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Canada  

Taxes on alcohol to rise

The federal government is continuing to squeeze beer drinkers with the 2019 budget.

Federal excise tax on all alcohol products will go up on April 1, the third increase in just two years.

The Government of Canada says the rates of excise duty on beer, spirits, and wine are adjusted annually every April 1 based on changes to the Consumer Price Index.

Taxes on alcohol in Canada will automatically rise without a vote in Parliament unless the annual tax is repealed. 

"By keeping the escalator tax in place and not removing it in budget 2019, the federal government has chosen to keep making life more expensive for hard working, middle-class Canadians" said Luke Harford, President of Beer Canada.

"The government has chosen to ignore brewers, barley farmers, wine makers, distillers, the hospitality industry and the 53,000 Canadians that signed our petition to repeal the escalator tax in 2018."  



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Equalization ultimatum?

The leader of Alberta's United Conservatives is promising a referendum on equalization if there's no major progress on market-opening pipelines.

Jason Kenney says if he becomes premier the matter would be put to voters on Oct. 18, 2021 — the same date as the next municipal elections in Alberta.

The federal equalization program is meant to even out fiscal disparities between so called "have" and "have-not" provinces.

Despite its economic doldrums, Alberta remains a "have" province.

Kenney says Albertans can no longer tolerate other governments benefiting from Alberta resources while doing everything they can to block development.

He is also vowing to take Ottawa to court if a contentious federal bill on resource project reviews becomes law and to block energy shipments to any province that block pipelines.



Do jets have safety option?

Canada's two largest airlines have at least one of the optional safety features on their Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft that were reportedly lacking on the jets that crashed in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

Air Canada and WestJet Airlines both say they purchased disagree lights used by the aircraft's software system during flight to avert stalls.

The New York Times has reported the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air jets involved in recent fatal crashes were not equipped with angle of attack indicators and disagree lights.

According to the report, the safety features are not standard on the aircraft and are offered by Boeing as upgrades.

Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur said the country's largest airline purchased both safety features for its fleet of 24 Max 8 planes.

However, WestJet spokeswoman Morgan Bell said the Calgary-based airline's 13 Max 8 planes are not configured with the angle of attack indicators.

Neither airline would disclose the cost of purchasing these options.

Sunwing Airlines, which has four Max 8s, and Boeing didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The indicators help pilots detect any erroneous readings from two vanelike sensors that determine the position of the plane's nose relative to oncoming air.

The angle of attack indicator displays the readings of the two sensors while the disagree light is activated if the sensors don't provide the same information, the U.S. daily said.

The MCAS system can automatically push down the plane's nose to prevent stalling if it determines that the it is pointing up at a dangerous level.

The New York Times also said, citing unnamed sources, that Boeing will soon update the MCAS software and make the disagree light standard on all new 737 Max planes, but maintain the angle of attack indicator as an option.

The causes of the Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10 and the Lion Air crash five months earlier, both on takeoff, are being investigated. Investigators are looking at whether a new software system added to avoid stalls may have been a contributing factor.

Air Canada has removed its grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 jets from service until at least July 1 in order to provide more certainty for passengers that wish to book flights in the coming months.

The two airline rivals have also suspended their 2019 financial guidances.



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Liberals sink in polls

A new poll conducted by Leger for The Canadian Press suggests the governing federal Liberals have lost ground to the Conservatives over the past month.

Overall, 31 per cent of respondents polled after the federal budget was released Tuesday said they would vote for Justin Trudeau's Liberals if an election were held now, a decline of about three percentage points from February.

That compared with 37 per cent who said they would back the Conservatives under leader Andrew Scheer, a one-point increase from February, while 14 per cent said they would vote NDP and 10 per cent the Greens.

Scheer also jumped ahead of Trudeau on the question of who would make a better prime minister as the Tory leader got the backing of 25 per cent of respondents compared with 24 per cent for Trudeau, who has been struggling to contain damage from the SNC-Lavalin affair.

As for the budget, which the Liberals are hoping will help turn the page on SNC-Lavalin, 12 per cent of respondents said it was good and 19 per cent that it was bad, but 39 per cent said they didn't really know about it.

Leger's internet-based survey, which cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered random samples, was conducted March 19 and 20 using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology and heard from 1,529 Canadians who are eligible to vote and were recruited from the firm's online panel.



Crowd slipped pot brownies

Ontario's provincial police say they're investigating after several people appeared to "overdose" on cannabis after eating brownies served at a community lunch.

Police did not provide details about the event in Whitestone, Ont., including when it took place.

But they say several attendees required medical attention after eating the brownies.

Police say they experienced symptoms such as dry mouth, disorientation and occasional nausea.

Police say no one suffered lasting effects from the spiked dessert.

