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Alberta

Trudeau says nothing is off the table when it comes to Smith’s new ‘sovereignty’ act

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By Stephanie Taylor and Mia Rabson in Ottawa

Nothing is off the table when it comes to responding to newly proposed legislation that would give Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s government “exceptional powers,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

Trudeau stopped briefly on his way into a Liberal caucus meeting to address the long-awaited legislation Smith’s government introduced Tuesday in the provincial legislature.

The bill, called the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, proposes to give Smith’s cabinet the power to rewrite provincial laws without legislative debate.

Trudeau said his government will be watching closely what happens next.

“I’m not going to take anything off the table,” he said.

“I’m also not looking for a fight,” he added. “We want to continue to be there to deliver for Albertans.”

Smith promised the legislation when she was a candidate in the United Conservative Party leadership race to replace former premier Jason Kenney. She characterized the bill as a way to push back against Ottawa and made it a major focus of her campaign.

Frustration with the federal government over equalization payments and resource development has been a long-standing issue in Alberta. That anger is part of what Smith is hoping to tap into with the new bill.

But critics say what it really proposes is to consolidate power around Smith’s cabinet.

Kenney, who waded into the leadership race for his replacement to call the sovereignty proposal “catastrophically stupid,” resigned after she tabled her plan Tuesday.

“We know that the exceptional powers that the premier is choosing to give the Alberta government in bypassing the Alberta legislature is causing a lot of eyebrows to raise in Alberta,” Trudeau said Wednesday. “We’re going to see how this plays out.”

Under Smith’s bill, her cabinet would have the power to direct “provincial entities,” from municipalities to regional health authorities, to defy federal rules it deems would hurt Alberta’s interests.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who represents a Montreal riding, says Smith’s sovereignty proposal goes too far.

“I don’t think that this is appropriate for a province to determine whether or not a federal law exceeds its constitutionality. That is for a court,” he told reporters.

“If Alberta eventually adopts this bill, we’ll have to see how they use it,” he said.

Smith’s vision for Alberta has drawn comparisons to Quebec, which administers its own provincial pension plan and immigration programs and — in many Albertans’ minds, at least — appears to garner more jurisdictional respect from Ottawa when it wants to go its own way.

Housefather said people should be “wary” to use that analogy.

He pointed out that many head offices and residents left Montreal for Toronto when true Quebec sovereignty, meaning the province’s formal separation from Canada, was on the table.

“Businesses want stability, I think people want stability, and I don’t think the sovereignty act, even if it’s called ‘the sovereignty act in a united Canada,’ offers stability.”

Smith has said her proposal is not about separating from Canada. However, on Wednesday, she released a video on Twitter that described her plans not to enforce so-called Liberal laws that “attack” the province’s economy and individuals’ rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Housefather says the bigger question Smith’s bill raises is about “how Canadians see their country.” Do they see a role for a federal government beyond their province or territory?

“I feel very strongly that as a Canadian, everybody should play in their lane, and playing in their lane means that legislatures don’t determine whether something is constitutional from a different level of government,” he said.

While Smith has said she hopes the bill does not need to be used, briefing materials provided to reporters show her government is prepared to do so as early as next spring to deal with issues ranging from health care to property rights.

Conservatives in Ottawa were largely silent on the matter Wednesday, with two Alberta MPs saying they still needed to read the bill.

Garnett Genuis, another MP from the province, said the best way to allay Albertans’ frustrations with Ottawa is to replace Trudeau.

Genuis had more to say about the proposal during the provincial leadership race, when he backed Travis Toews, who is now a member of Smith’s cabinet.

In an opinion piece published in August, he called the prospective sovereignty act a “cheap trick” that violates the constitution and the rule of law.

“If asserting provincial authority were as easy as passing such a law, it would have been done already,” Genuis wrote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2022.

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Alberta

‘I am sorry’: Man convicted in stabbing of Calgary chef apologizes at sentencing

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

A man convicted of killing a chef apologized Monday and expressed dismay that no one with the victim’s family was in court to to hear it.

Tommie Holloway was convicted of manslaughter while his accomplice, Anthony Dodgson, was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Christophe Herblin.

Herblin was stabbed to death in a parking lot outside his soon-to-be opened Calgary café following a break-in in 2020.

Holloway, 33, told his sentencing hearing that he hoped his words would get through to Herblin’s wife, who wrote in a victim impact statement last December that the killing had left her broken and struggling “to make sense of this tragedy.”

“It got to me. Got me emotional,” said Holloway.

“I just wish they were here today so I could look at them eye-to-eye, apologize for my actions. I know no amount of words that I’m going to say is going to bring back their loved one, but I do want them to know that I am sorry.”

The Crown has recommended Holloway serve 12 years in prison. Defence lawyer Kim Ross said his client had no previous criminal record, has made efforts to turn his life around and should serve three to five years.

“I’m not standing here saying that imprisonment is not appropriate here. The issue is how long,” Ross told Court of King’s Bench Justice Blair Nixon.

“Mr. Holloway has clearly learned his lesson … and I submit with some degree of confidence that this court will never see Mr. Holloway back here again.”

Herblin was a longtime executive sous chef at the Glencoe Golf and Country Club, and his new restaurant was weeks away from opening.

