Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith makes her way to the podium to introduce legislation addressing agreements between the federal government and provincial entities in Edmonton on April 10.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Alberta would have the power to declare funding deals between its municipalities and the federal government invalid under proposed legislation Premier Danielle Smith said is designed to stop Ottawa from subverting provincial priorities.

The governing United Conservative Party on Wednesday introduced a bill requiring entities under Alberta’s purview, including universities, school boards, housing agencies and health authorities, to obtain the province’s consent before entering, amending, extending or renewing agreements with Ottawa.

Ms. Smith said deals between the federal government and provincial entities that do not have Alberta’s blessing will be illegal under the proposed legislation. However, she did not provide details about consequences.

Speaking to reporters before the legislation was tabled, Ms. Smith said the proposal is about defending Alberta’s constitutional jurisdiction and stressed the province has authority over municipalities such as Calgary and Edmonton.

Municipal leaders, including the mayors for Alberta’s two largest cities, scoffed at the UCP’s bill, titled the “provincial priorities act.” They argued the legislation adds red tape, could delay projects, and puts billions of dollars of federal funding at risk.

The proposed act is Ms. Smith’s latest legislative attempt to stymie programs, plans, and policies she considers counter to her government’s goals.

“We’re not going to allow the federal government to come in, work directly with a provincial entity that we give a regulated mandate to, and circumvent the things we want to do,” Ms. Smith told reporters. “We know that the federal government has, on certain issues, a diametrically opposed view to what it is we want to do.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March angered many provinces, including Alberta, when he announced a multibillion-dollar fund to pay for infrastructure needed to build new housing. He said the federal government would negotiate directly with municipalities if provinces objected to Ottawa’s funding conditions, such as eliminating single-family zoning.

Ontario and Quebec immediately rejected Mr. Trudeau’s strategy, arguing he was treading on their jurisdiction. Alberta also bristled at the perceived intrusion. Ms. Smith argued Wednesday the federal Liberals are “manipulating municipalities” into rewriting their bylaws in exchange for federal support, and she had to step in.

The federal government, in a statement from the Ministry of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities, said Canada is in a housing crisis and cannot afford to make it more difficult to build homes.

“We all need to be pulling in the same direction when it comes to housing, and putting up new roadblocks to delivering funding to get more homes built will not help us solve the housing crisis Albertans are facing,” the statement said.

Jyoti Gondek, the mayor of Calgary, said city administration is dedicated to planning and delivering services, making them most familiar with the municipality’s needs. It is cheaper, faster, and more sensible, she said, for Calgary and other municipalities to appeal directly to the federal government for money.

Calgary and other municipalities should be “celebrated” for fighting for their share of federal cash, Ms. Gondek said, arguing it is similar to Ms. Smith’s own campaign to return tax dollars to the province. The mayor also said Calgary would be remiss to not press the federal government for support as new residents stream into the city.

“We would be irresponsible if we weren’t going after every possible way to fund housing,” she said in an interview.

Edmonton mayor Amarjeet Sohi criticized Alberta’s proposal as an “unnecessary complexity” that will stifle economic growth. He said the capital city has more than 40 agreements with the federal government, ranging from $2-million to more than $200-million, the majority of which are related to infrastructure.

Having to go through the province to secure federal funding could delay projects and leave money on the table – potentially “millions and billions,” he said.

”As a municipality, we need both provincial partners and federal partners and we should have the ability to have independent relationship with both.”

Tyler Gandam, president of Alberta Municipalities and the mayor of Wetaskiwin, a city of about 12,600 people south of Edmonton, said Alberta should allow municipalities to act with autonomy and make decisions in the best interests of their residents, considering they are “closest to the people.”

He added that federal funding is necessary to fill gaps, sometimes as a result of provincial cuts, and that the proposed legislation will likely create “more hoops to jump through” for cities to access the funding they need.

But Ms. Smith argued Wednesday that Ottawa should instead provide the province with funding for housing, roads and other projects, based on Alberta’s population, which her government could then dole out. The money, she said, should come without strings.

“Albertans don’t want federal funding to show the world how virtuous we are, or to polish Canada’s halo internationally,” she said.

She said she is particularly concerned about Ottawa pushing its positions on net-zero housing, net-zero electricity, and safer drug-supply programs. Alberta, in a news release, also cited Ottawa’s “unrelenting and ideological push toward electric buses” in Canadian cities as justification for the legislation.

Eric Adams, a constitutional expert at the University of Alberta, said while provinces have exclusive jurisdiction over municipalities, undermining an elected council’s decision-making ability may not be smart politics.

Over the past couple of years, the UCP has stressed that cities and councils are bound by provincial laws and regulations, even though residents generally think of them as independent governments, Mr. Adams noted.

“They’re as independent as the province wishes them to be – and they may not wish them to be very independent,” he said.

Mr. Adams added the legislation’s inclusion of postsecondary institutions, which receive millions through federal research funding, is concerning. It would be a “surprising and upsetting intervention of provincial authority over the academic freedom and integrity of the research” if the province interfered, he said.

Ms. Smith, when asked by reporters about the potential for political interference in university projects, pointed to the federal government, which she said funds research projects based on ideology. She cited Ottawa’s “social research fund” as an example, but didn’t provide details.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe