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Conservative leadership candidates to meet face-to-face in Edmonton for next debate

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EDMONTON — Conservatives tuning into the next leadership debate hope to see the six candidates vying for the party’s top job lay off the personal attacks, says one campaign co-chair.

“I want the candidates to speak to the issues, debate the issues, debate them vigorously. But don’t become personal,” said Ed Fast, the British Columbia MP who is part of former Quebec premier Jean Charest’s leadership campaign.

“At the end of the day, all of us are part of the Conservative family and we’re going to have to come together to fight the next election and be successful.”

Charest, along with the contest’s other five contenders, are headed to Edmonton to participate in the party’s first official leadership debate happening in English on Wednesday, which will be followed by one in French two weeks later.

Party members and interested Canadians had a chance to see how five out of the six candidates reacted to one another when they took the stage in Ottawa last week for an unofficial debate, held as part of a conference for conservative faithful.

They saw an hour and a half of fiery exchanges, which included Leslyn Lewis laying into fellow MP Pierre Poilievre for his stand against COVID-19 mandates and Poilievre going after Charest for his past work with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. Poilievre also accused Charest of being a Liberal for having led the Quebec Liberal party.

“Our members are highly engaged,” said Andrew Scheer, the former Conservative leader and Saskatchewan MP who is now working to get Poilievre elected.

“Our members want to see how leadership candidates can handle the sparring from each other, because it’s going to be a lot tougher in a general election campaign.”

Speaking ahead of last week’s debate, Scheer said Poilievre — who has earned the reputation of being a bulldog through years of aggressive performances in the House of Commons — also comes with a deep knowledge of policy.

“He is one of the most well prepared members of Parliament I’ve ever seen,” Scheer said.

Laryssa Waler, who previously served as Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s director of communications, said debates take a back seat to the party memberships candidates have to tell to supporters by June 3, if they hope to count on them picking their name on the party’s ranked ballot.

She said while watching debates, it’s important to remember most Conservatives have already chosen which candidate to back. Those on stage are also looking for opportunities to chip away at the support of their rivals, Waler added.

“Everybody else on that stage needs Pierre not to get 50 per cent,” she said, referring to the fact that a candidate must achieve majority support to be declared the winner when the ballots are counted on Sept. 10.

“If Pierre gets 50 per cent, it’s over.”

Poilievre returns to Edmonton after holding a rally in the city last month that drew more than 2,000 people. His raucous events have been a defining feature of his campaign, which insiders say is a sign of momentum rarely seen in leadership races.

For Eligh Ware, who works construction in Alberta, liking politicians is rare. Poilievre, however, may have bucked that trend for Ware, who said the longtime MP “seems like a pretty decent guy.”

“He’s from Calgary. He’s about oil and gas. I mean, we need oil and gas to survive in this world,” he said Tuesday, while filling up his truck at a gas station in Leduc, Alta.

“He doesn’t look like a buffoon in front of a microphone … he’s a straight shooter. He’s good with his words.”

Al Webster, who was at the same gas station, said he didn’t follow Poilievre before the leadership race began, but since it started he has come to like the MP, whom he finds different.

“He seems to be, I don’t know, more on the ball than some of the others.”

One big difference between last week’s debate and Wednesday’s will be the presence of Patrick Brown, the mayor of Brampton, Ont. His campaign said he decided to forgo last week’s event to sell memberships. He did, however, declare that he “won” in an email sent out afterwards.

In a message sent to party members ahead of Wednesday’s debate, Brown slammed Poilievre’s embrace of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin as way to combat inflation, labelling it as “wacky investment advice.”

“This isn’t the time for wealthy career politicians pushing get-rich-quick schemes,” Brown wrote Tuesday.

Brown, like Charest, sees a path to victory by bringing in droves of new Conservative members, rather than trying to win over the existing grassroots. Brown is specifically focusing his efforts on drawing support from racialized Canadians, including those with Muslim, Tamil, Sikh, Chinese or Nepalese heritage.

Michelle Rempel Garner, the longtime Calgary MP who is a co-chair on Brown’s campaign, said the party needs to grow in these communities in large cities to be more competitive against the Liberals.

As such, she hopes those watching Wednesday’s debate will put themselves in the shoes of an undecided voter and ask themselves who is the best suited to make sure the Conservative party wins the next federal election.

Topics expected to be covered at Wednesday’s debate include the future of energy and the environment, law and order, the cost of living and the North.

Rempel Garner said the party would be wise to organize the topics in such a way that candidates address issues that have in the past held Canadians back from voting Conservative.

“Specifically topics like child care, like support for religious freedoms, like support for the LGBTQ community, like our position on women’s rights, reproductive health … and climate,” she said.

