Alberta lays down the law over Trudeau's dodgy funding agreements

'Since Ottawa refuses to acknowledge the negative impacts of its overreach, we are putting in additional measures to protect our provincial jurisdiction,' said Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. 'We won’t put up with any further manipulation or political interference.'

Alberta lays down the law over Trudeau's dodgy funding agreements
The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick
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Alberta is no longer permitting Ottawa to make deals with municipalities behind their back.

On Wednesday, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith tabled the Provincial Priorities Act, preventing the Trudeau Liberals from striking bargains with local administrations and provincial institutions without her government’s explicit approval.

“Since Ottawa refuses to acknowledge the negative impacts of its overreach, even after losing battles at the Federal and Supreme Courts, we are putting in additional measures to protect our provincial jurisdiction,” she said.

“We won’t put up with any further manipulation or political interference from Ottawa,” added the premier.

On Friday, a reporter asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to respond to Alberta’s proposed legislation. “It seems like it was only a few months ago that I pointed out quite accurately that … housing is very much a provincial and municipal responsibility,” he replied.

Trudeau then claimed Canadians “don't care” whose responsibility it is, as “they just want it to get done.”

“We heard from premiers saying the federal government … needs to do more,” added the prime minister. “So, the provinces should be careful what they wish for.”

Wednesday’s announcement proposed amendments to the Government Organization Act, a bill that grants Smith, the Intergovernmental Relations Minister, authority to quash federal funding not aligning with their priorities.

Existing legislation only covers select agencies like Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis, Alberta Securities Commission, and Travel Alberta. Should the bill pass, it will also apply to post-secondary institutions, boards, health authorities, and housing management bodies.

Agreements with those agencies will be struck down under Section 92 of the Constitution, according to a government news release. 

“For years, the federal government has been imposing its agenda on Alberta taxpayers through direct funding agreements with cities and other provincial organizations,” claimed Ric McIver, Alberta’s Minister of Municipal Affairs.

He notes federal dollars don’t always “align with Albertan’s priorities.”

“Albertans from all corners of the province expect our federal share of taxes for roads, infrastructure, housing, and other priorities — not federal government political pet projects and programs in select communities,” he said.

Smith earlier clarified the expectation that Alberta receives its fair share of federal tax dollars to meet the needs of taxpayers.

They are hell-bent on ending the federal practice of “ideology before practicality.” 

The legislation responds to veiled threats by Trudeau to fund housing developments in Calgary without involving the province.

On April 5, he tied federal infrastructure money to climate-friendly building developments. The feds will provide $500 million in low-cost loans to "innovative" home builders, plus $50 million each for the homebuilding technology and innovation fund, and efforts to modernize residential construction.

“While it’s great to see our federal counterparts wake up to the need for affordable housing in our two largest cities, Alberta is much more than Edmonton and Calgary,” Jason Nixon, Alberta's Minister of Community and Social Services, told reporters.

“It’s left us with a situation where if mayors have a good relationship with the federal government, they seem to be getting money from these announcements, and if mayors don’t know the federal government — particularly in smaller communities in our province — they continue to be left out from these conversations,” he said.

In addition, the funding hedges on the condition that Alberta adopts a National Building Code of Canada. It would prioritize duplexes and triplexes.

“The announcement will … heavily limit the kinds of homes that can be built,” he said in a joint statement with McIver, condemning the Government of Canada’s “punitive green agenda” to ban natural gas by 2030 and nationalize housing.

“Let the municipalities, let the mayors and councillors decide where to build, what to build, how high to build,” added Nixon.

But Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser appears unbothered by the provincial opposition, claiming they will find “partners” willing to abide by their conditions.

“We will be making these investments,” he told reporters on April 3. “Who we deal with and on what timeline will be impacted through the discussions we have with the provinces.”

“We won’t be taking money from the federal government that requires us to make housing more expensive, that will damage our housing industry — which by the way is working at a record pace,” Nixon said in response.

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