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Gas, smoke and health: three ways federal politics touched us this week

Catherine McKenna, centre, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, steps to the microphone to take questions while flanked by Jim Carr, left, Minister of Natural Resources, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and Dominic LeBlanc, back right, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, after the federal government announced approval of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project, at the Sea Island Coast Guard Base, in Richmond, B.C., on Tuesday, September 27, 2016.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
October 02, 2016 - 6:00 AM

OTTAWA - The baby-blue balloons and parading youth that floated around Parliament Hill this week for a star-studded celebration of young people has given way by week's end to deep reflection about peace in the Middle East.

With the death of Israeli luminary Shimon Peres, who won a Nobel prize for his peace efforts, political leaders of all stripes pointed to the need to emulate his convictions — "that optimism, that belief, even when all evidence is to the contrary, that tomorrow can be better," as U.S. President Barack Obama said.

In federal politics this week, the mood was hardly peaceful. Federal-provincial bickering on health care and climate change loomed large, even as the government conditionally approved a massive liquefied natural gas plant on the West Coast.

Here's how politics touched Canadian lives over the past few days.

GAS:

Ottawa has given its blessing to the $36-billion Pacific NorthWest LNG project near Prince Rupert, B.C., but with 190 conditions that include a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. If the project's owners decide to go ahead, the plan is to ship 19 million tonnes of liquefied gas to Asia over the next 25 years — a project that would also produce millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases and attract billions of dollars in foreign investment.

The approval was central to the Ottawa-British Columbia relationship, since Premier Christy Clark has made LNG production a key part of her economic and fiscal plan for the province.

But what does the approval say for the federal government's commitment to seriously reduce emissions in Canada by 2030, and to respect the will of local First Nations, some of whom are against the development? And what do the 190 conditions say about the government's willingness to offer foreign investors a predictable, workable framework for developing Canada's natural resources?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his ministers, and the premiers of both B.C. and Alberta say the LNG decision strikes a careful balance between environmental protection, economic development and sending a signal of reliability to business. And with federal-provincial relations on thin ice these days, that momentary meeting of the minds is, to them, precious.

HEALTH:

The standoff between the federal government and the provinces over how to fund health care is now out in the open, with no resolution in sight.

Over the course of interviews and speeches this week, Health Minister Jane Philpott urged provinces to focus on a health accord that prioritizes home care, palliative care, mental health and prescriptions.

But the provinces have sent a letter to Ottawa threatening to hold off on climate talks until they see money on the table.

The federal Liberals have made a top priority of clinching a solid climate deal by the end of the year, complete with targets, timelines and deadlines. Climate will be the focus of federal-provincial negotiations next week, and later this year at a first ministers meeting — unless the provinces make good on their threat.

But because Ottawa has made a big deal out of renewing its relationship with the provinces, opened several different negotiations at the same time and talked about a new approach to health care, the provinces feel they have some bargaining power.

So far, the federal government has committed to spending $3 billion over three years on home care, but has resisted the provinces' calls to reinstate a six-per-cent annual increase in federal transfers to the provinces. Instead, the provinces are in line to get increases of about three per cent a year.

SMOKE:

New rules for e-cigarettes are coming soon to a vaping store near you.

As the shops pop up near high schools across the country, the federal government says it wants to introduce legislation this fall to make sure young people aren't lured into nicotine addiction — even while assuring adult smokers can still buy vaping products as a potentially less harmful alternative to tobacco.

Philpott recognizes that regulation won't be easy, mainly because vaping is so new that scientists don't fully understand the pros and cons.

Several provinces already have measures for vaping, but the Cancer Society believes federal standards are required.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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