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Rob Shaw: Eby happy to knock heads with Trudeau over federal spending

B.C. premier outlines specific demands to PM, including disaster funding and infrastructure support
Premier David Eby confronts Justin Trudeau, demanding fair treatment for British Columbia with a list of six concrete terms following public tensions.

After publicly complaining that the prime minister wouldn’t take his call, Premier David Eby has finally had it out with Justin Trudeau and presented him with a list of six “concrete terms” to treat British Columbia more fairly.

Eby outlined his demands in a letter to Trudeau on Thursday, which followed up on a phone call between the two that occurred Tuesday.

Eby began by highlighting the comments he and others made at a recent meeting of Western premiers, in which they complained Ontario and Quebec receive a disproportionate amount of attention and money from Ottawa, and called on the feds to meet them with more funding and respect on key priorities.

“I stand behind these priorities and urge you to act in collaboration with us,” Eby wrote.

“I am writing you today to express what this would look like in concrete terms in British Columbia. I appreciated your government’s commitment to partner with us on BC Builds. Now we need to build on this momentum to ensure B.C. remains a livable, prosperous and inclusive province.”

Eby went on to outline “six specific files where these shared priorities continue to require your urgent attention.”

One of the top issues was the inability of Abbotsford, Merritt and Princeton to get federal disaster funding to prevent future flooding, despite public assurances from the prime minister and others after the 2021 atmospheric river that those communities — which were particularly hard hit — would be supported.

Eby launched on the federal government for the inaction last week.

“When [Quebec] Premier François Legault calls and says, 'I'm having problems with migrants,' there is the immigration minister with a three-quarters-of-a-billion cheque,” Eby said at the time.

“But British Columbia calls and says, 'We're having problems with flood mitigation in the Fraser Valley’ ... we get zero and there is no federal minister showing up to explain why.”

In his letter, Eby asked Trudeau for an “immediate engagement from Canada on the recent [disaster funding] denials for Abbotsford, Merritt and Princeton to address this funding gap.”

Eby also wanted Trudeau to make good on his government’s promise to help fund the Massey Tunnel replacement between Delta and Richmond, saying it is B.C.’s “top infrastructure priority.”

“A meaningful federal contribution to this $4-billion project, commensurate with the scope and historic levels of federal support for similar infrastructure, is essential to ensuring the future of this trade-enabling section of Canada’s supply chain network,” he wrote.

B.C. expects Ottawa to fund at least one-third of the $4 billion, if not more.

Another item on the list was the North Coast Transmission Line, meant to expand electricity supply to resource projects in B.C.’s northwest.

Eby billed it as not only clean energy infrastructure, but also a project of Indigenous reconciliation and future port expansion for the country. He asked Ottawa to cost-match provincial money, plus use other financial mechanisms like Indigenous loan guarantees, to accelerate the initiative.

The premier’s letter also asks for increased support for B.C.’s hydrogen sector, a production credit for renewable diesel, and to match the provincial contributions toward Metro Vancouver’s Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The letter does not ask for federal support for the North Shore Wastewater plant, which has ballooned in budget from $700 million to $3.86 billion, is now subject to an outside audit and has not received any provincial bailout either.

The phone call between Eby and Trudeau was said to be cordial, despite Eby publicly shaming the prime minister into picking up the phone. The idea of the province writing out a list of its demands was said to be Trudeau’s idea, though it also helps British Columbia by putting on the public record clear requests that it can use to hold Ottawa accountable.

“To achieve progressive outcomes that will ensure a prosperous future for all Canadians in British Columbia, we need equal partnership, better collaboration, and ongoing engagement in these priority areas,” Eby wrote in concluding his letter.

The federal Liberals and provincial New Democrats have been tied at the hip during the 18 months of Eby’s premiership — sometimes uncomfortably so for the BC NDP, who risk aligning themselves too closely to an enormously unpopular prime minister.

But that all changed when Eby tore a strip off Trudeau in front of all the other Western premiers, and then again in subsequent news conferences.

It will be interesting to see how Trudeau responds. He could slow play his response until after the Oct. 19 provincial election. Or, he could give Eby what he wants — which is both money and a leadership moment for the premier, who can then tell prospective voters he stood up for British Columbians and brought the federal government to heel.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 16 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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