Assisted dying bill wins approval of House of Commons, now heads to Senate

By Joan Bryden

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA _ The federal government’s controversial bill on assisted dying sailed through the House of Commons on Tuesday, approved by a vote of 186-137.

“It’s an historic day,” Health Minister Jane Philpott said immediately following the vote, thanking MPs for passing a bill she said “will essentially transform end-of-life care options for Canadians.”

Only four Liberal MPs including Rob Oliphant, the chair of a special joint parliamentary committee that had recommended a much more permissive approach to assisted dying voted against Bill C-14, as did most Conservatives, all New Democrat and Bloc Quebecois MPs and Green Leader Elizabeth May.

But the bill now heads into choppier waters in the Senate, where the government has less control over the agenda and many independent-minded senators are pushing for amendments.

It is virtually guaranteed the bill will not be passed by Monday, the day the ban on assisted dying is formally lifted in accordance with last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling.

“No, no, impossible,” Sen. Claude Carignan, Conservative leader in the Senate.

Senators are not dragging their feet; they’ve agreed to extend their sitting hours and have taken the usual step of inviting Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Philpott to testify about the bill before the entire Senate on Wednesday.

However, they must still debate the bill at second reading, send it to committee to hear from some half a dozen witnesses, propose and consider possible amendments and debate and vote on the bill a final time.

Carignan said more than 40 Conservative senators want to speak during second reading debate alone and he expects “many amendments” will be proposed. Consequently, he said the bill can’t be put to a final vote until the end of next week at the earliest, possibly sometime the following week.

Advocates of assisted dying are urging senators to scrap the bill’s restrictive eligibility criteria. Without that change “Bill C-14 will be constitutionally dead on arrival,” said Shanaaz Gokool, CEO of Dying with Dignity Canada.

“(That’s) a warning the Liberal government has chosen to ignore. We encourage members of the Senate not to make the same mistake.”

However, a number of disability rights advocates are urging passage of the bill, despite their concerns that it doesn’t go far enough to protect the vulnerable. They argued that an imperfect bill is better than no legislation at all.

That continued to be the message from Wilson-Raybould and Philpott as they kept up the pressure Tuesday to have the bill enacted by June 6.

In the absence of a new law, the Supreme Court’s criteria for allowing assisted dying would apply. But Wilson-Raybould suggested that would amount to “one of, if not the broadest assisted dying regimes in the world.”

“Under an approach where any serious medical condition is eligible, the law would be saying that an assisted death could be an acceptable treatment for a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder, a young person who suffered a spinal cord injury in an accident or a survivor whose mind is haunted by memories of sexual abuse,” she said.

Wilson-Raybould also argued there is uncertainty whether the court’s criteria would have “the legal effect of completely striking down existing criminal law that prohibits consensual killing and the aiding of suicides outside of an assisted dying context.” She did not explain that assertion.

In what’s known as the Carter decision, the Supreme Court ruled that consenting adults have a right to seek medical help to end their lives if they have “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions that are causing enduring suffering that they deem intolerable.

Bill C-14 sets out considerably more restrictive eligibility criteria, allowing assisted dying only for clearly consenting adults “in an advanced stage of irreversible decline” from a serious and incurable disease, illness or disability and for whom natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

Jocelyn Downie, a professor in both the medicine and law faculties at Dalhousie University, said Wilson-Raybould is misrepresenting the Supreme Court ruling.

The court said the medical condition must be irremediable, while PTSD and memories of sexual abuse “may well be remediable,” Downie said. Moreover, she said a young person’s initial response in the days or even months following a spinal cord injury would not be considered “enduring” suffering, as the court required.

“To suggest that somehow the sky is going to fall on June 6 is specious,” agreed NDP justice critic Murray Rankin, noting that medical regulators in every provinces have issued strict guidelines doctors must follow in providing assistance in dying.

Unless it’s amended by the Senate, Rankin predicted the bill will face court challenges and be found unconstitutional.

