OTTAWA - Both Ontario and Quebec are balking at paying the costs associated with the federal government's new crime bill, joining other provincial and opposition politicians worried about the tab for expanding the prison system.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday it's incumbent on Ottawa to foot the bill for measures that were entirely its own idea.
"It's easy for the federal government to pass new laws dealing with crime," McGuinty told reporters in Ottawa.
"But if there are new costs associated with those laws that have to be borne by taxpayers in the province of Ontario, then I expect that the feds will pick up that tab."
McGuinty's comments came just hours after Quebec's justice minister made a passionate appeal for a "time-out" on Bill C-10 at a Commons committee. Jean-Marc Fournier told MPs that the bill would actually lead to more recidivism because it did not focus enough on the rehabilitation and reintegration of criminals.
He estimated that the proposed legislation, which includes more mandatory minimum sentences, would cost Quebec hundreds of millions for new prisons and operational costs.
"I'm going to tell you, red light, we're not going to pay them, is that clear enough? We won't pay them," Fournier said. "If the federal government is convinced that it is an efficient law in terms of public safety, so then free up the budgets to help the provinces, especially those who say it won't be case."
Neither McGuinty nor Fournier explained how their provinces would force Ottawa to foot the bill. Courts in those provinces would be obliged to obey changes to the Criminal Code.
Fournier noted that Quebec has the lowest crime rates in the country and a criminal justice system that has been studied by other countries. He said measures in C-10 on youth crime had the overall effect of treating more young offenders as adults, something Quebec is completely opposed to.
"Focusing all the energy on imprisonment can only be a short-term, superficial, soft-on-crime solution," Fournier said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has estimated the cost of the omnibus bill, with its nine distinct areas, would cost $78.5 million over five years, but hasn't estimated how much the provinces will have to foot. Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, who is coming up with his own estimate this month, has said the government's figure included no methodology or supporting information.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the provinces have been well aware of the direction the government was taking, as many of the measures have been in the federal legislative pipeline for some time.
He suggested that they would be able to absorb the costs associated with the bill with the funds they get from the Canada Social Transfer.
"I note, in the last budget, an over $2.4 billion increase here and I know this will be very helpful to the provinces who have for the most part the responsibility of the administration of justice," Nicholson said Tuesday in Montreal.
"I'm, of course, a supporter of the increases that I've seen over the years of transfers to the provinces. And I think that's important."
There have been some murmurs of concern from other provinces as well since the bill was introduced in late September.
The Nunavut government has been told to expect a 15 per cent rise in the inmate population, even as the territory's one jail is already housing double the number of prisoners it was designed to take.
Janet Slaughter, deputy minister of justice, said the territory still has no facility for counselling and addictions — the driving force behind much of the criminal activity in Nunavut.
In British Columbia, the opposition NDP have said they're opposed to the federal bill and have raised concerns about downloaded costs on the province.
B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond has said her staff is studying the bill's impact.
The Commons justice committee also heard Tuesday from groups that support the crime bill.
Deputy Chief Const. Warren Lemcke of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said tightening up the use of conditional sentencing is the right approach.
"It focuses on serious penalties for serious offences. Canadians want this, especially the victims of crime," Lemcke said.
"Canadians need to know if they are the victims of serious crime, the sentence given to the person who committed the crime is one that acts as a deterrent, denounces the act, and protects citizens through the incarceration. Anything less than that lessens their faith in the criminal justice system."