Ottawa Announcements | Doing a striptease when you’re already naked

Is it too much to ask Ottawa to pay its bills before adding more to taxpayers’ credit cards?

Is it too much to ask it to solve its own problems instead of telling the provinces what to do in their sandbox?

For several days, the Trudeau government has been engaging in an unusual pre-budget striptease: announcement to protect tenants, new national school feeding program, investment in housing infrastructure… The Liberals have revealed one by one the most important elements. exciting news of their budget which will be tabled on April 16.

From a political point of view, this gradual unpacking is clever. Started in the middle of the Easter break, when news is scarce, the seduction operation gives the government the chance to regain control of the agenda on subjects that closely affect citizens, subjects on which it is being closely followed by the curators of Pierre Poilievre.

You could say it’s fair game.

But the problem with the Ottawa stripping session is that the government is already completely naked. It has neither the money in its coffers to launch new spending nor the constitutional powers to intervene in the provinces’ flowerbeds.

Well, it depends…

In certain cases, the federal government is within its right to intervene. For example, Ottawa wants to ensure that rent paid on time by tenants is considered in their credit score, allowing them to obtain a better score. Very good ! The banking sector is in the federal court, no one disputes that.

But in other cases, we enter a gray area. You should know that the federal government cannot legislate in areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as health or education… but it can spend in these areas, according to the interpretation of the courts.

Thus, the provinces can hardly oppose Ottawa’s intention to add $1 billion to the table to finance meals in schools. As long as Ottawa does not legislate, it will pass… even if this way of proceeding violates the spirit of sharing skills and creates negative long-term effects.

Where it crosses the line is when Ottawa exercises financial blackmail to force the hand of recalcitrant provinces.

Here is a clear example.

Last week, Ottawa announced its intention to create a new Canadian charter of tenants’ rights which would notably force landlords to reveal their rent history, while Quebec refuses to create a provincial register.

This is an obvious incursion into the territories of the provinces which had not even been informed of it. And to think that Ottawa wants to work collaboratively! It begins badly.

We can see that this will be a forced collaboration.

On Tuesday, Ottawa announced a new envelope of 6 billion to finance the infrastructure necessary for the construction of housing (aqueducts, sewers, etc.). So much the better. Except that this windfall comes with a long series of conditions for the provinces and municipalities.

And guess what? The provinces will have to accept the famous Ottawa charter. Otherwise, no money. Real blackmail! The federal government finds itself doing indirectly what it cannot do directly: legislating in an area that is not its own.

Let’s say it clearly: the federal government is not the boss of the provinces. Everyone has their responsibilities. Everyone is accountable to their own voters. Even if a province does not act firmly enough, that is no reason for the federal government to tell it what to do.

Besides, it’s not as if the federal government doesn’t have its own problems to resolve. Just think of the air transport sector which is drowning in complaints because the travelers charter was poorly designed by Ottawa.

Regardless of the federal government, the sharing of skills has its reason for being. It protects the autonomy of the provinces and allows regional particularities to be taken into account.

Take real estate. Quebec already has the Administrative Housing Tribunal. And in health, he has his prescription drug insurance plan. And now Ottawa wants to impose pan-Canadian solutions! This risks creating duplication and waste of public funds. Now, it’s not as if the money is coming out of our ears.

We will find out in the budget, but the deficit for the 2023-2024 fiscal year could reach 46.8 billion, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, almost 7 billion more than forecast a few months ago by the government.

Not only is Ottawa in the red, but it also cannot keep its promises.

Canada is a long way from investing 2% of its GDP in military spending, as its NATO allies are urging it to do. It is also very far from doing its fair share with health transfers to the provinces.

So, we understand why they are angry when the federal government wants to create new programs that will create expectations among citizens. The provinces know too well that they will be stuck with the bill if the costs are higher than expected or if the federal government withdraws from the program, with the arrival of a new government that has different priorities.

So, before launching into leaf stripping, Ottawa should be a little embarrassed.

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