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Alberta waits for details of new federal housing money, reasserts its jurisdiction over sector

Alberta’s minister responsible for social services says he’s waiting for more details on a federal announcement of an additional $15 billion for a national apartment construction loan program.

Jason Nixon said Wednesday the province is “watching with interest” as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the new money in Toronto that brings the existing loan program’s available funding to $55 billion.

It’s seen as another glimpse of what to expect in the federal government’s upcoming spring budget.

Trudeau said the initiative called “Canada builds,” styled after a British Columbia program, is meant to “turbocharge affordable apartment construction.”

Nixon said during an online media conference that while the province wants to “continue to see both federal and provincial investment in the housing crisis that has been taking place across our nation,” he said the Alberta government hasn’t seen “clear per capita investments in the provinces.”

“It continues to appear to be disproportionately invested across the nation, and not recognizing both Alberta’s population as well as the fact that Alberta is the largest growing place in Canada that has unique needs,” Nixon said, adding the province has “serious concerns” with what he says appears to be a federal drive to nationalize housing regulations.

“The federal government has no jurisdiction over Alberta municipalities or any municipality in the country, outside of course on (Indigenous) reserves, which we would expect them to meet that obligation,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was in Edmonton on Wednesday to talk about the federal announcement alongside Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and MP Randy Boissonault, told media that “Canadians have an entirely reasonable expectation that when we have a national problem of this magnitude, the federal government has to respond.”

“We as a federal government know we have to be there playing a central role,” Freeland said, adding that Ottawa wants to approach it collaboratively with provinces, municipalities and both the public and private sectors.

“We also recognize that we as a country can’t just keep on going the way we have been on housing. There is a reason we haven’t been getting enough homes built fast enough, and a big part of that reason is red tape.”

Nixon and Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver in a statement Wednesday accused Ottawa of playing politics and bypassing the provinces.

“We will not be allowing the federal government to enter our jurisdiction nor to force green policies on something like housing at the very moment where we need to be very focused on building as many houses as we can to help Canadians and Albertans,” Nixon told media, referring to Ottawa’s recently increased carbon tax.

“When it comes to these environmental regulations that they are now pushing forward on a housing crisis announcement — which everybody agrees the only solution to this housing crisis is to build more supply — they are tying to that money ridiculous climate change rules and regulations that will make housing more expensive and will slow down the process.”

The new money for the federal loan program, which was launched in 2017 and has helped create more than 48,000 homes so far, is aimed at building at least 131,000 apartments in the next decade.

The government is also reforming the program to extend loan terms and expand financing to include housing for students and seniors.

The Liberals say the funding for provinces and territories will come with conditions, including adopting the recently announced renters’ bill of rights.

Freeland, who also serves as finance minister, is slated to table the federal budget on April 16.

With files from The Canadian Press 

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