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Kevin Vickers announces he’ll seek New Brunswick Liberal leadership

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NEWCASTLE, N.B. — Kevin Vickers, hailed as a hero for helping to end the 2014 attack on Parliament Hill, is making a leap to politics with a bid for the leadership of New Brunswick’s Opposition Liberals.

The former House of Commons sergeant-at-arms made the announcement to a packed hall Friday in Newcastle, N.B.

“My roots are here. My heart is here. I love New Brunswick. And I love the people of New Brunswick. New Brunswick has been good to me. It’s now time for me to give back,” said Vickers, who is making his political debut in his early 60s.

“I hope to make a difference right here in New Brunswick.”

Vickers retired this month as Canada’s ambassador to Ireland, and has been travelling New Brunswick over the last two weeks.

He is hoping to replace former premier Brian Gallant, who lost power last fall after the Liberals failed to form a minority government in the weeks following the Sept. 24 provincial election.

Vickers acknowledged his many years away from the province, but played up his roots in New Brunswick, saying: “I’m finally home.”

He said he had learned much during his long career as an RCMP officer about respecting the importance of everyone. His announcement Friday began with both an Indigenous honour song and an Irish dance troupe.

“I bring people together. That is what I do. That is who I am,” Vickers said to a standing ovation.

He listed multiple policy priorities, from health care and education to tackling climate change and green-lighting a highway project delayed by Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs.

Vickers said he wants to increase immigration to one per cent of the provincial population annually, and to bring former New Brunswickers home again, saying growth is key.

“Demography is destiny,” he said. 

In a dark suit and green tie, the proud Irish-Canadian switched between French and English in front of an audience that included many sitting Liberal members of the legislature and former Liberal premier Camille Theriault.

“I think Mr. Vickers brings a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge of the different facts in the province of New Brunswick and he offers hope,” Theriault said.

Donald Wright, a political scientist with the University of New Brunswick, said Vickers’ entrance limits the candidates for the leadership.

“I think him getting into the race might dissuade other people from getting into the race because he’s generated by his name a lot of buzz and a sense of inevitability, coronation. I think it’s troubling,” Wright said. 

“It’s an unknown quantity — Kevin Vickers. Should we embrace it, I’m sure I have no idea. I think the Liberal party should be wary of throwing its lot in with an untested political neophyte.”

Vickers has had a long career of public service, including 29 years in the RCMP. He also served as aide-de-camp for the lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick. He was sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons between 2006 and 2015.

Vickers said he learned a lot in his nine years in the House of Commons and especially enjoyed question period.

On Oct. 22, 2014, Vickers was working in the Commons when he shot and helped take down a man armed with a .30-30 rifle. Michael Zihaf Bibeau had barged into Centre Block on Parliament Hill after killing honour guard reservist Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial.

He did not focus on the event during Friday’s announcement.

Vickers was appointed ambassador to Ireland in January 2015 by then-prime minister Stephen Harper.

Rene Ephestion, leader of the New Brunswick Liberal Multicultural Inclusion Commission, has also expressed his interest in seeking the leadership.

Higgs’ minority government is relying on support from a third party — the right-leaning People’s Alliance, led by Kris Austin. But that arrangement is set to expire next year.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press




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Environment

B.C. tanker-ban bill squeaks through final vote in Senate

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OTTAWA — Legislation barring oil tankers from loading at ports on the northern coast of British Columbia slipped over its final hurdle in the Senate Thursday, despite last-minute attempts by Conservative senators to convince their colleagues to kill it.

Bill C-48 is one of two government bills Conservatives in both the House of Commons and the Senate say are kneecapping Alberta’s oil industry by limiting the movement of its oil. It passed the Senate by a vote of 49 to 46.

The tanker ban and Bill C-69, an overhaul of federal environmental assessments of major construction projects, have together become a flashpoint between the Liberals and Conservatives over how Canada can protect the environment without driving investment away from the fossil-fuel sector.

C-69 imposes more requirements for consulting affected Indigenous communities, widens public participation in the review process and requires climate change to be considered when major national resource-exploitation and transportation projects are being evaluated. It applies to a wide range of projects including interprovincial pipelines, highways, mines and power links.

C-69 was set for its final dance in the upper chamber late Thursday evening. The Senate made more than 200 amendments to that bill earlier this month but the government accepted only 99 of them, mostly to do with reducing ministerial discretion to intervene in the review process.

