Municipal handgun bans an option 'we'll look at,' Manitoba premier says after meeting with prime minister

Premier Brian Pallister didn't rule out allowing Manitoba municipalities to ban handguns, should they choose to do so, in response to a recent wave of violence in Winnipeg.

Premier Brian Pallister says he won't 'make policy on the fly' in response to violent incidents in Winnipeg

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Friday. Pallister is the first of the western provincial leaders to meet with Trudeau since the Oct. 21 federal election. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Allowing Manitoba municipalities to ban handguns is one possible response to a recent wave of violence in Winnipeg, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Friday, following a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"Certainly we'll look at that," the premier told reporters Friday morning in Ottawa, when asked about his position on the potential bans.

During his re-election campaign, the prime minister promised to work with provinces to empower local governments to "further restrict" or outright ban handguns on their own, but said his Liberal government wouldn't create a countrywide prohibition on handguns.

Violent crime was one of the issues that came up during the Manitoba premier's Friday morning meeting with Trudeau.

"I won't make policy on the fly. I'll only say that obviously we're concerned and we're looking for measures that we can pursue," said Pallister, who is the first of the western provincial leaders to meet with Trudeau since the Oct. 21 federal election.

Winnipeg has recently experienced a wave of violence that saw 11 homicides in 30 days. Victims have included a 14-year-old girl who was stabbed at a Halloween party and three-year-old Hunter Straight-Smith, who was stabbed in his sleep.

"It's on our minds, all of our minds, lately," the premier told reporters in Ottawa.

"Overall, violent crime is down in Manitoba, I should emphasize that. But homicides are up, and there was recent tragedies involving young Manitobans that hit the hearts of all of us."

In an emailed statement Friday, a spokesperson for the Winnipeg mayor's office said Bowman supports a ban on handguns, but would prefer to see it at the national level.

"The mayor supports a ban on handguns but feels a national prohibition would be the most effective way to protect the safety of Canadians," the statement says. "If a municipal ban becomes a possibility, the mayor will speak to it then."

Violence was also the subject of a phone conversation between Trudeau and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman on Thursday evening. The mayor later wrote in a tweet the two agreed to meet in person "as soon as our schedules can accommodate."

The mayor had previously called for a meeting between himself, the premier and Trudeau to talk about crime.

Premier takes aim at environmental assessment rules

On Friday, Pallister called violence a "shared jurisdictional issue" and said he wants to see Ottawa involved in efforts to address it.

"I'd like to see the federal government partner with us to make our streets safer," he said. "I think we're all on it, and we'll continue to be."

Pallister said he also pushed for more federal health-care funding from Ottawa during his meeting with Trudeau on Friday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

On other issues, Pallister suggested Friday, there's less agreement between the province and the federal government.

The premier once again took aim at federal changes to the environmental assessment process for major infrastructure projects, which he called "onerous … time-consuming and expensive."

Pallister has been critical in the past of the contentious Bill C-69, which passed in June and imposed more requirements for considering climate change and consulting affected Indigenous communities before embarking on major construction projects.

In December, Pallister said the guidelines would add years to the creation of flood-protection outlets from Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin.

"We're in a high-water situation in Manitoba. Other jurisdictions have seen this before, but I've never seen the Assiniboine and Red rivers as high as they are right now in our province at this time of year," he said.

"We're trying to build flood protection to give people their lives back in our province.… After hundreds of meetings and millions of dollars, we're not sure we're getting as much progress made as I would like."

The premier said frustration over delays on major projects — including flood protection and pipeline projects — is one of the challenges facing Trudeau in his relationship with western Canada.

Pushing for more health funding

Pallister said he also used Friday's meeting with Trudeau to push for more federal health-care funding from Ottawa, which he said won't meet the need in provinces as the population ages.

The province was the final holdout on a federal-provincial health-care funding agreement, which Manitoba eventually signed in 2017. The province waited 18 months before signing onto the deal, which includes three per cent annual increases to the Canada Health Transfer and an $11 billion national fund for mental health, addiction support and home care programs.

The province signed on with the promise of a one-time, $5 million federal payment this fiscal year to fight kidney disease and address the growing use of opioids.

"Canadians need the assurance of federal-provincial partnership," Pallister told reporters Friday.

"What they don't need is a federal government running out of its lane, and we need to have the provincial governments running health care with the federal government as a financial partner, as has been the case since the development of the Canada Health Act."

Pallister said he advocated for a second meeting with the prime minister to talk health care in the future.

In a statement emailed Friday, the prime minister's office said Trudeau reaffirmed his commitment to working collaboratively with Manitoba on a variety of issues, including crime, climate change and infrastructure.

"They agreed to continue to collaborate on these shared priorities and other issues of importance to Manitobans, and looked forward to the next first ministers' meeting."


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