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‘No other obvious federal programs’: Feds warn provinces to apply for Chignecto Isthmus funding |

Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc is warning provincial governments in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia that federal funding to help protect the Chignecto Isthmus may not be available should they fail to meet a Wednesday deadline for a federal program.

“There is no other obvious federal programs that would contemplate investment in a program like that as we stand here today,” Leblanc told reporters in Moncton on Monday.

Applications to the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund — the program Ottawa has offered to use to help pay for improvements to the Chignecto Isthmus — close on Wednesday. The federal government has offered to pay for half the project that would raise and repair aging dikes that protect the narrow, marshy strip of land that connects the two provinces. The estimates for the project peg the cost at about $300 million.

“We think a 50 per cent offer of partnership is very important but we have a couple of days to get it right or my fear is that the government of Canada will not be in a position (to offer funding) because there is no other program that would contemplate support like this,” Leblanc said.

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Premiers in both provinces have said the offer isn’t good enough and argue that the federal government should cover the entire cost. New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs sent a letter to Leblanc earlier this month arguing that the Constitution places the responsibility for the stretch of road under federal jurisdiction and says they’ll look to the courts.

“If the federal government refuses to accept its constitutional responsibility in this manner, it will be up to the governments of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to ask the courts to enforce our nation’s supreme law,” he wrote.

“Seeking a ruling from the courts will be a lengthy and expensive process for our government and yours. We are prepared to take this step, because we believe in the principle that the nation’s government has prime responsibility to maintain the links that were forged in Confederation.”

When asked on Monday, Leblanc says he disagrees that because the federal government regulates transportation it should then have to step in to pay for the entirety of a project protecting a provincially owned highway, even pointing to New Brunswick’s budgetary surplus that approached three-quarters of a billion dollars last year.

A constitutional expert says while Higgs may be legally right, it’s still unlikely that a court challenge will result in the outcome he’s looking for.

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Higgs’ letter cites two parts of the Constitution, Section 91(29) and Section 92(10), claiming that interprovincial transportation is the sole authority of the federal government.

Click to play video: 'N.B., N.S. governments urged to apply for funding for Chignecto Isthmus'

N.B., N.S. governments urged to apply for funding for Chignecto Isthmus

Nicole O’Byrne, a professor in the faculty of law at the University of New Brunswick, says the latter section is the more useful of the two, since it allows the federal government to step in and take over projects that fall beyond the capacity of an individual province or are of national importance. For example, in the 1960s the federal government paid for 85 per cent of implementing Medicare in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to get the project up and running, recognizing neither province had the ability to foot the whole bill.

“If a project is too big for provinces to handle and it’s not going to get done because the provinces don’t have the fiscal capacity then the federal government is obligated to step in,” she said.

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But even if the courts ruled in favour of the provinces, they’re unlikely to make the feds pay for the whole thing or even set out a funding formula.

“At the end of the day the court is not going to come up with a funding formula for the parties involved here,” she said.

“They’re going to say go negotiate it. Sure, the federal government might be responsible but go figure out some equitable cost-sharing equation for the funding of this project.”

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