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B.C. may work with N.L. on court challenge of federal equalization payments, Eby says

B.C.'s premier said Thursday that the province will consider joining with Newfoundland and Labrador in a court challenge over federal equalization payments.
British Columbia Premier David Eby, left, speaks as Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey listens during a news conference at Bob & Michael's Place, a social housing complex in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Thursday, June 13, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — British Columbia Premier David Eby has found an ally in his claims of unequal funding from the federal government: Newfoundland and Labrador.

Eby said Thursday that B.C. will consider joining with Newfoundland and Labrador in a court challenge over federal equalization payments in an effort to get "fair treatment" from Ottawa.

"Quebec gets $750 million in funding for migrants, (and) we can't get money for dikes in the Sumas Valley," Eby said during a joint news conference with Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey in Vancouver.

"It's not OK. So, I will be asking our attorney general to work with Andrew's team to have a look at the case they're bringing forward and see if there's a place in British Columbia for this."

The B.C. premier has been critical of unfair federal funding for Western Canada, saying the lack of money for projects such as flood prevention, while cash flows to Quebec and Ontario, shows those provinces get "special treatment."

On Thursday, Eby reiterated his frustration at the "pattern" of a lack of federal funding on projects such as the $4.15-billion replacement for the George Massey Tunnel in Metro Vancouver, where no specific figure on Ottawa's contribution has been set.

He said other projects also need federal funds, including flood mitigation in the Fraser Valley, an area badly damaged by flooding in 2021, and the Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade in Richmond, B.C.

"Building out the Massey Tunnel — here's a $4-billion project where a federal government minister took out a full-page ad to say the feds are going to pay for it during the election," Eby said. "Zero right now. Zero.

"Taxpayers in B.C. can't afford to build everything for the federal government so that they can just rain cash down on Ontario and Quebec."

Furey said the lack of funding for certain provinces is compounded by the equalization program, a topic that he spoke about at length with Eby during his visit to B.C.

Asked about his thoughts on Eby's criticism of the federal funding, Furey said the formula for equalization is "fundamentally broken for Canadians right now."

"It was placed in the Constitution in 1982, and the spirit of it is not being reflected in the application today," Furey said.

"There is a calculation problem, a formula problem. And that's why we think that really a court needs to evaluate how this is applied across jurisdictions, British Columbia and all provinces, for all Canadians."

Newfoundland and Labrador announced plans to take Ottawa to court in May, saying the existing system puts it at a disadvantage.

The province said at the time of the announcement that it could have received between $450 million and $1.2 billion in each of the last five years instead of receiving nothing due to the formula's fundamental flaws.

The provincial statement said part of the discrepancy is that the formula does not account for the high cost of providing services to the country's most sparsely populated and rapidly aging province.

Newfoundland and Labrador's challenge has received some support from other provinces, with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe saying in a social media post that he has also directed their attorney general to reach out about the case.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said he and Furey have similar thoughts on the federal government’s obligations and whether it is meeting them, and Nova Scotia will follow any action by Newfoundland and Labrador with interest.

Eby and federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller have traded comments this week after Eby said at the Western Premiers' Conference that Ottawa was "showering" Ontario and Quebec with money, including the $750 million for helping Quebec with its immigration surge.

In response, Miller said that B.C. needed to take in more asylum seekers.

Eby said his issue with federal funding stretches well beyond the migrant and immigration issues.

"My concern is about fair treatment for British Columbia from the federal government," Eby said Thursday. "And that means something very straightforward to me.

"It means based on our population, that whatever the federal program is, that we get a fair share of that federal program, it could be migrants, could be economic development, could be housing, you name it."

Furey's visit to B.C. is a reciprocal trip after a stop by Eby to St. John's last November, where the two sides signed a commitment to work on advancing clean energy technology.

On Thursday, the pair toured an affordable housing project in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, and the premiers said they also visited a new hydrogen refuelling station that produces fuel through solar and hydro power at the University of British Columbia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 13, 2024.

Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press