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Council consensus: what premiers are hoping for out of Monday’s meeting

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OTTAWA — Premiers of all the provinces and territories gather Monday in Toronto to try to shape a collective agenda for their relationship with the federal government, after an election that left the nation in a partisan patchwork.

Many of the leaders have had their own meetings since the October vote resulted in a Liberal minority government that has no Prairie MPs, plus a resurgent Bloc Quebecois. Some have also met individually with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, the current chair of the Council of the Federation, all but stormed out of his sit-down with Trudeau more than two weeks ago, insisting he’d heard nothing that gave him any confidence the Liberals were serious about addressing the concerns of the West.

But for the meeting Monday, he will try to seek consensus nonetheless, placing three topics on the table. One is developing amendments to the fiscal stabilization program, a mechanism that provides a financial top-up to provincial governments suffering economic downturns. He also wants to discuss the federal carbon tax and how best to implement the new federal environmental-assessment legislation, known by its legislative title of Bill C-69 — and as the “No More Pipelines Bill” to detractors such as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

“I think everyone is coming in with an open mind to have a frank and fair discussion in light of the results we saw on election night, which is why this meeting is coming together in the first place,” Moe said ahead of the gathering.

“I’m truly hopeful we are going to come to consensus as premiers across this nation on two or three items and provide that to our federal government as some direction.”  

Moe had originally demanded, with support from Kenney, that Trudeau change the equalization formula, the broad-based program that aims to bring provinces’ spending capacities into some measure of equilibrium via federal transfers.

Last week, however, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball warned that wasn’t going to fly around the federation table. Reworking equalization means taking from one province and giving to another and that’s no way to achieve national unity, he said.

“Rather than pick a fight with the provinces and say, ‘I want you to have less so we can have more,’ that’s not the right conversation,” he said.

“We can be responsible enough to put together a new program that meets our needs,” he said.

On Thursday, Moe had acknowledged equalization is a divisive topic. It’s a long-term policy, with the formula locked in for years at a time. Though equalization still needs revising, he said, the shorter-term fiscal stabilization program is a faster thing to fix.

A spokeswoman for Kenney said he is on side as well.

Alberta received about $250 million from the program in 2016, which amounts to $60 per Albertan, the maximum the program allows. Alberta’s finances have taken a huge hit from low oil prices, which have harmed its major industry.

At minimum, Kenney wants to see that cap removed, as it barely scratches the surface of the financial impact of low oil prices. What criteria should be used to determine how much is doled out can be discussed, Christine Myatt said.

“It’s something concrete the federal government can do basically right now to show some goodwill towards the West, and really show any province that may one day sustain a sudden drop in their revenue that the federal government can be there for them,” she said.

On Friday, Kenney said he thinks there is enough agreement among the premiers on many issues that they’ll be able to come up with joint requests of the federal government even in a brief meeting.

He has previously talked about holding a vote in Alberta on the federal equalization program to demonstrate how badly it needs changing. Friday, Kenney called a more generous fiscal-stabilization program an “equalization rebate,” implying that they’re related and changing one would be similar to adjusting the other.

“I think there’s an understanding with other provinces that Alberta’s really going through a time of trial,” he said.

Climate policy will be a tougher area to get all parties agreeing. Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba have all launched legal challenges against the federal carbon price, while others have accepted it, or launched their own programs to gain exemptions from the federal backstop.

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq was in Ottawa this past week ahead of the meetings, and said he accepts the program.

“It’s here and we know it’s staying and it doesn’t do any good to fight something that’s already there and in place,” he said.

“We just want to get more resources so we can do our share to mitigate the effects of climate change.” 

There are other points of tension in the group.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has been outspoken against Quebec’s Bill 21, which prohibits some public employees, including teachers, government lawyers and police officers, from wearing prominent symbols of their religious beliefs.

Pallister’s government recently announced it is rolling out ads in Quebec that welcome government workers to move to Manitoba if they feel threatened by the ban.

In turn, Quebec Premier Francois Legault suggested he spend money on French-language services or retaining NHL players.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who offered to host the meeting after the election, said he expects there to be fractious debate, but with a common goal.

“With any big family as we are, there’s going to be a few disagreements,” he said.

“But we want to send the message around the world that we’re a united Canada, we’re stronger together and we’ll get over these bumps.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2019.

—With files from Stephanie Taylor, Shawn Jeffords and Terry Pedwell

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


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Appeal denied: Man who killed couple, their grandson wanted conviction quashed

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CALGARY — Alberta’s top court has upheld the conviction of a man who killed a couple and their grandson, dismissing objections to the warrantless search of his farm, disturbing photographs shown at trial and comments the judge made to jurors.

Douglas Garland was convicted in 2017 of first-degree murder in the deaths of Alvin and Kathy Liknes and Nathan O’Brien more than five years ago.

He is also appealing his life sentence with no chance of parole for 75 years.

The couple and the boy vanished after an estate sale at the Liknes home in Calgary. Five-year-old Nathan was there for a sleepover.

The victims’ bodies were never recovered, but bone fragments, burned flesh and teeth were found in ash from a burning barrel on Garland’s property.

“On arriving at the farm on July 4, 2014, the police had a decision to make: to enter without a search warrant with the hope that the victims may still be alive but in need of medical assistance, or wait to enter until a search warrant authorizing a search of the property could be obtained,” the panel of three Appeal Court judges wrote in its decision released Friday.  

“They chose the former.”

The officer in charge told his colleagues to only search buildings and receptacles that were large enough to hide a body.

“Significantly, it was not alleged the police had an ulterior motive for entering into the appellant’s property and searching it, other than to find the victims, hopefully still alive,” the judges wrote.

“We see no basis to interfere.”

The judges also took no issue with the information provided for the search warrant that was later issued.

“All told, (it) was a thorough document that went into great detail in summarizing the evidence known to the (Calgary Police Service) at the time,” they wrote.

“It provided a detailed account of witness interviews, crime scene photographs and analysis, expert opinions, CCTV video analysis and an extensive summary of the findings at the Garland farm during the warrantless search.

“We can see no error or reason to interfere with these conclusions.”

The Appeal Court also dismissed an argument that the trial judge erred when he allowed jurors to see gruesome photographs found on a hard drive in Garland’s basement, including ones depicting dismembered, diapered and restrained women.

The judges wrote that decisions on evidence that is clearly prejudicial but also affords proof of something are difficult.

“They are best left to the trial judge, who has a full appreciation of the nuances of the case, to decide. Absent a palpable or overriding error, such decisions are entitled to deference.”

Comments the trial judge made to jurors acknowledging the disturbing nature of the evidence they heard did not show bias, they added.

“With respect, viewed in the context of this difficult trial, we find nothing inappropriate about these comments.”

This report by the Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2019.

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press


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Feds vow to ban guns similar to one used in Ecole Polytechnique shooting

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OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the federal government will be ready soon to produce a list of semi-automatic weapons that will be banned in Canada.

His comments come the same day Canadians are marking the 30th anniversary of one of the worst mass shootings in Canadian history.

But Blair says until the list is approved by cabinet he won’t name any specific guns under consideration, including the one used in the Ecole Polytechnique shooting on Dec. 6, 1989.

He says he doesn’t want to create a run on gun purchases ahead of the ban.

The Ruger Mini-14 was used in the shooting where a gunman entered the Montreal school, killed 14 women and injured 14 people before killing himself.

Blair says the government will be clear about how certain weapons were selected when the list is made public.

While there is no firm date for its release, Blair said it will be done as soon as possible before noting it was only the second day of the new Parliament.

The Liberals promised during the federal election campaign to ban military-style assault rifles and give municipalities the ability to put limitations or bans on handguns within their own borders.

The party also said owners of legally purchased firearms that fall under the ban would receive fair-market compensations for their weapons as part of a buyback program. Blair said during the campaign about 250,000 semi-automatic assault rifles are owned legally in Canada.

The Liberals have been pressured by survivors of the Montreal Massacre to do more to restrict guns in Canada and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used his House of Commons speech marking the massacre Friday to say the government will be moving on its campaign promises.

“We will strengthen gun laws and ban the type of weapons used at Ecole Polytechnique,” he said.

“These weapons, designed to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time, have no place in our communities, in our streets, in our country.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2019.

The Canadian Press

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