No suspects are in custody and the investigation is ongoing.



Stark differences on ballot

NDP Leader Rachel Notley and United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney both spoke to crowds in Lethbridge, Alta., last night with a common message — voters will have a stark choice on election day.

Notley urged cheering supporters to re-elect an NDP government on April 16, warning that only her team will fight to protect public health care and ensure that all people are treated fairly.

She also attacked Kenney, saying she knows there are conservative supporters who are unhappy with how he won the UCP leadership.

Notley says she will work her tail off to win their support and that Kenney is not fit to be premier.

In a different part of the city Kenney blamed Alberta's economic downturn on NDP policies that he says have driven away investment and killed jobs.

He says it is up to people to vote for change and UCP policies that under his leadership will get the province back on track.

This morning, Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel is to announce a plan to double the number of educational assistants in K to 12 classrooms.

Later today, the three party leaders are to shift their campaigns to Calgary for speeches and rallies.



Voting marathon continues

Members of Parliament are continuing their marathon voting session as opposition parties protest the Trudeau government's efforts to shut down any further investigation into the SNC-Lavalin affair.

The Liberal majority shot down a Conservative motion calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to let former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould testify more fully about her allegation that she was improperly pressured to drop a criminal prosecution of the Montreal-based engineering giant.

The motion was defeated by a vote of 161-134.

That set the stage for a Conservative-sponsored filibuster Wednesday night, requiring 257 separate votes on items in the government's spending estimates.

Former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott is adding more fuel to the fire in an interview with Maclean's magazine.

She says in the interview that there's "much more to the story that should be told."

Philpott resigned from cabinet over the government's handling of the SNC-Lavalin controversy earlier this month.

Since any vote involving government spending is automatically considered a confidence vote, Liberals were required to be out in force to avoid potential defeat of the government.

The voting could theoretically last 36 hours, but the Conservatives have only to keep it going until just after 10 a.m. today to scrub the remainder of the parliamentary day.



Families await sentencing

Kevin Matechuk says he will never, never forgive the semi driver who caused the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

Matechuk's 19-year-old son Layne of Colonsay, Sask., is still coping with a brain injury he suffered in the collision last April. The young man's recovery is expected to be a long one.

The trucker who blew through a stop sign and caused the crash, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu of Calgary, is to be sentenced in Melfort, Sask., on Friday.

"I know he purposely didn't go out to kill all those people but he did ... run that stop sign," Matechuk said recently from the family's temporary home in Saskatoon.

"It was his fault."

Sixteen people were killed and 13 were injured when the transport truck drove into the path of the junior hockey team's bus at a rural Saskatchewan intersection.

Court heard that Sidhu went by four signs warning about the upcoming intersection before he came up to an oversized stop sign with a flashing light. His lawyer told court Sidhu was an inexperienced driver distracted by a flapping tarp on the back of his load.

Sidhu, 30, pleaded guilty to 29 counts of dangerous driving and apologized in court. The Crown has asked that he serve 10 years in prison. The defence did not propose a specific sentence but said other cases point to between 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 years.

Family members submitted 90 victim impact statements during an emotional sentencing hearing in January. Some said they forgive Sidhu, while others said they are too angry.

"It's funny how the wide range of different people feel and everyone's entitled to their own opinion," said Matechuk.

Melanie Smith of Leduc, Alta., whose 20-year-old son Tyler was also injured, said she'll be glad to have the court case over with.

"We're content about how it turned out with him pleading guilty to all 29 counts and the emotion he showed," she said.

"We don't really have any thoughts either way on what he ends up getting sentenced. The problem is you either have to forgive or you somehow have to get past whose fault it was. It was his fault. And as a family we're content."

Former NHL player Chris Joseph of St. Albert, Alta., lost his 20-year-old son Jaxon in the crash.

He said forgiveness won't bring his son back. And he's going to be disappointed in whatever sentence Sidhu gets.

"I don't know if there's any number that would make me happy," he said.

"He did the crime. He needs to do the time. And we would like the legal system to show that it doesn't matter that you feel bad. It's nice that you feel bad. It doesn't matter though."

Michelle Straschnitzki's 19-year-old son, Ryan, from Airdrie, Alta., was paralyzed from the chest down. She said she has days when she would like to think forgiveness is possible.

But her anger overwhelms those feelings.

"There are days that it's no — no matter what. Nothing's going to be OK again and 16 people are gone and the lives of 13 children are still in flux."

She wants the judge to give Sidhu a harsh sentence.

"It has to be more than a slap on the wrist. It has to send a message," she said.

"Unfortunately it won't really change anything, but it has to make a difference and change people's minds."



