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Morneau’s fiscal update and pipeline court challenge; In The News for Dec. 16

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what’s on the radar of our editors for the morning of Dec. 16.

What we are watching in Canada …

OTTAWA — Finance Minister Bill Morneau will provide an update today on the state of Canada’s economy and also the federal government’s books.

Morneau is preparing to host his provincial counterparts for two days of talks this week, and the amount of federal assistance provided to provinces dealing with economic downturns is expected to figure prominently.

His fall fiscal update will include forecasts on how much the government expects to raise in revenue, how much it expects to spend and whether the federal deficit will be bigger or smaller than the $19.8-billion the Liberals predicted in their March budget.

It will also reveal how much money Ottawa will transfer to so-called have-not provinces and territories in the coming year to help them provide the same level of services to Canadians as those provinces that are better off.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and some other provinces have been angry at how such assistance is calculated, and are pushing for Ottawa to expand a federal program set up to help provinces that are dealing with a sudden economic downturn.

Also this …

VANCOUVER — Four British Columbia Indigenous groups are set to argue in the Federal Court of Appeal that the Canadian government failed to consult adequately with them before its latest approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

A three-day hearing is scheduled to begin today in Vancouver to consider legal challenges launched by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Squamish Nation, Coldwater Indian Band and a coalition of small First Nations in the Fraser Valley.

Several First Nations, environmental groups and the City of Vancouver had originally filed challenges making a range of arguments including that the project threatens southern resident killer whales off B.C.’s coast.

The court only allowed six First Nations to proceed and called for an expedited hearing focused on the federal government’s consultation with Indigenous communities between August 2018 and June 2019.

Two First Nations have since dropped out of the appeal after signing deals with Trans Mountain Corp., the Crown corporation that operates the pipeline and is building the expansion.

The Tsleil-Waututh and environmental groups filed leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing that a broader hearing was necessary, but the high court has not yet issued a decision.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has twice approved a plan to triple the capacity of the pipeline from Alberta’s oilsands to a shipping terminal in Metro Vancouver.

ICYMI (in case you missed it) …

CALGARY — A Calgary man says he has definitely benefited from undergoing a new neurological treatment for his multiple sclerosis.

Isaac Kohtakangas was diagnosed in 2011 and has been using a device called PoNS — short for portable neuromodulation stimulator — that sits on the surface of the tongue and delivers mild, high-frequency electrical impulses while he undergoes intense physiotherapy.

The hope is the tiny tingles lead to neuroplasticity and encourage new neural connections.

Kohtakangas says he’s noticed a number of improvements.

“It’s definitely helped me with balance. I feel more confident and stable on my feet. I’m more aware of where my body is in space when I’m standing and walking, and I’m able to catch myself if I’m a little bit off,” he said.

He adds, however, that he doesn’t miss the electrical shocks to his tongue now that his 14-week program at a Calgary clinic is complete.

The therapy isn’t cheap — he had to pay 22-thousand dollars out of his own money to get it.

Clinics in Surrey, B.C., and in Montreal also offer the therapy.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senate Democrats are pushing for testimony from top White House officials in the rare impeachment trial that is fast becoming the next battleground ahead of House voting that is all but certain to result in President Donald Trump’s impeachment.

Trump faces two articles of impeachment by House Democrats: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. They point to Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate 2020 political rival Joe Biden while withholding as leverage military aid the country relies to counter Russia as well as his efforts to block the House investigation.

Only the fourth U.S. president to be charged in impeachment proceedings, Trump has insisted he has done nothing wrong. Votes are set for Wednesday in the House. But already attention is turning to the Senate trial, where the Republicans are expected to acquit Trump in January.

“There ought to be a fair trial where the whole truth comes out,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Sunday in New York. “And I’m going to work to get that done.”

The top Senate Democrat called for new evidence and testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and two others as part of a detailed proposal outlined in a letter Sunday to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to spur negotiations with the GOP.

Trump has expressed interest in a robust trial that would not only clear him of the charges in the Senate but also vindicate him, but his desire for a lengthy proceeding is something Senate Republicans are hoping to avoid.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

SEOUL — A senior U.S. diplomat said Monday that Washington won’t accept a year-end deadline set by North Korea to make concessions in stalled nuclear talks and urged Pyongyang to return to a negotiating table immediately.

“On this point, let me be absolutely clear: The United States does not have a deadline,” Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, told reporters.

“We are fully aware of the strong potential for North Korea to conduct a major provocation in the days ahead. To say the least, such an action will be most unhelpful in achieving lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

Biegun, who was in Seoul for talks with South Korean officials, called on North Korea to sit down for talks.

Biegun later held separate meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, Seoul’s point man on North Korea.

Moon’s office said that during his visit to the presidential Blue House, Biegun said the Trump administration wouldn’t give up on seeking diplomatic progress with North Korea, but it did not elaborate further.

It’s unclear if North Korea will reach out to the U.S. to resolve their widening differences on how to achieve North Korean denuclearization.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 16, 2019.

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