“People who won that hard-fought victory in Carter are going to be back in the Supreme Court in a few months. That’s wrong,” he said.

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Uber offers concessions to taxi industry in order to keep operating in Quebec

Ride-hailing giant Uber is willing to temporarily suspend operations in Quebec in order to find common ground with the province and is prepared to offer various concessions, a company representative said May 24, 2016.

Jean-Nicolas Guillemette, general manager of Uber Montreal, said the U.S.-based firm would charge clients taxes on every ride – at the source – which he said would provide state coffers with about $3 million a year.

His comments came on the first day of hearings into Bill 100, which would force Uber drivers to conform to the same laws as cabbies with regard to regulations such as permits and taxes.

Uber says the bill, if enacted as is, would mean the end of the company’s operations in Quebec.

Guillemette said Uber would be willing to charge an added tax of seven cents a ride that would go to Quebec’s automobile insurance board.

Additionally, Uber is open to letting traditional taxis have exclusive access to reserved lanes, government contracts and rides hailed from the street.

Guillemette said that if Uber can sit down with the government to talk and find common ground, “we are ready to suspend our operations during that time.”

“We are showing good faith,” he told the hearing.

Transport Minister Jacques Daoust and other members of Quebec’s legislature reacted skeptically to Guillemette’s offer.

“In terms of how much taxi permits represent, it’s very marginal,” Daoust said.

Daoust noted Quebec’s taxi industry was founded on the idea of supply management and that the government enforces a system whereby people have to pay _ sometimes as much as $200,000 – for a permit to drive a taxi.

He said that if the government allowed Uber to operate without buying into the permit system, the value of existing permits would erode.

“There is a large population of immigrants often more educated than the job requires, and they bought the right to work in the land that welcomed them,” he said.

“The minute we add to (the existing permits) the value of their taxi licence necessarily diminishes.”

Earlier in the day, the head of a Quebec taxi lobby said Uber has the attitude of a “hardened criminal” and is stealing money from the state.

“Just watch them,” Guy Chevrette told reporters, explaining how he believes Uber will try to stall the passing of the bill.  “It’s theft. Today, watch them go, with crocodile tears, like hardened criminals. They will pull out all the stops to try and waste time.”

According to Chevrette’s organization, the government has two choices: pass Bill 100, which would force Uber out of the Quebec market, or compensate all the drivers and companies that have paid for taxi licences.

He said paying back drivers could cost as much as $1.4 billion.

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Report says companies owe Ottawa $100M for over payments, excessive profits

Federal auditors have found about $100 million that shouldn’t have been paid to companies because contractors overcharged the government, or because the payments were deemed to be part of “excessive profits,” newly released documents show.

The $100 million figure, calculated as of March 31, 2015, was the cumulative total from three years of reviews of contracts that turned up evidence the government has been routinely overcharged.

The documents, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, show that more than 50 contracts reviewed by officials at Public Services and Procurement Canada revealed issues with, among others, Irving Shipbuilding and aerospace giant Bombardier.

A team of 34 auditors reviewed $7.3 billion worth of contracts during the 2014-15 fiscal year and found $6 million in over-payments for work and $66.3 million related to excess profits, adding to amounts identified in the previous two years.

Officials censored portions of the documents detailing how much each company owes or has paid back, saying it is confidential commercial information.

Public Services and Procurement Canada has yet to respond to questions about the report.

The work detailed in the report is the focus of an ongoing government crackdown on habitual over-charging of the deep-pocketed federal treasury, much of it largely a result of years of questionable defence procurement practices that saw the prices of contracts go up without much push-back from military officials.

The key, auditors say, is to catch over-payments before work is concluded because after that “there is little incentive for a contractor to return funds.”

Officials have recouped about $6 million from companies during three years of work for the special unit set up to police procurement agreements.

Between April 2014 and March 2015, the government recouped $3.1 million from four contracts. Three of the four contracts were military procurements, including a $531-million contract to upgrade Canada’s four diesel-electric submarines and a $566-million contract for fixed-wing aircraft repair.

