Highlights from the news file for Tuesday, Dec. 12———OTTAWA TO BUY AUSSIE JETS, TWEAK PROCESS: The Trudeau government is kicking off its latest bid to replace its aging fleet of fighter jets — and adding a new requirement to the procurement process by assessing a company’s overall impact on the Canadian economy. The government is launching a full competition to replace Canada’s aging CF-18s with 88 new fighters by as early as 2025, a move that comes in the midst of an ongoing trade dispute with Boeing. The U.S. aerospace giant has been eager to submit its Super Hornet to compete for the contract, which is valued at up to $19 billion and expected to start delivering jets in 2025. But the new stipulation could well have an impact on Boeing if its trade dispute with Canadian rival Bombardier is still alive and ends up being deemed harmful to Canada’s economic interests. The Liberals are also officially abandoning a plan to buy 18 Super Hornets to temporarily boost Canada’s CF-18 fleet, saying they plan instead to buy 18 second-hand fighter jets from Australia.———RICHARD WAGNER NAMED HIGH COURT CHIEF JUSTICE: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed Montreal-born Richard Wagner, a self-proclaimed advocate of judicial independence, as the next chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Wagner, 60, was called to the Quebec bar in 1980 and practised law until being appointed to the Quebec Superior Court in 2004. He sat in the civil, commercial and criminal divisions of the court until 2011 when he was appointed to the Quebec Court of Appeal. Former prime minister Stephen Harper named him to the Supreme Court only five years ago, and Wagner has another 15 years before mandatory retirement to define his legacy as chief. Trudeau had been under pressure to name a Quebecer as chief, in keeping with the tradition of alternating between a civil code jurist from Quebec and a common-law one. The current chief justice, Beverley McLachlin, is stepping down Friday after 28 years on the court, including almost 18 years as chief. McLachlin, 74, is the first woman to hold the top job on the high court and also Canada’s longest-serving chief justice.———CANADIAN ASTRONAUT HEADING TO SPACE IN 2018: The coming year is promising to be a busier one than usual for the Canadian Space Agency. After a five-year lull, a Canadian astronaut will finally head back into space, with David Saint-Jacques scheduled to blast off for a long-term visit to the International Space Station in November 2018. The last time a Canadian visited the orbiting space laboratory was in 2013 when Chris Hadfield completed a stay that lasted almost five months. Saint-Jacques, an engineer and doctor, will begin his first space voyage when he launches aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The 47-year-old astronaut, who will become the ninth Canadian to travel to space, will be joined on the trip by an American and a Russian. Saint-Jacques, who will also be the Russian space capsule’s co-pilot, says it takes a lot of time just to prepare for the blast-off. “You’ve got to be ready on the launch pad, flying that rocket and knowing everything you have to know, so that’s why the training is several years,” he said recently. Saint-Jacques will also have to deal with the psychological challenge of being away from the planet, his wife and three young children, aged six, four and one.———GST ON CARBON TAXES TO NET FEDS MILLION, PBO SAYS: A new report from Parliament’s budget watchdog says carbon pricing in four provinces could net the federal government more than $500 million over two years in GST revenues. The report by the parliamentary budget officer, out today, says GST revenues from Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Quebec could total between $236 million and $267 million by the end of the current fiscal year next April, and between $265 million and $313 million in the next fiscal year. Jean-Denis Frechette’s report says the calculations will help Canadians understand the impact of a national carbon pricing policy on revenue from the goods and services tax. The Liberals are expected to introduce legislation next year to allow the federal government to impose a carbon price on provinces that don’t meet the federal standard on their own. The federal plan calls for a price on carbon pollution of $10 per tonne in 2018, increasing by $10 every year to $50 per tonne in 2022.———ALBERTA MLA SAYS HE REGRETS FIRING WOMAN IN SEX CASE: Alberta’s Opposition house leader says he regrets once firing a female employee because she complained about sexual harassment. But Jason Nixon says he and his United Conservative Party caucus are committed to ending harassment and abuse in the workplace. Nixon is the leader of the United Conservatives in the house until leader Jason Kenney wins a seat. Last week, Nixon spoke out in the legislature against a bill that will toughen sanctions on workplace harassment, saying the industry has shown it can police itself. But new reports show that Nixon, while in private business a decade ago, was fined by a B.C. human rights panel after he fired a female employee at the behest of a contractor when she complained of sexual harassment. Premier Rachel Notley says it was dishonest of Nixon to criticize proposed new workplace harassment rules without mentioning that he had been fined for firing a woman who had spoken out.———INTELLIGENCE REFORM NEEDED, MUSLIM GROUP SAYS: A national Muslim group says reform of national security agencies — not more oversight and review — is needed to rebuild confidence and trust. The National Council of Canadian Muslims tells MPs studying the Liberal government’s wide-ranging national security bill that new watchdog powers won’t fix the “culture of impunity” and systemic ills within Canadian security agencies. The council’s Ihsaan Gardee says the bill strengthens the security establishment, even as the available evidence suggests disarray — bias and top-down bullying — within the institutions that carry out intelligence-gathering and enforcement. The Liberal government’s security legislation revises elements of a contentious omnibus bill brought in by the Harper Conservatives after a gunman killed a sentry at the National War Memorial in 2014. The bill would limit — but not eliminate — powers that allow the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to actively disrupt terror plots, not just gather information about them. It also opens the door to new paths for security services in data-sifting and cyberwarfare, and bolsters accountability and review through a new super-watchdog and an intelligence commissioner.———INDIGENOUS LEADERS SOUND ALARM OVER LEGAL POT: A number of Indigenous leaders say they don’t see the prospect of a recreational cannabis regime as a “cash cow,” and fear the black market will set its sights on targeting their vulnerable communities. Isadore Day, the Ontario regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says he and Quebec Regional Chief Ghislain Picard are leading discussions on how First Nations communities will address the impacts of pot legalization. He says he fears for Indigenous community safety because the federal government is moving so quickly with its plan to legalize pot by July 2018. Day also calls it embarrassing that Indigenous leaders weren’t invited to take part in Monday’s talks between finance ministers in Ottawa. Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced a two-year agreement that will see Ottawa give 75 per cent of tax revenues to the provinces and territories while Ottawa retains the remaining 25 per cent, to a maximum of $100 million a year.———ACCUSED IN LAC-MEGANTIC DISASTER WON’T TESTIFY: Lawyers representing the three men charged with criminal negligence in the Lac-Megantic rail disaster that killed 47 people announced in court Tuesday they won’t call any witnesses. As a consequence, the 14 jurors were released and are scheduled to return to court Jan. 3 for closing statements from the Crown followed by the final arguments from lawyers for the accused. Tom Harding and former colleagues Richard Labrie and Jean Demaitre are each facing one count of criminal negligence causing the death of 47 people. They have all pleaded not guilty. Thomas Walsh, a lawyer for train conductor Harding, said in an interview the defence teams decided to not call witnesses because they don’t believe the Crown met the burden of proof. On July 6, 2013, a runaway train carrying crude oil from the United States derailed in Lac-Megantic and exploded, destroying part of the downtown core. The Crown argued the locomotive weighing more than 10,000 tonnes was not properly secured, leaving it resting precariously on a slope, 10 kilometres away from downtown Lac-Megantic.———ONTARIO OPPOSITION LEADER DISMISSES PREMIER’S LAWSUIT AS A STUNT: Ontario’s Opposition leader is brushing off a defamation lawsuit the premier has launched against him as a political stunt — increasing the likelihood the dispute will drag on through the June election. Premier Kathleen Wynne sued Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown this week for comments he made in September that her lawyers say wrongly characterized the premier as being on trial. Wynne said Tuesday that she would drop the lawsuit if he simply said he was sorry. That outcome seemed unlikely Tuesday, as Brown declined to apologize. “The only person who should be apologizing is Kathleen Wynne for these stunts, these theatrics,” Brown said. “I’ve made it very clear and abundantly clear that it was her closest adviser who was on trial in Sudbury.” The legal action stems from comments Brown made a day before Wynne testified as a witness at a trial in Sudbury, Ont., involving two provincial Liberals — including Wynne’s deputy chief of staff — facing Election Act bribery charges. The pair was ultimately acquitted.———‘MAN FLU’ MAY NOT BE MERE MYTHOLOGY, STUDY SAYS: A researcher who blended scientific review with humour is suggesting those who believe “man flu” is more intense than the female version have some evidence to back their views. The piece was published by a Canadian physician in the December edition of the British Medical Journal. Dr. Kyle Sue, a family physician based in Arviat, Nunavut, found studies on mice and humans going back to the 1990s suggesting flu symptoms in men are often more acute. His study also noted that a seasonal influenza study from 2004 to 2010 in Hong Kong found men had higher rates of hospital admission, and a decade-long American observational study that ended in 2007 suggested men had higher rates of flu-related deaths in comparison to women. “Perhaps now is the time for male friendly spaces, equipped with enormous televisions and reclining chairs, to be set up where men can recover from the debilitating effects of man flu in safety and comfort,” Sue wrote. The British Medical Journal’s December issue is meant to be a special issue that has peer-reviewed articles, but allows authors to use some humour, said Navjoyt Ladher, the editor who put the issue together.
