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Navy enters new era by welcoming long-awaited Arctic warship into fleet

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OTTAWA — The Royal Canadian Navy is poised to enter a new era by taking possession of the first armed warship under the federal government’s multibillion-dollar shipbuilding plan, and the first built for Arctic military operations in decades.

HMCS Harry deWolf will be welcomed in a ceremony at Canadian Forces Base Halifax on Friday, five years after Irving Shipbuilding first started cutting steel on the Arctic offshore patrol ship — and two years later than originally scheduled.

Top navy commanders will be on hand to mark the occasion along with representatives from Irving, which is slated to build five more such vessels for the navy and two for the Canadian Coast Guard in the next few years.

While the deWolf’s delivery is a major milestone for the federal government’s shipbuilding plan — through which Ottawa is replacing nearly all of the large ships in the navy and coast guard — it wasn’t easy coming.

Then-prime minister Stephen Harper first announced plans to build up to eight armed Arctic patrol vessels in July 2007 and Irving was selected in October 2011 to produce them before building replacements for the navy’s frigates and destroyers.

But the following years saw several cost overruns and delays in the program.

After work started on the deWolf in 2015, Irving said it would only be able to build five ships with the $3.1 billion budgeted for the project. The government ended up increasing the budget to $4.1 billion for six.

That money does not include the two ships for the coast guard, which are expected to cost about $400 million each.

Technical problems were also blamed for pushing the delivery date back several times. Then Irving closed its Halifax shipyard in March for several months because of COVID-19.

Despite those setbacks, University of Calgary professor Rob Huebert described the deWolf’s arrival as an “amazing step forward” for the Royal Canadian Navy. It’s the first vessel specially built for military operations in the Arctic since the 1950s.

And the timing couldn’t come at a better time as more and more countries are starting to increase their interest — and military footprints — in the Far North as it becomes easier to access due to climate change, said Huebert, who is an expert on Arctic policy.

“Even the most profound Arctic exceptionalist who says the Arctic is just peace, love and ‘Kumbaya’ will recognize there is a growing need to have at least a presence in the Arctic as it opens up and becomes a greater part of the geopolitical environment,” he said.

“But once again, this is going to now give us a capability to operate that we haven’t had since a short little period between 1956 to ’57 with (HMCS) Labrador.”

The Labrador was an icebreaker built for the navy but was in the fleet just a few years before being transferred to non-military use.

The navy was actually disdainful when Harper announced the new Arctic ships in 2007. Part of it was their slow speed and light armament, as the ships have only one small cannon. But mostly it was because the navy saw the Arctic as coast guard territory.

“Because they had not done this since ’57, there was a little bit of: OK, what the hell do we do with these ships? We know what we need to do with NATO and in the Pacific. But this is going to sort of require us to scratch our head,'” Huebert said.

“Once the navy got comfortable and started realizing what it could do with it, that has subsequently changed.”

The Royal Canadian Navy is only the latest naval force to join the fray in the Far North. Russia, the U.S., China and some European countries have been increasing their maritime capabilities in the region in recent years as part of a seemingly slow military buildup.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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Air Force, UN food agency tackle skyrocketing COVID-19 hunger in Latin America

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OTTAWA — The head of the UN World Food Program says the COVID-19 crisis has dramatically increased the number of starving people in Latin America, which could trigger a refugee exodus to North America if not addressed.

David Beasley, the agency’s director, issued the warning as the Royal Canadian Air Force began Saturday to prepare to end its nearly two-week mission in which a mammoth C-17 Globemaster transport crisscrossed Central and South America and the Caribbean delivering tonnes of medical supplies.

Beasley said there has been a 269 per increase in food insecurity in the region since the pandemic struck.

Beasley tells The Canadian Press that 4.7 million people were already “marching to the brink of starvation” before the pandemic but now that number has that has risen to 16 million.

Beasley praised Canada for lending the Globemaster and nearly three dozen personnel to work in tandem with the WFP and World Health Organization to deliver supplies throughout the region from a newly built hub in Panama.

But he said unless the world answers the biggest humanitarian crisis in the World Food Program’s history, people will die and economic and political upheaval will ensue.

The agency is launching a six-month US$4.9 billion appeal to help feed 138 million people in 83 countries. Since the pandemic struck there have been serious food-insecurity increases in west and central Africa (135 per cent) and southern Africa (90 per cent).

Beasley says tackling the problem will also mean spending hundreds of millions of dollars more to battle the rising hunger in Canada’s Western Hemisphere backyard.

“The first thing is: let’s do what’s good; let’s do what’s right. And if that’s not good enough, do it out of your national-security interest,” Beasley said in an interview.

“If patterns of experience are of any indication, if the economic deterioration due to COVID continues as it is, and we don’t have safety-net programs in place, I don’t see how you don’t have mass migration,” he added.

“You won’t have a mass migration today, tomorrow, but you will have it soon.”

The region was already struggling under the weight of Venezuela’s political and economic crisis. Prior to the pandemic, the UN estimated that six million Venezuelans would flee their country by the year’s end, as its economic, health and education systems collapsed. Neighbouring countries such as Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador have been bearing the brunt of the influx.

