Rob Shaw: B.C. preps its priority requests for the new federal cabinet

VICTORIA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet ministers may have barely found their offices after being sworn in Wednesday, but they will soon be getting urgent calls from their B.C. counterparts who have a long list of items they want to see action on from Ottawa.

Among the top issues for B.C. are priority cash for child care, housing, and money laundering.

Premier John Horgan’s promise of $10-a-day child care currently only exists in 53 prototype sites funded using $60 million from a federal early learning child care agreement set to expire on March 31.

B.C.’s minister of state for child care, Katrina Chen, said she is “eager to have that renewed” by Ahmed Hussen, the new families, children and social development minister.

“I’m staying cautiously optimistic we will have that conversation soon and make sure there’s stability for families,” said Chen.

The NDP promised $10-a-day child care in the 2017 election, but the phase-in of the plan will take a decade. In the meantime, Chen said B.C. has been analyzing the prototype sites — where roughly 2,500 lucky parents pay only $200 a month per spot — to see how they have been working. Preliminary results are coming soon, she said.

The federal agreement, which was worth $153 million over three years, also helped pay for expansions to the Aboriginal Head Start early learning and child care programs.

Hussen, Ottawa’s former immigration figure, will be an in-demand minister in B.C. due to another portfolio he holds: the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

B.C.’s ambitious goal to build 114,000 new units of affordable housing over 10 years will need continued support from agencies like CMHC, as well as more funding from federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau to cost-match B.C. programs, additional land from federal agencies, and extra dollars to help with supportive housing services. That’s not to mention a comprehensive homelessness strategy that B.C. has asked Ottawa to draft.

Attorney-General David Eby’s planned crackdown on money laundering provoked a public pledge of cooperation from Ottawa last year, but apparently none of the promised funding ever actually arrived.

“We’re unfortunately still waiting for the federal government to come through with the promised funding for additional enforcement for the RCMP to be doing policing related to money laundering in our province,” Eby told reporters this week.

Luckily for Eby, the federal point person for money-laundering, Bill Blair, was promoted in Trudeau’s new cabinet to Minster of Public Safety, where he will now be in charge of the RCMP.

“As soon as I get a chance to get Mr. Blair on the phone and congratulate him on his appointment, I will be pressing him for that money as soon as possible,” said Eby.

New federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu is making early sounds of support for a universal pharmacare program, to cover the cost of prescription drugs for Canadians. But B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix will be one of the first calls to her office to warn that no such plan will work if it means downloading extra costs onto provincial budgets. It is an especially important point when you considering B.C. is currently struggling to keep its books balanced.

Rookie minister Seamus O’Regan is undoubtedly cramming to get himself up to speed on his new Ministry of Natural Resources. One of his top briefing items will be the high-profile request from Horgan to Trudeau that Ottawa increase the flow of refined gasoline in the federally owned Trans Mountain Pipeline to help lower the costs of gas for Lower Mainland drivers.

This took on renewed importance due to a recent report by the B.C. Utilities Commission that again highlighted an unexplained 13 cents per litre cost on B.C. motorists. Bruce Ralston, the B.C. minister handling gas pricing, is expected to push this as a priority item with the federal capital.

Delta’s Carla Qualtrough was moved from the federal public services ministry to the new Ministry of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, where she will be fielding requests from B.C. Social Development Minister Shane Simpson for expanded social service funding.

That includes boosts to federal employment insurance, early retirement and retraining grants for B.C. forestry workers who have lost their jobs, as well as expanded federal aid packages for anyone who is about to be displaced by a contentious agreement between First Nations and the two levels of government to save the endangered woodland caribou population near Prince George.

The larger issue of First Nations reconciliation may see federal minister Carolyn Bennett, who retained her portfolio, taking lessons from B.C. as it becomes the first government in Canada to enact the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

B.C. wants Trudeau to make good on an election promise that “the federal government will be there as a partner” on a replacement for the aging George Massey Tunnel (likely a new tunnel).

Coming up with that cash will be the job of new federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna. While she has the chequebook open, Lower Mainland mayors want to see extra funding to expand the SkyTrain line all the way to Surrey — a key decision that could influence whether the B.C. government matches its own funding to expand the project.

Some working relationships between B.C. and Ottawa were disrupted by the new cabinet shuffle.

The Horgan government had found an ally in federal minister Jonathan Wilkinson of North Vancouver, who moved quickly to save salmon endangered by the Fraser River rockslide late this summer, and put a priority on B.C.’s request to crack down on open-pen salmon fish farms.

Wilkinson’s shuffle to the larger portfolio of Environment and Climate Change means the B.C. NDP-Green alliance has a powerful partner in its ambitious plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But it also means the federal fisheries file reverts back to an MP from Atlantic Canada (in this case Bernadette Jordan from Nova Scotia), which history has shown means much less help for B.C. on its fisheries problems.

Two other B.C. MPs have cabinet jobs, giving the province four seats at Trudeau’s table. Harjit Sajjan remains in the defence portfolio. Vancouver Quadra MP Joyce Murray was promoted to Minister of Digital Government — a job so nebulous that who knows what that means for the province, if anything.

Horgan has said he has had a good working relationship with the federal Liberal government. But as Trudeau grapples with his reduced minority, and Horgan enters the back half of his mandate, it’s clear B.C. is looking for less talk and more action from the prime minister’s newest cabinet.

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