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Hackett: Provincial Priorities Act another swipe at Ottawa


You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you just might find you get what you need.

It’s been over 50 years since The Rolling Stones uttered those famous words, and some Albertans were singing them less emphatically this week.

In this case, Alberta has picked another fight with Ottawa and maybe this time, they will get what they need.

The Alberta Government introduced the Provincial Priorities Act into the legislature on Wednesday, a bill that pulls no punches in its distaste for the federal government.

According to the province, the bill is designed to “ensure federal funding is aligned with provincial priorities, rather than with priorities contrary to the province’s interests. Under the legislation, agreements between the federal government and provincial entities, including municipalities, that have not received provincial approval would be invalid.”

Premier Danielle Smith also wasn’t shy in her harsh criticism of the feds.

“It is not unreasonable for Alberta to demand fairness from Ottawa. They have shown time and again that they will put ideology before practicality, which hurts Alberta families and our economy,” she said.

“We are not going to apologize for continuing to stand up for Albertans so we get the best deal possible. 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 to ensure our province receives our fair share of federal tax dollars and that those dollars are spent on the priorities of Albertans.”

In a release about the bill, the province uses the federal government’s “unrelenting and ideological” push towards electric buses in Canadian cities. The funding for those programs would better serve the “province’s economic corridors with improved roads and commuter rail, or advancing the province’s hydrogen strategy as an alternate clean-energy source for transportation.”

The release also points to “wasted” money on a federal pharmacare program, safe supply agreements and also cites housing as a huge concern.

“Alberta received only 2.5 per cent of the total $1.5 billion in federal housing funds, despite having 12 per cent of the country’s population and, by far, the fastest population growth.”

This is another move to own the libs and stick it to the feds. It’s a popular message in Alberta, and you have to credit the premier for carrying through with her promise on this, with more than just lip service.

Her government has taken real action and steps to limit what it views as federal overreach into Alberta provincial affairs.

Of course, there are consequences, and in the name of “Red Tape Reduction,” another big promise of this provincial government, on the surface, the bill seems counterintuitive. Smith argued against that idea, saying that if the province can negotiate on behalf of all municipalities rather than a patchwork policy, there is a better chance for success and expediency.

Right here in Red Deer, there is potential that federal grants that support research at Red Deer Polytechnic might not get approval if the province views them as “ideologically” opposed to the province’s aims. The province has said it doesn’t intend to “impede academic freedom” and in that respect, you don’t until you do.

Smith also argued earlier this week that tens of thousands of Albertans pushed for this change and talked to the Fair Deal Panel about the province asserting its authority “on a whole range of areas.”

Except, in 2020, the province’s Fair Deal panel argued against this exact idea.

It’s somewhat ironic that Smith’s government has used Fair Deal Panel advice to support ideas her government likes and conveniently disregards the advice when it suits them.

The panel recommended making no changes to the “administration of agreements that Alberta public agencies and municipalities have with the Government of Canada.”

In its reasoning, they said, “Most Albertans who responded to the panel were indifferent to this question. Some pointed out that requiring pre-approval by the Alberta government is counter to the government’s goals to reduce red tape and enable municipalities to be nimble, locally accountable and autonomous. Understandably, several municipal councillors and mayors were very vocal on this issue and reinforced the imperative for project-based trilateral cooperation across federal, provincial and municipal governments. They argued, why is there a need to fix something that was not broken?”

The panel concluded its recommendation by saying, “At this time, the benefits of red tape reduction and local autonomy and accountability outweigh any concerns about possible backdoor federal encroachments for political expediency.”

Perhaps, in the view of Smith and her government, times have changed so much in the past four years that this recommendation no longer carries weight.

Four years ago, mayors and municipal leaders were “very vocal” on the issue, and after Wednesday’s announcement, there was concern and more questions than answers.

That seems to be the way with this government. Make decisions they want, and consult the affected parties later. It also seems to be their modus operandi in the sense that they’ll pick fights with Ottawa and not really have much substance behind them.

Smith even explained in her press conference Wednesday that among some 14,000 intergovernmental deals that provincial ministries analyzed in a review, 800 were flagged for a closer look.

“In the vast majority of cases, we’ll be perfectly fine having that partnership,” Smith said in her press conference.

On one hand, 800 sounds like a lot. Put another way, that’s just under six per cent of intergovernmental deals.

It sounds a bit like window dressing on a problem that doesn’t totally exist.

The bill would take effect in 2025, which could be in the lead-up to the Conservatives blowing up the Liberals in an election on the way to a federal majority.

It all might be a moot point by then.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate and a Regional Editor with Black Press Media.

Byron Hackett

About the Author: Byron Hackett

I have been apart of the Red Deer Advocate Black Press Media team since 2017, starting as a sports reporter.
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