• Daniel Demers

Costly debate or down payment?

Earlier this week the Federal Finance Minister provided his economic update which included details of increased spending not accounted for in last spring’s budget.

One of these items was the planned Federal “spend” to implement its plan for legalization. According to Canada Press this included $526 million over five years for Health Canada, the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency and Public Safety Canada with an additional $150 million over six years for devising and implementing new laws against drug-impaired driving.

It is good to see the government make these critical investments that are necessary to mitigate the impact of legalization and ensure federal programs are fully engaged. But what isn’t clear is what other federal spending is being made available to support other levels of government with the significant costs they will incur long before any tax revenue is available to them to operate public health, education and safety initiatives at the community level.

Provinces, municipal governments and police services have all asked for Federal funding to address the immediate costs associated with what they see as a very ambitious timetable for legalization. The call for federal support will no doubt be a center piece of the report on provincial preparedness that is soon to be released by the Council of the Federation and the Trudeau government’s response will go a long way to define the relationships between the federal and other levels of government as the public debate over legalization by July 1st intensifies.

If the funding announced earlier this week is the limit of the federal spending to address the impact of legalization they are setting themselves for a very costly public debate with governments across the country. The funding identified – approximately $250 million a year - is less than $25 million per year per province and territory with nothing left for municipalities or first nation governments. A level of support that will not be nearly enough to satisfy growing demands and the political posturing that is defining the debate.

It wouldn’t be the first time sub national levels of government say they can’t afford to pay for the impact of a new Federal policy and threaten to fight it out in the media. The difference this time is that the debate will focus on whether Trudeau is putting health and safety of Canadians at risk because of a lack of funding and an unwillingness to work with others. Trudeau cannot afford this narrative to take hold as he pushes for legalization by July 1st and the provinces and municipalities know it. So this is likely just a down payment on the total Federal “spend” on legalization.