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Alberta premier takes issue with feds for overstepping jurisdiction on housing initiatives


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is yet again in Calgary, making a major housing announcement to bolster his Liberal party’s position of support for a national housing crisis, but the Alberta government says he’s overstepping his federal jurisdiction.

In Calgary on Friday, Trudeau announced a $600 million package for innovative housing solutions across the country.

The announcement includes $50 million to modernize home building tech and innovation, $50 million to modernize and expedite home building through regional development and $500 million to support rental housing.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith admits that she is in favour of some of the housing announcements the federal government has been making, but called out Trudeau for bypassing meetings with provincial leaders, neglecting local expertise and going directly to municipalities instead.

“We have 355 municipalities that all have different degrees of pressure, because of the need for housing, and yet with the federal government choosing who they have political relationships within granting or making grants on that basis, it's very political, and it doesn't meet the needs,” Smith said.

“Now that he's in trouble in the polls, now he's racing to make it look like he’s doing five announcements a day.”

Trudeau has been criticized for comments he made back in August 2023 when he stated publicly that “housing is not a federal responsibility.”

It’s why Smith has also been critical of the fact that the federal government’s money is conditional. For provinces to access $5 billion of federal housing money for municipalities, they must meet certain criteria.

That criteria includes adopting upcoming changes to the national building code to create "accessible, affordable and climate-friendly housing options," according to a federal government news release.

Provinces must also require municipalities to allow the construction of multi-unit housing, such as fourplexes, on residentially-zoned land and freeze development charges for three years in larger cities.

Trudeau noted that the provinces and territories must reach funding agreements with Ottawa by Jan. 1, 2025, to access the funding.

On Friday, he told CTV News that it’s always been the federal government’s main responsibility to make sure municipalities could accelerate the building of housing.

“So we created a $4.4 billion housing accelerator program that actually says to cities, if you are ambitious about building housing, if you agree to four units as of right, things like four storeys as of right, increased densification around transit, we will be there to give you this money,” Trudeau said.

“If they don't want to build more housing if they don't want to solve this housing price crisis, then they don't have to take our money. But we are there to work in partnership with any province that wants to show leadership and ambition in how we're going to work together to solve the housing crisis.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes a housing announcement in Calgary, Alta., Friday, April 5, 2024. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Residential densification, building codes and net-zero policies

Smith went on to say that Friday’s announcement for a bank of designs to manufacture modular homes is something that her government has been well aware of implementing.

She takes issue, however, with the federal government trying to “implement net-zero housing policies” that don’t make sense with Alberta’s building codes or environment.

“Knowing that we have natural gas as the base fuel for heat, that natural gas remains the base fuel for our electricity,” Smith said.

“And we are not going to chase after a couple of dollars if it means hamstringing our ability to build the kind of housing that we need to, nor do we want to take a little bit of a few dollars if it’s going to result in 10s or 20s or up to $30,000 of additional cost on homes.”

Alberta’s UCP government notes that it wishes to partner with the federal government in the same way that Quebec has.

In Quebec, legislation prohibits the federal government from making special deals with individual municipalities and instead forces them to have to work with the province first to decide how those dollars get spent municipally.

“I think that’s a healthier model,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, Alberta’s Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services Jason Nixon, notes that residential densification in cities is also something that requires support from the province.

“We’re in the best position to make sure that we can get funds distributed across the province in a way that can help all of the province. We continue to see disproportionate amounts of investment primarily in both Calgary and Edmonton who need it,” said Nixon.

“But the doughnuts have been forgotten around both of those large cities including no serious investments in rural Alberta, again.”

The start of an election campaign

Trevor Harrison, retired political scientist professor with the University of Lethbridge, says these announcements are the Liberal government’s attempts to focus on housing and save face ahead of a federal election.

He notes that the importance of dealing directly with municipalities also plays into that narrative.

“Just simply handing out the money doesn't seem to get very much credit for the federal government and we've seen that over the years in various programs,” Harrison said.

“But the other thing is, this is a fairly large chunk of money, and so it's understandable the feds want to know that the money is going to be spent appropriately, and not just simply hoarded by provincial governments.”

University of Calgary political science professor Lisa Young says placing conditions on this funding for municipalities has also created a game of shifting blame between all three levels of government.

She commented as well on Trudeau aiming to walk back his previous comments on the federal government lacking responsibility for housing initiatives.

“We've seen over the past year that there has been a call on the federal government to be particularly involved here,” Young said.

“We've also seen the Opposition Pierre Poilievre pushing really hard on this issue and basically indicating that he would take a robust role if he were prime minister, and so that I think has created some space for the federal government to get actively involved in the housing file, perhaps to a greater extent than they have in the past.”

Conservatives call out Trudeau

Scott Aitchison, federal Conservative shadow minister for housing and diversity and inclusion, added that the pressure on Trudeau to act on housing is increasing considering the substantial rise in the cost of living.

“After eight years, Justin Trudeau has doubled housing costs. Rents have doubled, mortgage payments have doubled, the cost of down payments have doubled. He caused this housing crisis and he is doubling down on the policies that have doubled costs,” Aitchison said in an emailed statement.

“At today’s photo op, he announced a ‘new’ program on innovation when a similar program already exists and re-announced two other existing programs. All of these are his existing policies that have contributed to the doubling of the cost of housing.

“Justin Trudeau promised to ‘build more homes faster’ but just yesterday his own housing agency confirmed that his policies will build fewer homes, slower and drive up costs further.” Top Stories

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