The unelected Senate has generally bowed to the will of the elected House of Commons when there is a dispute between the two parliamentary chambers about legislation.

The bills, both expected to be fodder for Liberals and Conservatives on the campaign trail to this fall’s election, were on a long list of legislation the Senate pounded through as it prepared to rise for the summer.

The House of Commons called it quits earlier Thursday. The House closed after MPs delivered condolence speeches following the death of Conservative MP Mark Warawa, forgoing the rest of the day’s planned activities out of respect for the veteran MP who died of cancer.

Bill C-48 imposes a moratorium on oil tankers north of Vancouver Island, but after the government accepted an amendment from the Senate, it will now undergo a mandatory review in five years.

The Senate committee that reviewed the bill recommended in May the entire Senate vote down the bill in its entirety, but that didn’t happen, leading Conservatives to accuse the Independent senators who make up a majority in the chamber of being Liberals in disguise.

Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald was one of a few from his caucus to make final pleas with his colleagues to not proceed with the bill.

He said it “will be devastating for the Alberta and Saskatchewan economies.”

However several Independent senators rose to speak in favour of the bill, including Yukon Independent Sen. Pat Duncan.

“I believe we should be doing it,” said Duncan.

Ontario Sen. Donna Dasko, who was on the committee that studied the bill in the Senate, said she thinks “it is quite a good bill.”

“This bill does not actually ban tankers from the Hecate Strait; it simply landlocks Alberta and Saskatchewan oil, and destroys the possibility of economic development in northern Indigenous communities,” said Conservative Sen. Dennis Patterson, a former premier of the Northwest Territories, after the Senate passed it.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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Monument to Canada’s war in Afghanistan gets a home after years of bickering

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OTTAWA — A site has been officially approved for the federal government’s promised national monument for the war in Afghanistan, five years after the memorial was first promised.

The decision by the National Capital Commission on Thursday ends years of bickering over where the memorial should be located and paves the way for it to be built east of the Canadian War Museum in downtown Ottawa.

The national monument is separate from the memorial to soldiers who died in Afghanistan, whose unveiling at the Canadian Forces’ new headquarters building last month prompted an outcry.

The national monument was first promised by the previous Conservative government in May 2014 following the end of Canada’s 13-year mission in Afghanistan.

But while work was to be finished by 2017, the construction timeline became derailed by complaints over the government’s chosen location at Richmond Landing, near the Royal Canadian Navy Monument along the Ottawa River.

Among the concerns was the site was isolated and difficult to reach, particularly in winter and for veterans with accessibility challenges.

Members of the veterans’ community instead overwhelmingly backed a different location to the immediate west of the war museum, which was one of four sites proposed by Veterans Affairs.

But the war museum and its architect, Raymond Moriyama, opposed that site, saying the institution intentionally avoids emphasizing any one conflict and that the memorial would detract from the building’s design.

The approved location is across the street from the museum and behind the National Holocaust Monument. Design work is expected to start in the coming months, with the memorial’s unveiling now scheduled for fall 2023.

Retired major Mark Campbell, who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan, welcomed news that officials had approved a location. He said the monument “has been in limbo far too long.”

The NCC’s decision follows an uproar last month over the way a memorial erected by Canadian soldiers in Kandahar during the Afghan war was unveiled at the Department of National Defence’s new headquarters building under what some alleged was a veil of secrecy.

The monument, with shiny black plaques featuring each of Canada’s military and civilian war dead, stood for years at Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan. It was moved to Canada after the combat mission ended in 2011.

Campbell understood the anger veterans and the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan felt after being excluded from the Kandahar memorial’s unveiling, and welcomed their being allowed to visit it.

But, he added, “people were of the mistaken perception that that was in fact the national Afghanistan War memorial or monument, and it’s not.

“It was a form of remembrance, a concrete form of remembrance, created by soldiers for soldiers. And the current location may not be ideal, but this is not the national monument we’re talking about. This was a monument created by soldiers for soldiers and families.”

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay in a statement said the new location offered “an accessible and fitting place to quietly reflect and honour the courage, sacrifices and achievements of those who served during our country’s mission in Afghanistan.”

More than 40,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014. More than 160 were killed while thousands were left with physical and psychological injuries and trauma.

—Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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