While those countries have been welcoming, COVID-19 has added an extra layer of strain and Beasley said the leaders of those countries told him last week they are extremely worried.

“This is why the international community has to step up. Otherwise there’s going to be chaos,” he said.

“And we have a vaccine for this chaos — it’s called food.”

The former Republican governor of South Carolina visited Ottawa in mid-March, meeting multiple Canadian politicians right before the pandemic slammed normal activities to a halt. Beasley would test positive for COVID-19 himself days later, touching off a short-lived panic and rush of testing among the MPs and officials he saw; he’s since recovered.

Beasley was in Panama last week as part of a six-country tour, where he met Lt.-Col. Adam Pentney, the commander of Canada’s military airlift. He also met with Pentney’s crew as they loaded tonnes of personal protective equipment, medical supplies and other humanitarian supplies onto the Globemaster.

“That C-17 is a workhorse and it is a blessing in a time when we need it most. As you can imagine, we’re extremely grateful to the Canadian government for providing this support,” said Beasley.

“It was a beautiful sight. It was absolutely magnificent because that’s life-saving humanitarian support. It shows what happens when the world collaborates.”

Pentney said C-17 mission is the first time he has been part of such a large humanitarian relief effort so close to home.

“It’s in a region where we don’t often get to visit,” Pentney said in a telephone call from Panama this past week, where he was preparing to pilot the Globemaster’s final mission himself.

Friday’s mission to Guatemala was to be its last before the start of weekend preparations to the bring the plane and the 31 people supporting it back to Canada.

“My message to Canadians is they can be very proud of the support that’s being provided and the work that’s being done to look after our global neighbours,” said Pentney.

“The pandemic is very real here. Canada does have a role and a presence here in our backyard and we’re happy to be able to contribute to that.”

Pentney said he didn’t know if another Globemaster crew would be returning. But Beasley said he’s ramping up his fundraising efforts to target another group of donors because he said governments around the world are already strapped because of the pandemic.

“We’re in the worst crisis since World War Two and it’s time for the billionaires to step up and say, ‘We care about humanity, we care about planet Earth’ because we are at a crossroads on this planet right now,” said Beasley.

“The billionaires, especially those that are making billions because of COVID, they need to step up. We’re taking about millions of people dying.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published August 1, 2020.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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Top court orders parts of N.S. cabinet docs disclosed in judges’ salaries case

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OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled the vast majority of confidential cabinet documents in two provinces should remain secret, in cases dealing with how judges are paid.

However, the ruling does order parts of a cabinet document in Nova Scotia to be disclosed.

The decision deals with two separate cases in Nova Scotia and British Columbia where lower courts had ordered the production of cabinet documents that are traditionally kept highly confidential.

In both provinces, independent commissions set up to review salaries for provincial court judges in 2016 had proposed significant pay hikes, but the cabinets in both provinces rejected those recommendations and decided on smaller pay increases.

In B.C., the judicial compensation commission recommended an 8.2 per cent salary increase for 2017-18 and 1.5 per cent increases for each of the next two years. The B.C. government disagreed with the first raise, going instead with a 3.8 per cent increase for 2017-18, but agreed with the subsequent two raises.

In Nova Scotia, that province’s independent commission recommended a 5.5 per cent pay hike with an additional 1.2 per cent increase the following year and 2.2 per cent more the year after.

Nova Scotia responded by freezing judges salaries for two years and only allowing a one per cent increase in 2019-20, saying at the time it was to bring judges’ salaries in line with what provincial civil servants were receiving at the time.

The judges’ associations in both provinces applied for judicial reviews and wanted to see cabinet submissions that justified altering the recommended salary hikes.

In its unanimous decision Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada quashed the B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision ordering the B.C. government to produce the cabinet documents.

Supreme Court Justice Andromache Karakatsanis wrote that the judicial commission failed to establish there any reason to believe the cabinet documents in that province may contain evidence to show the government failed to meet a three-part test that must be applied in decisions related to judges’ salaries.

However, in the Nova Scotia case, Canada’s top court ruled most of the cabinet submission should remain confidential, except two components: a paragraph in one document labelled “government-wide implications” and an appendix to the report called the “communications plan.”

The Nova Scotia case differed from the B.C. case because of public statements made by government at the time comparing the salaries of judges to those of civil servants. Also, the Nova Scotia salary freeze that was eventually imposed was exactly what the government had proposed in its submissions to the independent commission before it had formulated its recommendations. 

These circumstances called into question whether the Nova Scotia government properly showed respect for the commission’s process, which is a requirement under the law, the ruling states.

Karakatsanis writes that excluding the two portions of the Nova Scotia cabinet documents from being disclosed would undermine the lower courts’ ability to determine whether the three-part test for judges’ salaries was appropriately applied by the Nova Scotia cabinet.

The ruling is not expected to be widely precedent-setting when it comes to the protection of cabinet confidentiality for provincial governments, as the decisions are based on the specific facts and circumstances of these particular cases involving judicial remuneration.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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august, 2020

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