TORONTO - Ontario's Liberal government is "acting like Big Brother'' and showing disrespect to local voters by funding a crackpipe distribution program in Ottawa over the city's objections, the opposition parties charged Friday.

Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien has written Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson asking why the province went ahead and provided $287,000 for the crackpipe exchange after city council voted to end the program last summer.

Nepean-Carleton Conservative Lisa MacLeod said the provincial Liberals started down a slippery slope when they overrode the wishes of Ottawa's elected councillors and the citizens they represent.

"What is fundamentally disturbing here is that the City of Ottawa has found out though back channels that the province was funding a crackpipe program in its city, after the council took a strong philosophical decision against it,'' MacLeod said.

"It is the worse kind of social engineering from Toronto in the City of Ottawa that is imaginable. The people of the City of Ottawa should decide the social fabric of their community -- not bureaucrats in Toronto.''

New Democrat Andrea Horwath said it was hypocritical for Premier Dalton McGuinty to speak about giving Ontario municipalities more power to act without provincial approval in many areas, and then turn around and override a locally elected council.

"I think that the government is talking out of both sides of its mouth on this one,'' Horwath said.

"At the first test of having a municipality stand on its own ... and all of a sudden it's not good enough anymore. Dalton McGuinty, make up your mind: can municipalities make their own decisions or can't they?''

Staff for Watson, a former mayor of Ottawa and a former minister of health promotion, said Friday he would not comment on the crackpipe program, even though the city wrote directly to him seeking an explanation.

"This is a (Ministry of Health) decision, and therefore we have no comments to add,'' Watson's press secretary Adam Grachnik said in an e-mail.

Earlier this week, Watson talked about poor relations between the province and municipalities during his time as Ottawa mayor, complaining that "we just weren't consulted'' by provincial officials.

MacLeod warned the province is treading on "dangerous territory'' by overriding a locally elected council.

"They've decided autonomy of a municipality doesn't count,'' she said. "They've decided the views and the values of those city councillors and the constituents that they represent don't matter.''

"They've decided Big Brother knows best.''

The crackpipe exchange, officially called a safer inhalation program, is designed to limit the spread of diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV.

The opposition parties said Ottawa's philosophical opposition to such a plan should be respected by the Liberal government, not ignored.

"The Ottawa council must be feeling like Rodney Dangerfield right now,'' Horwath said. "They can't get any respect.''

Health Minister George Smitherman was on vacation Friday and unavailable for comment.