Science vs 'fake news'

A marine mammal scientist in Vancouver says he thinks his work has been misrepresented online and he's worried it's part of a trend that has him and his colleagues questioning whether they should talk to media at all in the era of "fake news."

"We've got groups that perhaps don't understand the science but they hear a little piece of science that fits with their own narrative, so they grab onto that," said Andrew Trites, who oversees the marine mammal unit at the University of British Columbia.

"The truth doesn't matter as much as hearing something that works to support your cause."

Trites said a Washington state advocacy group called Save Family Farming recently posted a story alongside a slide from a presentation he gave on the endangered southern resident killer whales.

Trites said the slide shows population changes over a 45-year period, which show four different periods of decline, but could be used to illustrate an overall positive trend.

Save Family Farming's post specifically says the data doesn't mean the whales are safe and adds that Trites and other experts believe the prognosis for the species is not very positive.

But Trites said many people could glance at the page and reach the wrong conclusion. It's a dangerous graph to show in isolation because so many people just read headlines and look at the visuals without reading the story or context.

"The image is very powerful," he said.

Gerald Baron, executive director of Save Family Farming, said the organization fairly and accurately represented Trites' position. The post lists many of the challenges the whales face.

"Obviously you can't put in the headline what the whole story was, but I think we were very careful when we show the chart that this is one of a series of increases and declines," he said. "I think the entire message of it was, these whales are in trouble but they're in trouble due to a number of factors."

David Shiffman, a marine biologist with Simon Fraser University, said he has heard many colleagues gripe about the media's representation of science and believes basic media training for scientists could help solve the problem.

"When they explain the situation to me and exactly what happened, it could have been avoided if they had a little more familiarity with common media practices and the differences in culture between journalists and scientists," he said.

Shiffman has a study underway analysing media and discourse and says the problem isn't getting better.

Thomas Sisk, a professor of environmental science and policy at Northern Arizona University, has also studied the issue.

Beyond media coverage, he said science is not getting the attention it should in political decisions.

"I see a sort of despair that's created by the lack of attention to science generally and the lack of attention when science really does have something to offer in terms of a policy issue," he said.

As an example, he said he was surprised to see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau say the government's decision to back the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project was based on "rigorous debate on science and evidence."

Sisk said he submitted a peer-reviewed paper to Trudeau's office on the potential impacts of oilsands on the marine environment and never heard back. A journalist later shared documents obtained through a freedom of information request showing discussion of his work between officials with Natural Resources Canada.

"That seemed to me to clearly indicate that our work had been received, considered, distributed within government and their replies were basically as to how they were going to counter it rather than how to take it into account," he said.



All-night filibuster underway

Members of Parliament were bracing Wednesday for an all-night voting marathon as opposition parties protested the Trudeau government's efforts to shut down any further investigation into the SNC-Lavalin affair.

The Liberal majority shot down a Conservative motion calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to let former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould testify more fully about her allegation that she was improperly pressured to drop a criminal prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

The motion was defeated by a vote of 161-134.

That set the stage for a Conservative-sponsored filibuster, requiring 257 separate votes on items in the government's spending estimates. The voting could theoretically last 36 hours, but the Conservatives have only to keep it going until just after 10 a.m. Thursday to scrub the remainder of the parliamentary day.

Since any vote involving government spending is automatically considered a confidence vote, Liberals were required to be out in force to avoid potential defeat of the government.

The filibuster started Wednesday evening — one day after Liberals on the House of Commons justice committee used their majority to pull the plug on their investigation into the affair.

Wilson-Raybould has already testified for nearly four hours before the committee, having been granted a waiver from solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality to freely discuss events from last fall — when the inappropriate pressure was allegedly applied — until Jan. 14, when she was shuffled out of the dual justice and attorney general post to Veterans Affairs.

The Conservative motion called on Trudeau to extend the waiver of cabinet confidentiality to cover the period from Jan. 14 to mid-February, when Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet.

Wilson-Raybould has said she has more to say about what occurred after she was shuffled, but she was not in the Commons for the vote on the Conservative motion. Nor was Jane Philpott, who resigned from cabinet in solidarity with Wilson-Raybould early this month, saying she'd lost confidence in the government's handling of the SNC-Lavalin file.

However, the Conservatives are not giving up just yet. They are asking the Commons ethics committee to launch its own investigation into the affair, starting with calling Wilson-Raybould to testify by no later than March 27. The Liberal-dominated committee is to consider the request on Thursday.

A month ago, when the Commons voted on another opposition motion to let the former minister testify freely, Wilson-Raybould abstained but then added fuel to the SNC-Lavalin fire by saying: "I understand fully that Canadians want to know the truth and want transparency; privilege and confidentiality are not mine to waive and I hope that I have the opportunity to speak my truth."

