A Look Ahead at Federal-Provincial Relations in 2023

With the first month of 2023 now off and running, the Government of Canada has rapidly begun its preparation for the year ahead. In advance of Parliament’s return, PAA’s team took a deeper dive into an element of politics and government that will be sure to play a large role in the fortunes of governments across Canada throughout the upcoming year: federal-provincial relations.

Elections: Changing leadership or doubling down?

Three provincial elections are due to be held through 2023: Alberta at the end of May, and Prince Edward Island and Manitoba in early October.

As Alberta Premier, Danielle Smith of the United Conservative party attempts to thwart the comeback of former premier, and Alberta NDP Leader, Rachel Notley, federal politicians will pay close attention to the willingness and interest of each federal leader in engaging in the provincial discourse. Will Pierre Poilievre publicly campaign with and support the UCP in Alberta? How will Jagmeet Singh engage with a fellow NDP leader, but one with whom he has vociferously disagreed in the past? Will Justin Trudeau benefit more from the election of a Premier (Notley) with whom he is more often aligned, or one (Smith) against whom he can campaign during the next election?

Later in the year, Manitoba and PEI will follow with their own elections. In Winnipeg, Premier Heather Stefanson of the Progressive Conservative Party seeks to bring a third-straight election win to her party, following Brian Pallister’s wins in 2016 and 2019. Wab Kinew, Leader of the Manitoba NDP, leads his party into a second election, seeking to capitalize on the momentum his party has enjoyed, given Stefanson’s consistently poor approval ratings since coming into office. Kinew’s election would be a milestone: the first Indigenous Premier of one of Canada’s 10 provinces.

In PEI, Premier Dennis King of the Progressive Conservatives seeks a second win over Peter Bevan-Baker and the Official Opposition Greens. Premier King saw a 12 per cent drop in approval ratings between August and December 2022, as Islanders face the highest inflation rates in the country, record-high fuel prices, and the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. Despite this loss of confidence, the Progressive Conservatives have maintained a significant lead over the Green Party and the Liberals with the support of 49 per cent of decided voters, but there is no doubt that Canada’s first Green Party to achieve Official Opposition status will be working to convert the 38 per cent of PEI voters still undecided.

Healthcare: The ticking clock

Already dominating much of the federal/provincial conversation in 2022, healthcare will continue to be the front-of-mind issue for premiers across Canada in 2023. Consistently, provincial and territorial leaders have called on the federal government to boost its share of healthcare costs from 22 to 35 per cent. Federal leaders, including Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Dominic Leblanc, both quibble with the calculation of the percentage of funding which comes from Ottawa, and insist on the use of common, key health indicators to create a consistent health data system across Canada.

For Canadians, the question is when and how, not if federal investment in healthcare is coming. Both Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, and Premier of Quebec, Francois Legault, have expressed (here and here), in recently weeks, some optimism of a healthcare deal with Ottawa. As stories across the country of overflowing hospitals, understaffed emergency rooms, and surgery backlogs continue, federal politicians will be faced with critical questions on how they handle the healthcare file:

What can we expect at the February 7 First Ministers’ Meeting on healthcare? Will the federal Liberals succeed in talking the provinces and territories into bilateral agreements, as they did in 2017 on healthcare, and again in 2021 on childcare? What choices will federal Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland, be forced to make to support an increase in funding from federal coffers? How will Pierre Poilievre capitalize on the healthcare issue? Will Yves-Francois Blanchet, Leader of the Bloc Quebecois, balk at any intrusion into provincial jurisdiction of healthcare? How will Jagmeet Singh ensure the NDP priorities of an expanded dental care program, universal national pharmacare, and investments in long-term care?

Federal legislative priorities: A just transition, gun control, and cost of living

With 25 pieces of legislation still on the docket in Parliament heading into 2023, the federal government has a long and varied list of priorities it hopes to accomplish during the upcoming year. As always, provincial leaders will pay close attention to legislation they may deem to adversely affect their constituents and political goals. Here are three current or anticipated legislative priorities that may emerge as federal/provincial issues in 2023.

Minister of Natural Resources, Jonathan Wilkinson, expects to have a busy 2023, including new ‘just transition’ legislation and a major Atlantic electricity project. Oil-producing provinces, including Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, will undoubtedly join the rest of the provinces in taking a fine-tooth comb through the bill, once it is tabled. The Atlantic Loop project, which proposes to deliver hydroelectricity from Labrador and Quebec to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is a further component of the federal government’s plan to decarbonizing and expanding the electricity grid.

Gun control, and specifically amendments to Bill C-21, which expand the ban on firearms to include many commonly used for hunting, has been widely criticized by federal opposition leaders, as well as Indigenous and provincial leaders from across Canada. With filibustering and delays at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security throughout its clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill, expect this issue to remain on the radar of federal and provincial politicians throughout 2023.

Finally, as experts predict another difficult year for the Canadian economy, the political hot potato of cost of living will remain a pressing issue for all politicians to face. With high interest rates, increasing food prices, and no short-term light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, provinces and the federal government will seek to both provide relief for their constituents through Spring budgets, while ensuring any responsibility for the crisis lies at the feet of someone else.