VICTORIA – The federal government abruptly cancelled a joint announcement with British Columbia over child care funding late last week, as tensions continued to mount over the Kinder Morgan pipeline dispute.
The federal and provincial child care ministers were set to hold a press conference Friday to announce their Early Learning and Child Care Agreement, which will see Ottawa deliver $153-million over three years to the province. But on Thursday, Ottawa pulled out of the event, claiming a scheduling conflict.
The move came during the height of a dispute between Alberta, B.C., and Ottawa over the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. B.C. announced earlier this month it intends to restrict the expanded flow of oil into the province pending a review into the science of oil spills, in a move widely seen as an attempt to delay the pipeline project. Alberta responded on Feb. 6 with a ban on importing B.C. wines and an appeal to Ottawa to intervene and overrule what it called an unconstitutional threat from B.C.
B.C. and federal officials then met on Feb. 8 in Vancouver to discuss B.C.’s position. That day, Ottawa cancelled the child care press conference.
Announcing the provincial money would have been a boost for British Columbia, where the NDP government is struggling to afford the $10-a-day child care plan promised during the May 2017 election. The government has said it will need help from Ottawa to fund the plan. A joint press conference on the eve of the Feb. 20 provincial budget, in which details of B.C.’s child care program will be revealed, could have been a visible show of support for B.C.’s ambitions.
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The provincial-federal deal was instead quietly posted to a subsection of the B.C. government’s website on Friday. B.C. will still get the money.
It’s unclear if Ottawa’s move was in fact retaliation for B.C.’s threats about the pipeline.
“The federal government has assured us the event is delayed just for now,” Premier John Horgan’s office said in a statement Wednesday. “We continue to have good working relationships across ministries on a range of issues.
“We’re also continuing our dialogue with the federal government on Kinder Morgan, which includes a meeting today between federal and provincial officials.”
Horgan was asked after his throne speech Tuesday whether his pipeline fight would affect provincial-federal relations, including federal money for child care and transit. He said he did not think that would be a problem.