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Alberta, Ottawa argue before province’s Appeal Court over carbon tax dispute

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Lawyers for the Alberta government have started arguments before the province’s top court against the federal carbon tax.

They are expected to tell the Alberta Court of Appeal that the reasons Ottawa is using to justify the tax will lead to an unnecessary expansion of federal power.

Federal documents say Ottawa is to argue that climate change is an urgent national concern and that only Parliament can deal with it adequately.

More than two dozen lawyers are sitting in rows in the Edmonton courtroom, where the attorneys-general of Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and British Columbia are also to speak during the three-day hearing.

Eight First Nations, non-governmental groups and Crown corporations have also been granted intervener status.

Ontario and Saskatchewan lost challenges to the federal tax in their top courts, but are appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Eric Adams, a University of Alberta law professor, said he doesn’t expect to hear any new arguments in the Alberta case.

“It’s just a new panel of judges to bring these arguments in front of,” he said.

“The argument is that justice on a local level requires judges who live in a jurisdiction and understand its peoples and its concerns. Sometimes, constitutional arguments made in a particular place can have the flavour of that particular place.”

Adams said he believes Alberta is unlikely to win. But if there’s a dissenting judge, that could bolster the government’s argument before the Supreme Court, which has already scheduled a January date for the Ontario and Saskatchewan appeals.

“If they don’t win, they hope for a judgment from some judges that lends weight and credibility, and maybe a new perspective to add to the dissenting opinions that have already been rendered in Saskatchewan and Ontario,” said Adams.

Ottawa argues that the peace, order and good government clause of the Constitution gives it power to pass legislation on matters of national concern. Establishing minimum national standards on greenhouse gas emissions “is a matter of national concern that only Parliament can address,” it argues.

Alberta says using that clause is an unwarranted expansion of a federal power that in the past has been used sparingly. It says provinces already have the power to deal with emissions and should be left to do so.

“The federal government made a gamble here that this was a case that was worth opening up that previously neglected box,” Adams said. “They’ve taken a bit of a risk here.”

Three out of five Saskatchewan appellate judges agreed with Ottawa, as did four out of five of their Ontario colleagues. Past judgments have recognized the environment as a matter of shared jurisdiction.

Either way, Adams cautions against putting too much weight on these cases. If current arguments for a national carbon tax are rejected, the federal Liberals have invested too much political capital not to try new ones, he suggested.

“If they lose the case, they’ll look at other ways to bring legislation that can deal with the climate crisis. No matter how this case goes, it won’t be the end of parliamentary attempts to deal with climate change.”

Alberta Premier Kenney ditched a consumer carbon tax that the previous NDP government had brought in soon after his party won the provincial election in April. He has established a $30-a-tonne carbon tax on industrial emitters, replacing somewhat stronger measures introduced by the former NDP government. The Trudeau Liberals have approved that tax.

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Record one million job losses in March: StatCan

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OTTAWA — More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in the month of March, Statistics Canada is reporting. The unemployment rate has also climbed to 7.8 per cent, up from 2.2 percentage points since February.

Canada’s national statistics agency released its monthly Labour Force Survey on Thursday, using March 15 to 21 as the sample week – a time when the government began enforcing strict guidelines around social gatherings and called on non-essential businesses to close up shop.

The first snapshot of job loss since COVID-19 began taking a toll on the Canadian economy shows 1.1 million out of work since the prior sample period and a consequent decrease in the employment rate – the lowest since April 1997. The most job losses occurred in the private sector and among people aged 15-24.

The number of people who were unemployed increased by 413,000, resulting in the largest one-month increase in Canada’s unemployment rate on record and takes the economy back to a state last seen in October, 2010.

“Almost all of the increase in unemployment was due to temporary layoffs, meaning that workers expected to return to their job within six months,” reads the findings.

The agency included three new indicators, on top of the usual criteria, to better reflect the impact of COVID-19 on employment across the country.

The survey, for example, excludes the more commonly observed reasons for absent workers — such as vacation, weather, parental leave or a strike or lockout — to better isolate the pandemic’s effect.

They looked at: people who are employed but were out of a job during the reference week, people who are employed but worked less than half their usual hours, and people who are unemployed but would like a job.

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Employee at Ottawa’s Amazon Fulfillment Centre tests positive for COVID-19

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OTTAWA — An employee who works at Amazon’s fulfillment centre on Boundary Road in Ottawa’s east-end has tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon says it learned on April 3 that an associate tested positive for novel coronavirus and is currently in isolation. The employee last worked at the fulfillment centre on March 19.

Two employees told CTV News Ottawa that management informed all employees about the positive test in a text message over the weekend.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft wrote “we are supporting the individual who is recovering. We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

The statement also says that Amazon has taken steps to further protect their employees.

“We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC.”

CTV News Ottawa asked Amazon about the timeline between when the company found out about the positive COVID-19 case and when employees were notified.

In a separate email to CTV News Ottawa, Crowcroft said “all associates of our Boundary Road fulfillment centre in Ottawa were notified within 24 hours of learning of the positive COVID-19 case.”

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Ottawa facing silent spring as festivals, events cancelled

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This is shaping up to be Ottawa’s silent spring — and summer’s sounding pretty bleak, too — as more and more concerts, festivals and other annual events are cancelled in the wake of measures meant to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The province has already banned gatherings of more than five people, and on Monday officials announced city parks, facilities and services will remain shut down until the end of June, nor will any event permits be issued until at least that time.

“This leaves us with no choice but to cancel the festival this year,” Ottawa Jazz Festival artistic director Petr Cancura confirmed Monday.

This was to be the festival’s 40th anniversary, and organizers announced the lineup for the June 19-July 1 event the day after Ottawa’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. 

The Toronto and Montreal jazz festivals had already pulled the plug because of similar restrictions in their cities, so Cancura said the writing was on the wall.

“We have a few contingency plans to keep connecting with our audience and working with our artists,” Cancura said.

People holding tickets to the 2020 festival can ask for a refund or exchange for a 2021 pass.

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