Again, the officials censored how much each company paid back.

Recovering money remains a challenge, the report says. An accompanying briefing note prepared for the top civil servant at Public Services and Procurement Canada lists the problems: “Some of the factors at play are entrenched business practices, disagreements in interpretation on the application of Canada’s contract pricing framework, agreeing to fair profit recognition of contractual risk, and difficulties measuring incentives for innovation and profit sharing.”

The most recent review of selected contracts turned up only one over-payment, attributed to a multi-year contract with SNC-Lavalin that the forerunner of Public Services and Procurement Canada signed to have the company manage federally owned buildings.

The documents suggest other issues were identified during the review, but that information too has been removed, leaving questions about what auditors found.

The company itself had questions about its inclusion in the documents. SNC says it provided the government with annual audits to verify the accuracy of charges, and none raised concerns about over-charges to the government.

 

The Gov’t of Canada launches consultation to improve Employment Insurance services

Millions of Canadians rely on the Government of Canada to provide them with easy access to the services and benefits to which they are entitled. They expect quality and fast service from their government—whether the service is provided online, over the phone or in person. According to Service Canada data, too many Canadians are not receiving the level of service they expect. When someone loses a job through no fault of their own or experiences a major life event, they should not have to wait weeks, even months, to receive support and benefits from a program that they paid premiums for as workers. The Government must make it easier for them to access these services and programs.

Through Budget 2016, the Government of Canada committed to improve services for Canadians. To support this commitment, the Government is taking action by launching the Employment Insurance Service Quality Review, a nationwide consultation process with key stakeholders and the public to seek their input on ways to improve services to Employment Insurance (EI) claimants.

Terry Duguid, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, and Rodger Cuzner, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, in collaboration with Rémi Massé, Member of Parliament for Avignon–La Mitis–Matane–Matapédia, were asked by Ministers Duclos and Mihychuk to lead the review.

The review will examine how Service Canada administers the EI program so that resources are focused on providing the best possible service to Canadians. This exercise will be based on feedback from stakeholders and Canadians, performance measurement and evidence.

Quick Facts

  • In 2014–15, Service Canada received 2.8 million EI applications and issued $15.7 billion dollars in payments to claimants.
  • In 2015-2016, 10.3 million calls to the Employment Insurance (EI) call centre were unable to reach an agent and over a million calls were abandoned, meaning the caller hangs up while waiting.
  • Individuals who disagree with a decision related to their EI claim have the right to request reconsideration within 30 days from the date the decision was communicated. The Department aims to have 70 percent of decisions finalized within 30 days from receipt of the request. To date, this target has not been met. In 2015–16, the average time for completion was 38 days, with 56 percent of requests being completed within 30 days.

Quotes

“It is clear that Canadians are facing too many challenges accessing our services. This can cause stress and frustration for those who are often already experiencing a period of difficulty and financial hardship. That is why we are launching this consultation process with key stakeholders and the public to seek their input on ways we can improve services.”
– The Honorable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development

Budget 2016 proposes to invest $92 million to improve the administration of the EI program. We want taxpayers’ money to be invested wisely and used as effectively as possible. The feedback we receive will go a long way in informing the Government on the best path forward to meet the service needs of Canadians.”
– The Honorable MaryAnn Mihychuk, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour

Associated Links

Employment Insurance Service Quality Review

Employment Insurance Service Quality Review Online Survey

 

BACKGROUNDER

Employment Insurance Service Quality Review

The Government of Canada is taking action to improve the delivery of its services by launching a nationwide consultation process with key stakeholders and the public to seek their input on ways we can improve services to Employment Insurance (EI) claimants through in-person centres, call centres and online, and focusing on three key areas:

  1. streamlining applications
  2. reducing wait times for service delivery
  3. reducing administrative burden for employers

The Government committed funding, as part of Budget 2016, to enhancing services and performance standards for those accessing EI benefits:

  • $19 million of funding was committed this year to make EI service delivery more responsive. This funding will go towards enabling Service Canada to meet the increased demand for EI claims processing, and offer better support to Canadians as they search for new employment. This additional capacity will ensure that Canadians get timely access to the benefits to which they are entitled.
  • $73 million in funding was committed over two years to enhance access to EI call centres. This will increase the number of call centre agents, which will reduce waiting times and ensure that Canadians can access the information and support they need.

