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  • David Boudeweel-Lefebvre

A very active federal government

For the past few months, while the polls have been unfavourable, Justin Trudeau's government has been multiplying costly announcements. Whether it's for a national childcare plan, dental care, medical insurance or housing, there's no end to the new programs the federal government is promising to put in place. These initiatives are aimed at maintaining the government's support from the NDP caucus and appealing to an electorate that is gradually abandoning the party in power.

These announcements have not gone unnoticed and are far from popular in some provinces. In Québec, for example, the federal government's willingness to create programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction is not welcome. It's one thing for the federal government to provide health transfers, funds for social housing or a tax credit for children's dental expenses. It's quite another to create an active rent management program, pharmacare and a national childcare plan. Two visions of the country collide.

Recently, we've also noticed that provinces other than Québec are worried about the ambitions of “big brother” in Ottawa. Alberta and Saskatchewan, in particular, are worried that the federal government is beginning to be too intrusive and damaging to their own programs. Québec's demand for the right to opt out with compensation is gaining support in the rest of the country. Even Ontario, a frequent beneficiary of federal government largesse, is concerned about the housing announcements, which aim to directly fund certain municipalities.

Many of the proposed measures will be detailed in the April 16 federal budget. In the meantime, the provinces remain on their toes. Beyond the intrusion into their areas of jurisdiction, several provinces fear a rapid increase in the federal deficit that would limit their ability to obtain transfer payments for their own priorities. What Québec identified as a problem decades ago – the federal government's power to spend in provincial jurisdictions – is becoming a concern almost everywhere in Canada. Other provincial governments have usually signed on to new federal programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction, thanks to the carrot of federal funding and stick of public pressure. But some provinces in English Canada are beginning to question the federal government's intentions, especially as many of these measures have a definite electoral flavour.

It will be interesting to see, in the wake of the budget, whether the provinces' concerns will turn to anger, or whether they will unite to defend their autonomy.



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