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Auditor general to scrutinize government’s $187B infrastructure program


OTTAWA — The Trudeau government’s massive $187-billion infrastructure program will be scrutinized by the office of the auditor general of Canada.

Interim auditor general Sylvain Ricard says his office will endeavour to complete its investigation and report to Parliament no later than next January — as requested in a Conservative motion passed by the House of Commons late last month.

The government said at the time that it supported an audit, but most Liberals voted against the motion because it was critical of the government’s lack of transparency and accountability on the file.

A promise to undertake massive infrastructure investments was a centrepiece of the Liberals’ election platform in 2015, intended to boost  the economy and create jobs.

However, several reports by the parliamentary budget officer have since found that the money is not getting out the door as quickly as intended.

And a Senate committee warned in 2017 that the sprawling program is unfocused and overly complicated, with 31 different departments responsible for doling out funds.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2020.



The Canadian Press

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Trudeau caught in middle of clash over energy, environment, Indigenous demands



OTTAWA — The competing demands of natural resource development, environmental protection and Indigenous reconciliation appear poised for a head-on crash — with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government caught in the middle as Parliament resumes Tuesday.

The NDP is asking House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota for an emergency debate on anti-pipeline blockades that have shut down swaths of the country’s train system and interrupted traffic on highways and bridges for more than a week.

The blockades are in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose a natural-gas pipeline project that crosses the First Nation’s territory in northern British Columbia.

Trudeau faces a blockade of a different sort — from his own Liberal backbenchers — over another energy project.

Many Liberal MPs are openly campaigning against approval of Teck Resources’ proposed Frontier oilsands mine in Alberta, which they see as antithetical to Trudeau’s pledge to combat climate change.

Cabinet must decide by the end of this month whether to approve the project and risk the wrath of Liberal MPs and voters concerned about climate change, or nix it and risk raising “roiling western alienation to a boiling point,” as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has warned.

Either issue is politically explosive but the combination makes for something of a perfect storm for Trudeau’s fragile minority.

NDP House leader Peter Julian wrote to Rota on Monday to request that emergency debate on anti-pipeline blockades.

“The prime minister’s refusal to take more substantive and timely action has allowed tensions to rise, put significant pressure on the Canadian economy and threatened jobs across the country,” Julian wrote.

“He has said that no relationship is as important to him as Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples but those words must be backed up by actions,” he added, calling for a “swift and just resolution.”

Trudeau, who was overseas last week trying to drum up support for Canada’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, spent hours Monday holed up with some of his cabinet ministers trying to figure out a way to end the blockades quickly and peacefully. He has said governments in Canada do not order the police to clear out protesters but it was unclear Monday what other action the government might take to end the standoff.

The Conservatives, who’ve called for police enforcement of court injunctions against the protests, have an opposition day on Thursday and may use that opportunity to further pressure the government over its perceived inaction on the blockades, if the issue isn’t resolved by then.

Or they could pressure the government to approve Teck’s Frontier project. Conservative MPs have echoed Kenney’s contention that the project would create thousands of jobs and bolster Alberta’s struggling economy and that rejection would be a blow to national unity.

But many Liberal MPs aren’t buying those arguments.

Toronto MP John McKay says Liberal caucus members are “darn close” to unanimous in their opposition to the Teck mine. 

“My guess is that (Trudeau) will not go against the views of caucus,” he says, adding that he sympathizes with Trudeau’s having to make a “lose-lose” decision.

Some aren’t convinced the project will ever be built, pointing to Teck CEO Don Lindsay’s admission that the mine will only proceed if oil prices substantially increase and the company obtains joint-venture partners.

Nor are they buying Kenney’s portrayal of the project as the sole saviour of Alberta’s economy. They note that there are some 20 other oilsands projects that already have approval and are ready to go but are on ice because they’re not economically viable given low world oil prices.

University of Alberta environmental economist Andrew Leach says some of those other projects could be viable at much lower oil prices than Teck but they are on hold because of production limits imposed by the Alberta government.

“It’s easier for Premier Kenney to be able to say it’s not happening because of the federal regulatory process than for him to say … the provincial government hasn’t given final approval or, in the general case, it’s not happening because of broader economic circumstances that are sort of beyond his control and don’t have an obvious someone else to blame,” Leach says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2020.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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Federal government asks court for four more months to amend assisted dying law



OTTAWA — The federal government is asking for more time to amend the assisted-dying law, acknowledging that it can’t meet a court-imposed deadline to drop a provision that allows only those who are already near death to qualify for medical help to end their lives.

Justice Minister David Lametti filed a motion Monday requesting a four-month extension on the court ruling.

Quebec Superior Court Judge Christine Baudouin ruled last September that it is unconstitutional to limit the right to a medically assisted death to those whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

She gave the government until March 11 to drop that provision from the law.

The Trudeau government declined to appeal but has not yet introduced the necessary amendments to the law.

It launched public consultations last month, including an online survey that asked whether other hurdles should be added to the law once the foreseeable-death provision is removed,to ensure a balance is maintained between individual rights and protecting vulnerable people from potential abuse.

In a joint statement Monday by Lametti and Health Minister Patty Hajdu, the ministers said the government fully intends to introduce legislation “in the near future” but a four-month extension “would give Parliament time to consider and enact proposed amendments.”

Technically, the court ruling applies only in Quebec.

Without the extension, the ministers noted that the foreseeable death provision would no longer apply in Quebec after March 11 but would remain in force in the rest of the country.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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