Court heard Dodgson and Holloway broke into the restaurant with plans to get through a wall into an adjacent cannabis shop. They fled when a car drove by and returned later to continue their robbery attempt but became frustrated as Herblin had showed up.

Holloway smashed Herblin’s car windows in order to lure him into the parking lot. Dodgson attacked him and stabbed him nine times.

Herblin staggered to a nearby gas station for help and died shortly after police officers came to his aid.

Ross said Holloway had no knowledge of what was going to happen and immediately ran off after smashing out the car’s windows.

“Mr. Holloway at that point did not know what had happened. He did not know that Mr. Herblin was in the state that he was in and that he had gone to the Shell looking for help,” Ross said.

“He was leaving the scene of a possible break and enter. Certainly at the time of his leaving he did not know.”

Dodgson receives an automatic life sentence for the murder conviction. When the sentencing hearing began for both men in December, the Crown argued that Dodgson should not be eligible for parole for 15 to18 years. His lawyer asked for a range of 10 to 12 years.

The judge is scheduled to deliver his sentence for Holloway and Dodgson on Feb. 24.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2023.

This is a corrected story. A previous version said lawyers were recommending the time Holloway should serve before he is eligible for parole.

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Alberta

Feds will increase annual health transfer and offer targeted funding with conditions

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By Mia Rabson, Laura Osman and Mickey Djuric in Ottawa

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will offer the provinces a “significant” increase to the Canada Health Transfer and additional money if they agree to one-on-one deals targeting specific problem areas in the health-care system.

A senior government official with knowledge of the plan said Trudeau will lay out a 10-year offer when he meets with the country’s 13 premiers in Ottawa on Tuesday.

The Canadian Press agreed to grant the official anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

They said the offer will include a top-up to the annual Canada Health Transfer, which Ottawa sends to the provinces each year with very few strings attached. This year Ottawa transferred $45 billion, which amounts to 22 per cent of what the provinces budgeted for health care.

The premiers want Ottawa to fund 35 per cent, which this year would have required $26 billion more.

Trudeau will offer more money to provinces that make one-on-one deals in specific areas, and with accountability measures attached such as setting targets for improvement and data sharing.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has previously said the federal government’s priority areas include improving access to family doctors, better mental health care, cutting surgical backlogs and a massive improvement to data collection and sharing.

The government’s offer will be made public but not until after it’s given to the premiers on Tuesday.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, who is currently the chair of the premiers’ group known as the Council of the Federation, said the fact premiers haven’t seen any details yet is frustrating.

“If we had it ahead of time we could have had a more fulsome discussion tomorrow,” she said. “There’s no question about that.”

She wouldn’t say if the premiers are flexible on the 35 per cent ask, or what concessions or strings they are open to.

“We want to see what the proposal will look like,” she said. “We’ll go in with an open mind and then we’ll go from there.”

Trudeau said his government doesn’t expect to sign the same deal with every province.

“We recognize that different provinces have different needs and different priorities, and that flexibility is an important part of our responsibility,” he said Monday.

After Tuesday’s talks, Duclos and the provincial health ministers will meet to keep working out the details. There is no specific deadline but the hope is that a new deal will be in place before the next federal budget, which is generally tabled in the early spring.

The federal official said one of Ottawa’s key asks is that the provinces agree to common indicators and the collection and sharing of data, both with other provinces and with Canadians. They said it’s needed to better understand the extent of the problems and to be able to measure progress.

Former health minister Jane Philpott, who was in charge of the file in 2017 when the last federal-provincial health talks took place, said Monday that is a critical element of any successful plan.

In 2017, Ottawa signed bilateral deals with each province and territory to flow $11.5 billion over 10 years to improve mental health care and home care. The deals included an agreement that the provinces would annually report some common indicators. While that has happened, the data is often incomplete and assessing progress is difficult.

“As I look back on that, I would say that the agreements were not as specific as they could have been, and I think that’s the lesson to be learned on this round,” Philpott said.

“When the federal government puts more money on the table, there needs to be accountability for how that money is spent. I think this time I would advise being much more specific about those expectations and potentially even using legislative tools to be able to ensure that the outcomes will be what they need to be.”

She said that could include clawing back money if provinces don’t meet their obligations.

Philpott said the lack of information about how the health-care system is performing is a major issue, as is the lack of hard targets for progress.

An estimated six million Canadians don’t have access to a family doctor or primary care team, and Philpott said a hard target should be to make sure every Canadian has access within five to seven years.

But to do that we’d need to know a lot more about the doctors we have, where they are, and how many hours they work.

“We don’t actually know how many practising family doctors there are in the country, which is a shocking thing,” she said.

Health workers’ unions and associations began ringing alarms about the dwindling number of health-care professionals in the early days of the pandemic. Since then, worker burnout has turned a bad situation into a crisis. They say without a long-term plan to shore up their ranks there is little that can be done to improve the state of health care in Canada.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Monday “any agreement that does not include clear commitments to hire more front-line health care workers would be a failure.”

The Conservatives have been hesitant to comment before seeing Trudeau’s offer but are concerned about the cost.

“What we’ve seen over the last eight years is that Justin Trudeau has thrown money at all kinds of different challenges and, in general, things are getting worse,” said Conservative MP Garnett Genuis Monday.

“When we see a proposal from the government we’ll review it, we’ll see whether the government’s actually going to get us out of the failures they’ve caused.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2023.

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