Feds rankle provinces with spring timeline for stabilization fund changes

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OTTAWA — A federal program that tops up provincial revenues in response to sudden economic downturns won’t be getting any changes until at least this spring.

Finance ministers in Alberta and Saskatchewan say they expected short-term fixes to the fiscal stabilization fund earlier than that and are now wary they will have to wait until after the federal budget to learn about the impact on their own finances.

The program helps out provinces facing a year-over-year decline in non-resource revenues, but the money is capped at just $60 per resident.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau promised his provincial counterparts at the end of last year that he’d get back to them by the end of January with a process for updating the decades-old program.

But this week, Morneau sent them a letter saying he’s now instructed his officials to provide advice on adjustments to the program for his consideration in the spring and his office says the letter itself is the update he promised.

Increasing the amount of money the program provides was a key demand from western provinces after the federal election saw Liberals lose a great deal of support in the region.