Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia emphasize call to be part of housing deals

Premier Scott Moe and his counterpart from Nova Scotia say Canada’s need for housing is too complex for provinces not to be at the table when Ottawa strikes housing deals with municipalities.

The issue was a prominent part of the communiqué released Monday following a meeting of provincial premiers and territorial leaders in Halifax.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe attend a news conference in Halifax on Tuesday, Nov.7, 2023. The premiers are emphasizing the need for provinces to be at the table when Ottawa strikes housing deals directly with municipalities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Keith Doucette

At a news conference Tuesday in the Nova Scotia capital, the two premiers discussed their objections to what they see as an end run by the federal government.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said Ottawa has been using a “divide and conquer” approach to issues such as carbon pricing and housing.

“We just need to make sure that the relationship is fair and honest,” said Houston, who added that there aren’t many housing projects in his province that his government isn’t eventually going to partner on.

“Let’s acknowledge that up front and let’s have the province at the table to begin with,” he said.

Premier Scott Moe said there is a concern about the federal government increasingly looking at the “potential political benefits” of circumventing the provinces in making large funding announcements on its own.

“It’s a real concern and it definitely misses out on some of the synergies that may actually address the root (housing) challenges that we are dealing with that are different from coast to coast,” said Moe.

Neither conservative premier mentioned their own prickly attitude towards the federal government on numerous fronts, as being a factor in the decision to deal directly with the municipalities.

The communiqué calls for federal funding “that flows exclusively through provinces and territories” in order to address housing needs and support long-term capital planning.

The call comes after several announcements from federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser under the federal government’s Housing Accelerator Fund in cities such as Halifax, Calgary, Hamilton and London, Ont.

Canada’s premiers maintain that they’ve been cut out of the process, and as a result they are threatening to enact legislation that would see them deal directly with Ottawa in brokering deals. The model they point to is last month’s $900-million housing agreement signed by Quebec on behalf of its towns and cities.

“We’re actually hoping it’s not necessary, but in Quebec they have a piece of legislation that requires (that) the federal government … deal fairly and honestly with the provincial government, and it’s worked for Quebec,” Houston said.

Moe said there have been years of chronic underfunding of federal housing in Indigenous communities in his province, which in turn has placed pressures on adjacent northern Métis communities and in the province’s urban centres.

He said the issue illustrates the diversity of housing needs and why it’s necessary to have the provinces, industry, municipalities and the federal government at the funding table to seek solutions. “It’s about respect and engagement,” Moe said.

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