not explained in detail why it hasn’t approved COVID-19 antigen tests, which detect the virus in people who are still contagious, but is less precise than existing lab testing. That's resulted in hours-long lines in Winnipeg an many other cities for the latter form of testing.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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