Alberta premier says she’s prepared to take Ottawa to court over housing deals

13 April 2024
Alberta premier says she’s prepared to take Ottawa to court over housing deals

Federal officials and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith clashed again on Friday over steps Ottawa is taking to boost housing construction across the country, as Smith raised the spectre of a legal battle.

Housing Minister Sean Fraser revealed Friday a revamped national housing strategy that he said will help create almost 3.9 million homes by 2031.

Smith already has pushed back against a number of prior federal announcements that promised funding for housing and related infrastructure — with or without the cooperation of provincial governments.

This week, Smith introduced what she called a “stay out of my backyard bill” in the Edmonton legislature. The legislation would require provincial oversight of future housing deals between the federal government and municipalities in the province (and in other areas as well).

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio’s The House, Smith said she simply wants to see her province treated in the same way as Quebec, which signed a housing deal with the federal government in October of last year. The deal with the province, rather than individual municipalities, was required by provincial law.

The House10:08Premier Smith tells the federal government to stay out of her backyard

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith explains why she wants to prohibit municipalities and others from taking money directly from the federal government for things like housing.

She said she’d be willing to challenge the federal government in court if necessary.

“We’re prepared to take them to court. They cannot be using their federal spending power in asymmetric federalism,” Smith told host Catherine Cullen, accusing the federal government of “playing politics” with tax dollars.

“We will not stand by while they continue to treat Alberta municipalities unfairly.”

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Smith also touted her own province’s commitment to housing construction — a promised investment of $840 million over three years.

In a separate interview airing Saturday on The House, federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser said Smith’s bill would slow down agreements that would promote home building. He also said he’s confident the two governments can work together.

He said Alberta has received close to its proportional share of funding — just 0.03 per cent off, he said — under the government’s housing accelerator fund program.

The House15:36What’s the federal government’s latest vision for building more houses?

Catherine Cullen asks Housing Minister Sean Fraser how the government’s latest housing strategy is going to create more homes, and checks in with some bricklayers about labour shortages in the building trades.

“If they wish to slow down the process because they want to have some agency over this, I would suggest they do what Quebec did — match us in funding and implement reforms on a province-wide basis that will allow us to achieve our goals,” Fraser said.

Smith said Friday that while Edmonton and Calgary have enjoyed some success under the fund, she has to think of smaller municipalities as well.

‘Get out of the way’: Trudeau

Canada is facing a persistent housing crisis. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimated last year that Canada will need to build 3.5 million additional homes — above projected construction — to restore affordability to the housing market.

Asked Friday about Smith’s stance, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointed out that he was criticized for saying the federal government had limited influence over the housing file across the country.

“We heard from a cavalcade of provinces saying, ‘See, the federal government needs to step up more … the federal government needs to step up and fix this housing crisis,'” he said.

Asked about an Alberta bill that would block the federal government from directly sending funding to cities, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said provinces who don’t want to solve the housing crisis should “just get out of the way.”

“So we are. Provinces should be careful what they wish for. They want the federal government to fix this housing crisis? We are, we will.”

Trudeau said he’d rather see provinces step up their own ambitions and commit to cooperating with Ottawa. He said Canadians don’t care about jurisdictional issues — they just want the problem solved.

“That’s why we’re there to work hand in hand, in full respect, with those provinces who want to solve the problem,” he said. “And [to] ask those provinces who don’t want to solve the problem to just get out of the way while we solve that problem that Canadians are facing.”


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Smith said she’s simply looking for equal treatment.

“I wish [Trudeau] would treat us exactly like Quebec, and I don’t think that that would be something that I would be careful of,” she said. “I think that that is something I would expect.”

Smith was also asked Friday about concerns she expressed about language in the housing plan referring to “climate friendly housing.”

“It should be about affordable housing, so that those who have entry-level housing have the ability to enter into that market at an affordable level,” she said. “That’s what we’re worried about, [that] all of the additional measures that are going to elevate and escalate the cost of housing and miss the point. The point is attainable housing.”

Smith said she doesn’t trust the federal government to prioritize affordable housing over net-zero emissions goals.

Fraser said the language on climate friendly housing doesn’t mean a requirement to meet a net-zero standard.

“This is ironic because when you actually make your home more efficient, you pay less in your power bill every month,” he said.

Source: cbc

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