The EI Service Quality Review includes a nationwide consultation process that will provide stakeholders and the public the opportunity to share views and ideas on EI service delivery—feedback which will be used to inform the Government in finding the best path forward to meet the delivery services needs of Canadians. The review will assess the administrative challenges faced by Service Canada employees and recommend how these can be addressed so that EI claimants receive timely access to the benefits to which they are entitled.

Consultations with stakeholders will be taking place through regional and national meetings from May to June 2016.

Anyone interested in participating in the online survey and town hall meetings should visit the Employment Insurance Service Quality Review consultation page.

This consultation will be open from May to August 2016. A summary report of feedback received through these consultations will be released in fall 2016.

SOURCE Employment and Social Development Canada

Prime minister thanks fire fighters in Fort McMurray, says he’ll visit Friday

OTTAWA _ Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he will visit Fort McMurray, Alta., on Friday to offer the support of all Canadians to the fire-ravaged community.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the prime minister thanked those who battled the huge wildfire and saved much of the city.

“I too … congratulate the brave firefighters and first responders who have been there to do extraordinary work through these terrible blazes in Fort McMurray,” Trudeau said.

He also thanked Canadians for their donations in the face of a crisis which has driven more than 80,000 residents out of the city.

“I want to congratulate all Canadian who across the country came together to give incredibly generously to the people of Fort McMurray through the Canadian Red Cross and in other ways.”

Last week, as the blaze worsened, Trudeau said a visit would have to wait. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley toured the city by bus on Monday and also praised firefighters for saving a majority of homes and buildings in the community.

But she said it’s not safe yet for people to return to homes that are still standing because large sections of town don’t have power, gas or water.

Meanwhile, federal Labour Minister Mary Ann Mihychuk said the government is working to speed up the handling of unemployment insurance claims from Fort McMurray and cut wait times for benefits.

“EI is to be there when people need it and the folks at Fort McMurray definitely need it, so we’re stepping up,” Mihychuk said.

She said staff are going to try to reduce the normal 28-day wait period substantially.

“If you are impacted by the Fort McMurray fire, there is a number, a designated number that indicates you were impacted by the Fort McMurray crisis. And that will help you speed up your claim and get benefits to you even quicker.”

Ministry officials said Tuesday there are 175 Service Canada staff helping displaced residents and 100 more who have volunteered to help, but haven’t been needed yet.

About 20,000 people affected by the fire have made EI claims using a special reference code the government set up to fast-track their claims.

The government has also outfitted rented RVs to drive into northern Alberta camping sites to act as mobile Service Canada offices for the estimated 3,000 evacuees living there.

And staff are also setting up shop in evacuee reception centres and coffee shops to catch people wherever they may be.

Mihychuk said she thinks people have been “more concerned about finding a place to sleep” and only now are starting to consider income support and EI.

“I expect it to grow steadily,” she said.

canada-press

Feds look at faster system to give social insurance numbers to immigrants

OTTAWA _ An internal government audit has found that the federal government could save $7 million a year by giving new Canadians a social insurance number when they apply for permanent residence documents.

The idea auditors pushed would take two pilot projects that help new landed immigrants apply for a social insurance numbers and expand it nationwide to more easily process hundreds of thousands of applications a year.

The process is similar to the way the government assigns newborn Canadians a social insurance number by doing so through the provinces when a birth certificate is registered, a program dubbed “SIN ? Birth.”

That system in Ontario, for instance, cost $5 million to set up.

The audit, publicly posted late last month, suggests a similar system for new Canadians would cost about the same.

The department responsible, Employment and Social Development Canada, says it is studying the idea and a decision about whether to move ahead should be made by November.

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