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Smith says she expects Poilievre to work with provinces to give cities housing cash

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OTTAWA -

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said Friday she has no problem with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre's proposal to give municipalities a building bonus to encourage housing construction — so long as he goes through her provincial government.

Smith gave a speech to conservatives at an annual networking conference in Ottawa, days after tabling a bill that seeks to block Alberta cities from negotiating deals directly with the federal government.

Speaking to the crowd, she called it the "stay-out-of-my-backyard bill" and said her message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to stay out of Alberta's business.

Formally called the "Provincial Priorities Act," Smith's United Conservative Party government said that if passed, it would require entities regulated by the province, such as municipalities and post-secondary institutions, to seek the government's permission before changing or entering into a new agreement with Ottawa.

She said it was prompted by Trudeau's Liberal government announcing funding deals with individual cities like Calgary and Edmonton under its Housing Accelerator Fund.

Under the program, cities have to apply to access housing cash. Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser said last month the fund is tied to innovation and not population.

After her speech Friday at the Canada Strong and Free Network gathering in Ottawa, Smith suggested the same rule of requiring provincial approval before federal funds to flow would apply if Conservatives form the next government.

"The policy that we have applies no matter who is in the prime minister's chair," Smith said.

"We expect that they're going to respect provincial jurisdiction and work with us."

Smith routinely accuses Trudeau of disrespecting provincial jurisdiction and pushing his on "ideological" perspectives, especially when it comes to advancing policies to fight climate change.

But she said the new housing deals were the final straw.

Public opinion polls suggest anxiety around the cost of living and housing affordability are causing many Canadians — particularly millennials, who brought Trudeau to majority power in 2015 — to look to the Conservatives as an alternative.

Poilievre has proposed his own suite of measures to speed up housing construction, including offering bonuses to municipalities that build more housing — and threatening to withhold money from those that don't.

He says "government gatekeepers" are to blame for slowing down housing construction, taking particular aim at mayors and city halls with his pitch of "cutting red tape."

That's why Poilievre says his plan to boost the housing supply will be by requiring municipalities to move faster.

"I would say that as long as he's working through the provincial government, we're not going to have any problem with that," Smith said of his bonus proposal.

She added that she believes it is "totally inefficient" for a federal government to strike specific deals with different municipalities.

"That is the very definition of red tape," the premier said.

Poilievre's office did not directly respond to Smith's assertion that she expects a future Conservative government to work through her government to deliver housing cash.

Instead, Ontario MP Scott Aitchison, who serves as the party's housing critic in Parliament, said in a statement that Trudeau has failed on housing, accusing him of prioritizing photo ops by making funding announcements under its $4-billion housing accelerator fund.

"Common-sense Conservatives will reward those who get homes built and punish gatekeepers that block homebuilding," Aitchison said.

On Friday, Trudeau announced a new housing plan that he promises will build 3.9 million homes by 2031. The announcement comes ahead of the release of the Liberal's 2024 budget next week, which the government says is heavily focused on the housing crisis.

Speaking in Vaughan, Ont., Trudeau said it was only a few months ago when premiers were demanding the federal government do more when it comes advancing measures to tackle the issue.

"Provinces should be careful what they wish for," he quipped. "They want the federal government to fix this housing crisis — we are. We will."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2024.

— With files from Lisa Johnson in Edmonton 

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