Politics

Premiers say Ottawa should have consulted with them more before tabling 2024 budget

Canada’s premiers are criticizing the federal government over “limited and inconsistent outreach” with provinces ahead of tabling the 2024 budget.

In a joint letter, the provinces also call for a 'return' to a collaborative approach between governments

Three men wearing suits sit at a long table with microphones in front of them. Provincial flags can be seen behind them.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, right, speaks during a press conference at the meeting of the Council of the Federation in Halifax on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. (Kelly Clark/The Canadian Press)

Canada's premiers are accusing the federal government of doing a poor job of consulting with them before tabling the 2024 budget.

They voiced their concerns in a letter released Friday by the Council of the Federation, made up of all 13 provincial and territorial premiers.

The letter, written on behalf of the premiers by council chair and Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, said that in order for the federal government to promote affordability and productivity, Ottawa and the provinces should "return" to a cooperative approach.

The budget, tabled Tuesday by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, proposes $52.9 billion in new spending over five years, including $8.5 billion in new spending for housing.

Ottawa also will post a $40 billion deficit this fiscal year and spend more on servicing its debt — $54.1 billion — than it will spend on health care this year.

The letter said the 2024 budget "was announced after all [provinces and territories] released their respective budgets and contained several initiatives that directly impact our own plans and budgets."

"There was limited and inconsistent outreach from the federal government in advance to ensure priorities and objectives of [provinces and territories] were considered," the letter said.

The letter says the premiers fear that the cost of new federal programs will "eventually be downloaded on provinces and territories, increasing the financial burdens borne by the taxpayers."

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland presents the federal budget as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 16, 2024.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland presents the federal budget as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

An ongoing battle over jurisdiction

For months, various provinces have accused the federal government of overreaching into provincial affairs or exacerbating problems, particularly those related to housing and immigration.

Alberta has sharply criticized the Liberal government for cutting deals with the province's municipalities through the federal Housing Accelerator Fund. 

The province has now introduced legislation to block those deals in the absence of Alberta's approval.

In Quebec, Premier François Legault has said the province can't take in more asylum seekers and recently asked Ottawa to transfer all immigration powers to Quebec.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he declined Legault's request, despite the premier's claims that a rise in asylum seekers was putting pressure on Quebec's public services.

In the letter, the premiers said that Ottawa should "refrain" from overreaching in their jurisdiction over health, education and housing.

Two men interact with each other. One is wearing a black suit, the other is wearing a gray suit.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Francois Legault chat at the funeral of former prime minister Brian Mulroney in Montreal on March 23, 2024. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

"Every government should have the right to receive ongoing financial compensation representing their fair share," the letter said. "This includes provinces and territories that reserve the right to require unconditional federal funding."

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Trudeau said he'd "always rather work with provinces."

"But if we have to, I will go around them and be there for Canadians, because this economy deserves young Canadians getting the support they need," Trudeau added.

The letter did praise the federal government's commitment to spending an additional $8.1 billion on defence, which the council said it has been asking for over many years.

The letter said the budget "may lead to positive impacts for Canadians if actioned properly and collaboratively with provincial and territorial partners."

"While the issue of good governance may not grab headlines, we know it is crucial to turn promises into results," the letter said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Benjamin Lopez Steven is a reporter and part-time writer for CBC News Network. He's also a recent journalism graduate from Carleton University. You can reach him at benjamin.steven@cbc.ca or find him on Twitter at @bensteven_s.