The federal government prepared legislation for introduction in Parliament this week that will set out terms for negotiations with Quebec if it votes to secede in a referendum. The proposed law was designed to comply with guidelines oudined last year by the Supreme Court, which stated that Canada and Quebec should negotiate details if Quebecers vote—by a clear majority on a clear question—to leave Canada. Although the legislation may not define precisely what would constitute a majority or clarity in a question, it would outline issues to be resolved before separation. One element, said federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, would be establishing the borders of an independent Quebec—talks in which aboriginal people of northern Quebec would play a role.
The careless counterspy
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service fired an officer blamed for the loss of a secret document. CSIS is investigating events in which the officer left a briefcase with information regarding threats to Canadas security in the back seat of her car while attending a Maple Leafs hockey game in Toronto in October. Thieves— police say three drug addicts—stole and then threw away the briefcase.
Charges in a swarming death
After almost three weeks investigating the murder of 15-year-old Toronto schoolboy Dmitri (Matti) Baranovski in a neighborhood park, police arrested two 16-year-old boys and charged them with second-degree murder. Because they are juveniles, publication of their names is forbidden by law.
Bearding a Canadian boxer
The Canadian Amateur Boxing Association cancelled an entire weight division at the national championships in Campbell River, B.C., rather than comply with an Ontario court order that a bearded boxer be allowed to compete. Pardeep Nagra, a 29-year-old Sikh, had fought his way to the Ontario light-flyweight championship with a net over his beard, but Canadian officials said they must follow international boxing rules banning beards.
Hamilton’s football team is the Cats’ meow
What seemed like most of Hamilton’s population swarmed the homecoming Tiger-Cats in the Lake Ontario city when the new Canadian Football League champions paraded the club’s first Grey Cup since 1986, the prize for defeating the Calgary Stampeders 32-21 in Vancouver on Nov. 28. After the celebration, former CFL star Ron Lancaster, 61, head coach of the Cats since 1997, signed on for a further four years.
A scolding for the government
In a stinging rebuke, Auditor General Denis Desautels charged that the federal government is floundering in its attempt to handle the enormous health and fiscal challenges of the 21st century. In his annual report on financial sins, Desautels warned that Canadians face increased risk from communicable diseases—but Health Canada has not even hammered out across-the-board agreements with the provinces to control potential catastrophes. When a passenger with a suspected case of a dreaded viral fever landed at Montreal’s Dorval airport in August, 1998, he recounts, federal officials were so confused that they did not detain the other passengers. (Fortunately, the sick person did not have the highly contagious, often fatal disease.) “The lack of attention to formalizing the way these threats are to be managed,” Desautels said, “places the health of Canadians at undue risk.”
The auditor general was equally critical about the value for money that taxpayers have received in everything from fisheries management to construction projects abroad. The Pacific salmon fishery, he warned, may have to be closed for a short period to allow stocks to recover. He recorded tales of cost overruns ranging from 64 per cent to 153 per cent on embassy construction projects. He uncovered a kickback scheme in which National Defence personnel have been pocketing under-the-table payments from service stations in exchange for purchasing diesel fuel at inflated prices for military vehicles.
Desautels noted that the federal government has created numerous new “arrangements” to deliver services, such as the multibillion-dollar Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. Such schemes, which work through partnerships with other governments and agencies, may “erode the ability of Parliament to scrutinize the use of federal power and the right of citizens to accountable government.”
The Saskatchewan legislature prepared to reconvene this week, capping an unusually busy preChristmas political season on the Prairies. Premier Roy Romanow, whose New Democratic Party was reduced to a minority government in the Sept. 16 provincial election, planned to open with an emergency debate on the farmincome crisis, caused by near-recordlow commodity prices. Romanow has convinced his fellow premiers to call on Ottawa to hold a pre-Christmas First Ministers’ meeting on the matter. “It may seem like a tight time line,” he concedes, “but it has been done in the past.” In Manitoba, NDP Premier Gary Doer, whose party ended 11 years of Conservative rule in a Sept. 21 election, fulfilled a promise to reconvene the legislature before the new year. But other election promises, including a key pledge to fix Manitoba’s ailing health-care system, may take longer than planned because Doer says the inherited budget deficit is larger than expected. Health-care issues also dominate the annual fall session of the Alberta legislature, where the opposition parties are attacking Premier Ralph Kleins plans to allow more contracting of health services to the private sector.
Ontario’s Divisional Court ruled that a provincial commission designed to restructure the province’s health system ignored the constitutional rights of francophones by ordering deep operational cuts two years ago at Ottawa’s Montfort Hospital, the sole French-only teaching hospital in Ontario. The commission had initially ordered the hospital closed altogether, but in the face of widespread opposition, settled on the cuts that would have eliminated Montfort’s emergency services, acute-care wards and 110 of its 180 beds. Last week, after the court’s ruling, Health Minister Elizabeth Witmer said she was awaiting direction from the commission about what to do next.
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