“Those are all issues that have repeatedly dogged our party over several elections.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2022.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Premier Smith asks Prime Minister to halt “Just Transition” legislation

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Premier Smith meets with the Prime Minister

Premier Danielle Smith met with the Prime Minister for approximately 30 minutes primarily discussing Alberta’s request for the federal government to halt the introduction of its proposed ‘Just Transition’ legislation and other emission reduction strategies.

The Premier asked the federal government to instead work collaboratively with the Government of Alberta on developing a plan and partnership to attract energy investment and workers into Alberta’s conventional, non-conventional and emerging energy sectors while reducing Canada’s and Alberta’s net emissions.

The Prime Minister expressed a willingness to explore this strategy with the Premier through their respective ministers and the Premier will be following up with further correspondence regarding proposed next steps in the near future.

The Premier used today’s discussion to outline Alberta’s expectations as to what must and must not be included in any future federal legislation, targets or policies as it relates to Alberta’s energy sector. These expectations included:

  • Abandonment of any references to ‘just transition’ or any other terminology or policies that signal the phaseout of Alberta’s conventional or non-conventional energy sector or workforce.
  • Increased workforce training and participation in all of the conventional, non-conventional and emerging energy sectors.
  • The need for formal consultation and collaboration with Alberta before the federal government announces or implements legislation, targets or policies that materially impact Alberta’s energy sector.
  • Substantial increase in LNG exports to Asia through the lens of meeting targets through replacement of higher emitting fuel sources with clean Canadian LNG.
  • Joint federal-provincial initiatives to facilitate increased private investment in nuclear, hydrogen, bitumen beyond combustion, geothermal, lithium, helium, zero-emission vehicle, CCUS, petrochemical and other emerging technologies and fuels that make Alberta’s conventional and non-conventional energy sector increasingly carbon neutral.

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Alberta

What Trudeau has offered to the premiers to fund health care

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By Laura Osman in Ottawa

Premiers got their fist look at Ottawa’s offer to increase long-term health funding Tuesday at a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but the federal proposal falls short of what they were seeking.

The provinces budgeted about $204 billion for health care in this fiscal year and the Canada Health Transfer was set at $45 billion, or about 22 per cent of that. The premiers want the federal share to increase to 35 per cent, which amounts to another $26 billion in this year alone.

Instead, Ottawa put together a 10-year, $196.1 billion deal, of which $46.2 billion is new funding.

Here’s what the Liberals are offering:

$2 billion, no questions asked

The federal government plans to table legislation before the end of March to dole out $2 billion to  provinces to address immediate health-care needs like surgical backlogs.

There are no strings attached.

Ottawa offered the same amount last year during the Omicron wave of COVID-19.

More money for the Canada Health Transfer

The main source of federal funding for health care comes from the Canada Health Transfer, which is the biggest pot of money the federal government gives to provinces and territories.

It’s calculated based on a minimum yearly increase of three per cent or the three-year moving average of nominal gross domestic product (GDP) — whichever is higher.

Ottawa has now offered to step up the minimum yearly increase to five per cent for the next five years.

The total amount after the five years will serve as the new baseline moving toward.

The move is expected to give provinces an extra $17.3 billion over 10 years in new support. The federal Finance Department anticipates the CHT to grow by 33 per cent over the next five years, and 61 per cent over the next 10 years.

It all hinges on better data

The increase to the Canada Health Transfer is contingent on an agreement to share comparable data and digitize the health information of Canadians so it can be more easily accessed and shared between hospitals, clinics and jurisdictions.

Tailored deals with each provinces 

Ottawa has also put $25 billion on the table for tailored one-on-one deals with each province to make progress on four major issues: family health services, health worker shortages and backlogs, mental health and substance use, and health-care modernization.

The deals will be highly flexible for each province, but they will have to show their work to get the money.

The government says it wants to see a plan from each province and targeted results they hope to accomplish. The provincial and territorial governments will then need to report on their progress.

Higher wages for personal support workers

Trudeau says he’ll give provinces $1.7 billion over five years to increase the pay for personal support workers, who provide the majority of bedside care in long-term care and homecare settings.

No targets have been set yet for how high those wages should be. In the last election, the Liberals pledged to increase personal support worker pay to a minimum of $25 per hour.

Indigenous health

The federal government put forward $2 billion over 10 years specifically for fair and equitable access to appropriate health care for Indigenous Peoples through a health-equity fund.

The spending will come after consultations with Indigenous groups.

Other spending

— $505 million over five years for the Canadian Institute for Health Information Canada Health Infoway, and other federal data agencies to develop new health data indicators, as well as create a “Centre of Excellence” on health worker data, and support other efforts to modernize health data systems.

— $150 million over five years for the Territorial Health Investment Fund for medical travel and to deliver health care in the territories.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2023.

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