Provincial and territorial ministers have sent a rare united message to Ottawa, with a resolution asking the federal government to consult with them on the cost of the Conservative omnibus crime bill.
The request, presented Wednesday afternoon at a meeting of public safety and justice ministers in Charlottetown, also asked for consultation before the bill comes into force to ensure provincial courts and police are prepared for the changes.
But while the ministers agreed on the content of the resolution, they had markedly different perceptions of how well it was received by the federal government.
Ontario and Quebec, which have both been vocal in their concern that Bill C-10 will overwhelm their courts and jails, said the request for consultation was brushed aside by federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
"We had watered it down so much that it was a very simple resolution to establish a process to negotiate," said Madeleine Meilleur, Ontario's minister of community safety and correctional services. "I don't think there was any intention of the federal government to support it."
"They didn't say a blunt no, but their response was not positive," she said.
Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier accused Ottawa of asking the provinces to bankroll the federal bill and reiterated a promise not to pay the cost of implementing it.
A spokeswoman from Mr. Nicholson's office referred requests for comment on the resolution to ministers from Alberta and Saskatchewan, two provinces that have been staunchly supportive of the bill, adding in an e-mail that "meetings are on-going."
Bill C-10, which a Senate committee will begin to study next month, includes measures to toughen treatment for young offenders and add mandatory minimum sentences for sexual offences against children and some drug offences. The changes are expected to result in more people staying behind bars for longer.
Ontario announced this week that it expects the bill to cost the province's taxpayers $1-billion, and Quebec has calculated its share of the cost at $294-million to $545-million to expand prisons, plus at least $40-million more each year to service a larger population of inmates.
While Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and New Brunswick all support the content of the bill, they say they also want a dialogue with Ottawa about how the costs will be shared.
Jonathan Denis, Alberta's Solicitor General, said the federal ministers were receptive to the provinces's resolution. "I think their response was very positive," he said. "I've made it clear Alberta's position [is]that we do support a lot of the intent in the bill but, again, we do need to have a discussion about cost sharing."
In an e-mailed statement Wednesday evening, B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond reiterated that province's support for "the vast majority" of the bill's provisions. "But we also want to ensure that our federal partners understand our concerns about the fiscal impacts and the implementation challenges of the legislation," she wrote.