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Bill 18 designed to combat federal meddling: MLA Hunter

Posted on May 9, 2024 by Ryan Dahlman

By Trevor Busch
Commentator/Courier
editor@tabertimes.com

Provincial jurisdiction under the constitution is not a half-hearted promise, it’s black-letter law. And when the feds start nosing around pushing the envelope, it’s clear they need a refresher on where their hegemony ends.

At least, that’s the argument behind the UCP’s new Bill 18, or the Provincial Priorities Act, but not everyone sees it that way. Critics of the legislation have slammed the bill as a threat to democracy that will have a chilling effect on federal funding for post-secondaries in the province.

Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter is firmly in the UCP camp, arguing federal overreach needs to be stopped in its tracks.

“This isn’t new to anybody. The federal government continues to go into our lane as a province in the constitution,” said Hunter. “We have federal and provincial jurisdiction, and we are considered as equal in Confederation. We’re not a parents, child relationship. It is equal partners in Confederation, provinces and the federal government, and on a regular basis, the federal government is trying to go into our lane in providing services and with strings attached.”

Fundamentally, Bill 18 would require provincial approval for federal funding agreements. The provisions would apply to municipalities, universities, school boards and other “provincial entities”. It will not apply to non-profit organizations. 

When announcing the bill, Premier Danielle Smith said she wants to ensure federal funding agreements do not contradict provincial priorities or investments.

Alberta isn’t a fan of the piecemeal approach to federal funding, says Hunter, while “picking winners and losers” isn’t in the national interest.

“So they’ll go into places like Calgary – this is pretty much where most of this stuff is happening. And they’ll say we’re going to give you this but you’ve got to do it this way, there’s typically strings attached. And we’re like, ‘Well, look, in Alberta, we don’t do that – we’re going to have an Alberta-wide approach.’ And Quebec does this already, and they’re very effective at it. And we just want to make sure that this isn’t just where the federal government is picking winners and losers, about who gets what, and when, and how this needs to be about some continuity, first of all, in approach, and then also making sure that you’re not picking winners and losers.”

The federal government’s funding approach for provinces in multiple areas is not uniform, with Hunter hinting that jurisdictions more ideologically aligned with Ottawa get a bigger slice of the pie. 

“So they’re literally using this money to buy votes in certain areas. And I don’t think Albertans would be happy with that. I’ll give you an example. So Prime Minister Trudeau came in and he came up with the announcement that they were going to be doing $6 billion in affordable housing, and attainable housing money. So he came in and made an announcement in Calgary. And that announcement, we thought, ‘okay, it was 100 and some odd million dollars. And that’s great. But you know, obviously, it’s only 1/10th of that pie. The next day, he went over to BC and offered down, I think, 10 times what we got. And so, again, it’s this idea of fair and equitable, that we constantly see not happening with the federal government. And so you want to negotiate, you want to be able to talk about how much of that $6 billion, you should be giving up? Let’s negotiate that, rather than you coming in just telling us exactly what we’re going to have in one city or another.”

Critics who argue Bill 18 will negatively impact federal funding flowing into the province don’t have much ammunition, contends Hunter, citing the precedent of Quebec.

“Well, I don’t think it’s going to be negatively impacted at all, I think it’s actually we’re going to do better, because then we’re going to be able to have a really strong case, a provincial case. And if that’s the argument, then what’s happening in Quebec wouldn’t be happening – Quebec has a province-wide approach. They have this bill already on the books in Quebec, and they get way more. So that’s the argument. It’s a weak argument, because you’ve got Quebec that has already shown for many years now if they have a province-wide approach, they actually do better.”

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