Liberals nervously waited to see whether she or Philpott would bring another can of gas to Wednesday's vote. They did not, adding to Liberals' professed comfort at letting the pair remain in the governing caucus and seek re-election as Liberals this fall, despite their lack of confidence in the prime minister.

Wilson-Raybould attended part of a closed-door Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday morning but Philpott did not show up.

"They've both indicated that they continue to believe in the Liberal party and want to stand for us in the election in the fall. I look forward to continuing to work together," Trudeau said on his way into the caucus meeting.

"You know, sometimes there are differences of opinion but we're a big tent," echoed Liberal caucus chair Francis Scarpaleggia, a Quebec MP.

Despite the efforts to unite and put the affair behind them, one source said Philpott faced a "frank and emotional" session with her Ontario caucus colleagues prior to the national caucus meeting she did not attend. And both Philpott and Wilson-Raybould were allowed to miss the marathon voting session, in the belief that sleep-deprived Liberal MPs might take out their frustration on the pair as the voting dragged on into the wee hours of the morning.



Idle No More wins in court

A judge has dismissed charges against one of the founders of the Indigenous Idle No More protest movement who was accused of living illegally on Saskatchewan park land.

Sylvia McAdam and her brother Kurtis were to stand trial for failing to comply with a provincial government order to vacate land in the Zig Zag Bay area near the community of Big River.

The Crown has 30 days to appeal the decision.

Court heard that Sylvia McAdam was living on the land for two years before she was ordered to leave early in 2017.

She argued her family had been at Zig Zag Bay for generations and she had a Treaty right to live on the land.

McAdam says the court ruling is a relief.

"My family has always lived there," McAdam said outside court in Prince Albert Wednesday. "For the province to come and create a park there without our consent, in violation of Treaty 6, is problematic."

Her lawyer, Larry Kowalchuk, says the family hopes to work out an agreement with the government for use of the land.

McAdam says she hopes to be able to live back on the property some day.

"That's where I grew up," she said.

Idle No More says it was formed in 2012 as a protest against the introduction of a bill by the former Conservative government to change legislation, including the Indian Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act and Environmental Assessment Act.

The group argued that the changes diminished the rights and authority of Indigenous communities while making it easier for governments and businesses to push through projects without strict environmental assessment.



Liberal MP quits caucus

Celina Caesar-Chavannes has informed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that she's leaving the federal Liberal caucus and will sit as an independent MP.

The Whitby, Ont., MP has been a vocal supporter of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, two cabinet ministers who resigned over the SNC-Lavalin affair.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail last week, she also accused Trudeau of yelling at her angrily when she informed him that she would not be seeking re-election this fall — an accusation the Prime Minister's Office has denied.

In a tweet Wednesday, Caesar-Chavannes said that interview "has had unintended effects on those I care about. Although that was not the intention, it was the consequence, and I am sorry. I no longer want to distract from the great work my caucus colleagues are doing. Love and hugs, C."

But Conservatives pounced on the defection, arguing that Caesar-Chavannes's exit, added to the departures of Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from cabinet, prove that Trudeau is a "fake feminist."

Conservative House leader Candice Bergen said the "good old boys" in the Prime Minister's Office wanted Wilson-Raybould to avert a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and when she refused, "she was promptly fired and silenced."

"The prime minister is really good at yelling and screaming at women, as the member from Whitby knows, and he's also a very good actor. But, Mr. Speaker, he's a fake feminist," Bergen told the House of Commons.

Trudeau said he'll take no lessons on feminism from Conservatives who "still want to challenge a woman's right to choose" to have an abortion.

Caesar-Chavannes, first elected in 2015, has been a relatively high-profile backbencher, primarily as an advocate for the rights of black Canadians. She's gotten into several Twitter wars with Maxime Bernier, leader of the People's Party of Canada, who once accused her of thinking "the world revolves around your skin colour." On another occasion, she apologized to Bernier after telling him to "check your privilege and be quiet" when he questioned funding for minority groups.

She also made news in 2016 when she openly talked about her battle with depression.

At the time, Caesar-Chavannes, who was initially named parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, praised Trudeau's understanding of mental illness but she has since soured on his leadership.

Throughout the SNC-Lavalin saga, she has used social media to send messages of solidarity — accompanied by a clenched-fist emoji — to Wilson-Raybould and Philpott.

In January, she used a speech at Parliament's annual dinner tribute to Scottish poet Robbie Burns to take a swipe at Trudeau for moving Wilson-Raybould out of the prestigious justice portfolio to Veterans Affairs in a small cabinet shuffle earlier that month, to be replaced by Montreal MP David Lametti. Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet a few weeks later, although both she and Philpott, who resigned subsequently from cabinet, remain members of the Liberal caucus.



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