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Canada Morning Update: Ottawa boosting cannabis licences; B.C. launching opioid pilot program

Cannabis seedlings at the new Aurora Cannabis facility Friday, November 24, 2017 in Montreal.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Good morning,

These are the top stories:

Ottawa is set to triple the number of cannabis production licences

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So far, Health Canada has handed out approvals to 80 companies. But it's now set to give the go-ahead to 208 more firms in an effort to boost capacity in time for legalization, which is expected next summer (for subscribers). Experts, however, say the new licences may not be enough to meet demand. That could result in consumers continuing to rely on the black market, where the price of a gram of cannabis costs somewhere between $7.14 and $8.84. By comparison, provinces are aiming for a price of about $10 per gram.

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Newfoundland's Premier gave police a tip on a murder suspect weeks before he was elected

In October of 2015, Dwight Ball told police that his daughter's ex-boyfriend may have been the man behind a bar killing. The masked man being shown on TV, Ball noticed, was wearing a jacket that matched one Ball had owned before it was stolen. Ball also told police that his tires had been slashed and his credit cards fraudulently charged. Ball's daughter, Jade told police that a drug dealer was harassing her over money allegedly owed by her on-again, off-again boyfriend Brandon Phillips. Both Jade and Phillips were grappling with opioid addictions, Ball told police. Police ended up charging Phillips for the bar killing, and he was found guilty of second-degree murder earlier this month. As for Ball, he led the Liberals to a majority victory in the November, 2015, provincial election.

B.C. health officials will distribute clean opioids to drug users as part of a pilot project

It's one of the most radical health efforts yet in British Columbia, the province that's been hardest hit by Canada's opioid crisis. Under the program, people will be able to pick up daily doses of hydromorphone pills. Most would likely crush, cook and inject them. The pilot will start in the spring with around 200 people in Vancouver and Victoria.

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The program doesn't address addiction issues, but that's not the goal, said Mark Tyndall, executive director of the BC Centre for Disease Control. "We need a public health approach that really focuses on how we're going to bring overdose deaths down," he said. More than 1,200 people died of illicit drug overdoses in B.C. in the first 10 months of 2017, with fentanyl linked to about 1,000 of those cases.

The U.S. wants to press North Korea to diplomatic talks, Rex Tillerson says

Speaking in Ottawa, the U.S. Secretary of State said the White House pressure tactics are aimed at bringing Kim Jong-un's government to the negotiating table. Tillerson was meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. Foreign ministers from a number of key countries will flock to Vancouver on Jan. 16 to discuss North Korea and its nuclear ambitions. But while Tillerson emphasizes the need for talks, U.S. President Donald Trump has used much tougher rhetoric. And there have been reports that Trump has explored ousting Tillerson from his position.

Here's Campbell Clark's take on Tillerson and North Korea: "Tillerson looks a lot like a lame-duck Secretary of State in an unpredictable administration. For allies such as Canada, U.S. foreign policy is about hedging bets, guessing whom they should be talking to, and whose views hold sway at the moment. Tillerson's big diplomatic challenge in North Korea, if he is around long enough to deal with it, happens to be one of the most twisted Gordian knots in global diplomacy – made worse by recent North Korean missile tests." (for subscribers)

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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Loblaw has admitted to fixing bread prices over a 14-year period

Its parent company, George Weston, said its own bread-maker also participated in the price-fixing, along with other major grocery chains. The news of bread price-fixing came to light in the fall, when the Competition Bureau announced it was launching a probe into the matter. Metro, Sobeys and Canada Bread are the other companies being investigated. Metro and Sobeys have so far said they have found no evidence their firms participated in bread price-fixing. In an effort to address the fixing, Loblaw says it will offer $25 gift cards to customers who bought certain breads at some of its chains before March 1, 2015.

U.S. Super Bowl ads will continue to air on Canadian TV

Bell Media lost its court appeal to reverse an order that blocks it from subbing U.S. ads for Canadian ones during the big game. The change, mandated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, took effect starting with this past year's Super Bowl. Bell said the new policy cost the company $11-million in advertising revenue. The CRTC issued the change following complaints from Canadian viewers that they were unable to see the major U.S. commercials.

World shares off record highs as U.S. tax bill passes Senate

World stock markets wavered just below recent record highs while U.S. Treasury yields held near multi-month peaks on Wednesday as the final procedural throes of long-awaited U.S. tax reform played out in Washington. The Republican-led U.S. Senate approved the sweeping $1.5-trillion (U.S.) tax bill in the early hours of Wednesday. A re-vote by the House of Representatives was scheduled for later in the day, with approval expected, and the bill will then go to President Donald Trump to sign into law. Just before 5:30 a.m. (ET), Britain's FTSE was down 0.09 per cent. Germany's DAX was off 0.05 per cent and France's CAC 40 was trading 0.18 per cent lower. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei ended up 0.10 per cent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 0.07 per cent and the Shanghai composite index slid 0.27 per cent. U.S. stock futures were higher. The Canadian dollar was trading at 77.77 cents (U.S.).

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WHAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT

Church of Disney enrages Star Wars fans

"One of the significant complaints against The Last Jedi is the way it dispenses with the plots of the many spinoff novels published from the 1990s onward: Lucasfilm declared the Star Wars books "non-canonical" after it was bought by Disney in 2012. Han and Leia living happily ever after with three kids? Not on your Kylo Ren. Luke training a whole new generation of Jedi? Rey looks to be going solo. Having burned the apocrypha, the Church of Disney uses The Last Jedi to assert a new orthodoxy. Reminded of their powerlessness in the face of a hugely wealthy papacy, the laity may roar, but will fan backlash make any difference at the box office? Probably not, since you have to see The Last Jedi to judge." – Kate Taylor

HEALTH PRIMER

Trying to lose weight? Don't forget alcohol calories

If you're thinking about attempting a Dry January or just contemplating holiday booze limits, take note of the calories in your drinks: A glass of wine contains 122 calories, while a bottle of beer runs somewhere between 110 to 200 (a higher percentage IPA, for example, would have more calories than a pilsner). A shot (1.5 ounces) of 40-per-cent liquor holds about 100 calories. And if you make mixed drinks, the sugar boosts the number: 170 calories for a gin and tonic; 210 for a Cosmopolitan; 255 for a margarita. Or put another way, two Caesars pack 520 calories – just as many as a Big Mac.

MOMENT IN TIME

Battle of Ortona begins

Dec. 20, 1943: Five months into the Second World War's Italian campaign, which saw Allied forces fighting their way north from Sicily, came the Battle of Ortona. The town's deep-water Adriatic port made it of value to both the Germans, who held it, and the Allies, who wanted it. Two Canadian infantry battalions and a tank regiment began their assault on Dec. 20, but the narrow streets made tank movement difficult, especially since most roads were blocked with rubble after strategic explosions by the Germans, who also laid mines and booby traps. The Canadians were soon engaged in bitter hand-to-hand combat. (War correspondents dubbed it "Little Stalingrad.") To avoid the sniper-filled streets, the Canadians took to moving through walls by "mouse-holing" them with explosives. Both sides suffered heavy casualties (as did the townsfolk, with some 1,300 civilians killed), but total numbers remain unknown. Early on Dec. 28, the Germans withdrew – and Ortona belonged to the Canadians. – Christopher Harris

Morning Update is written by Arik Ligeti.

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