A week after New Brunswickers voted in a provincial election that proved to be a surprising cliffhanger, confusion remains over who will lead the province. But it doesn’t have to be this way, according to advocates and experts.The problem, says Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch, is that the rules that purport to govern what happens after an inconclusive election are unwritten conventions that don’t necessarily apply to New Brunswick.“If you want to have a fair and democratic legislature and a fair election … you need these rules written down,” says Conacher, an adjunct law professor at the University of Ottawa.On election night, Premier Brian Gallant’s incumbent Liberals won 21 seats — one fewer than the Progressive Conservatives under Blaine Higgs. With 49 seats in the legislature, and two smaller parties with three seats each, neither major party has enough seats to form a majority.Still, Gallant has insisted that under an unwritten constitutional convention, incumbent premiers are always given the first opportunity to form a government by recalling the legislature and testing the confidence of elected members — even if the incumbent party has fewer seats than their rivals.Gallant has said the legislature will convene for a throne speech by Oct. 23 at the latest.Higgs has cited another convention, which states that the party with the most seats should be called on by the lieutenant-governor to form a government as soon as possible.The problem is that neither man is right, Conacher says.The conventions cited by Gallant and Higgs only apply to the jurisdictions where they have been used for years, he says.The last time New Brunswick had a minority government was almost 100 years ago, which means the province doesn’t have any of its own conventions to determine what should be done.“It’s unprecedented,” says Conacher. “So there is no tradition. There are no rules. There are no conventions.”The conventions established by Ottawa and the other provincial governments can provide guidance, but they are not considered definitive, he says.Having faced similar challenges in the past, the parliaments in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand have all spelled out their post-election conventions in so-called cabinet manuals.“They haven’t had any problems with their minority government parliaments since,” says Conacher. “Why? Because everyone knows the rules.”If the cabinet and the legislature comply with these written rules for several years, then they become constitutional conventions.Peter Russell, one of Canada’s leading constitutional scholars, says cabinet manuals are a good idea.“It would reduce uncertainty, but not remove it,” says the University of Toronto professor emeritus.In Britain, for example, the cabinet manual clearly states that when an election does not result in a majority for a single party, the incumbent government is entitled “to wait until the new parliament has met to see if it can command the confidence of the House of Commons, but is expected to resign” if it becomes clear it is unlikely to secure enough support.If such a rule was in place, Russell says, New Brunswick’s Tory leader would be prevented from describing himself as “premier-elect,” a term that doesn’t really exist anyway because premiers are not directly elected.And if a government tried to violate one of those written conventions, the Speaker of the legislature and the lieutenant-governor would both be justified in saying no to the premier, Conacher says.But there’s a catch.Since cabinet manual rules are typically non-binding, Democracy Watch says some key rules should be made law, including rules about which party gets to try governing first, when the legislature will open and how a vote of non-confidence is defined.However, such laws would be difficult to pass, says Mark Walters, a professor of constitutional law at McGill University in Montreal.Conventions codified as legal rules would probably require a formal constitutional amendment, mainly because such a set of laws would affect the office of the lieutenant-governor — the Queen’s representative at the provincial level.“Perhaps the real obstacle to replacing the conventions with written legal rules is just the complexity of the task,” Walters said.“To move to a different system based upon clear and strict rules would really require wholesale constitutional change. It’s possible, but it would be a daunting task of constitutional writing that would open up many other aspects of our system of constitutional government to critical scrutiny.”Conacher says the eight rules Democracy Watch has contemplated at the provincial level would not require that much effort because each change could be enacted through a simple act of parliament.