Tak­ing aim at equal­iza­tion

The Western Star - - EDITORIAL -

The idea be­hind Canada’s equal­iza­tion pro­gram is sim­ple — to en­sure that ev­ery prov­ince is able to pro­vide com­pa­ra­ble lev­els of pub­lic ser­vices to its cit­i­zens at com­pa­ra­ble lev­els of tax­a­tion.

The con­cept is writ­ten into the Cana­dian Con­sti­tu­tion, so it’s a guar­an­teed right for all Cana­di­ans. What is harder to un­der­stand, or agree on, is the for­mula used to de­ter­mine which prov­ince re­ceives ben­e­fits and which do not.

And equal­iza­tion is un­der at­tack once again. The topic drew heated dis­cus­sion when pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial fi­nance min­is­ters met in June, and the is­sue was re­cently dis­cussed in ad­vance of the re­cent meet­ing of pre­miers in New Brunswick. Right-wing groups are fir­ing broad­sides at the equal­iza­tion pro­gram, de­mand­ing changes in the for­mula which would hurt poorer prov­inces and ben­e­fit wealth­ier ones.

Sorry, but that’s not how Canada works. When Ot­tawa an­nounced it was re­new­ing the cur­rent equal­iza­tion pro­gram into 2024, it sent off a wave of crit­i­cism from some Western prov­inces that don’t re­ceive ben­e­fits, and from var­i­ous politi­cians trying to score cheap points. Those at­tacks prompted P.E.I. Pre­mier Wade MacLauch­lan to write a spir­ited de­fence of the pro­gram as an opin­ion piece. The pre­mier framed the im­por­tance of At­lantic Canada to the rest of the coun­try, not­ing that the man­power and in­ge­nu­ity sup­plied by hun­dreds of thou­sands of At­lantic Cana­di­ans helped de­velop Al­berta’s oil sands and On­tario’s heavy in­dus­try. We helped build this coun­try and de­serve to share in its great wealth.

It’s un­for­tu­nate that some politi­cians re­sort to petty at­tacks that hurt the con­cept of Canada-first. For ex­am­ple, the loud­est critic of the cur­rent equal­iza­tion for­mula is Al­berta’s op­po­si­tion leader, Ja­son Ken­ney. He seems to con­ve­niently for­get that he helped de­velop the cur­rent pro­gram when he was a pow­er­ful min­is­ter in the Stephen Harper gov­ern­ment.

New­found­land and Labrador doesn’t re­ceive equal­iza­tion pay­ments, even though the prov­ince has been bat­tered by the slump in oil prices and is strug­gling with huge deficit bud­gets. (That’s be­cause the prov­ince’s per capita rev­enues are high.) Cit­i­zens there look at neigh­bour­ing Que­bec and see a prov­ince re­ceiv­ing al­most $12 bil­lion in equal­iza­tion, and feel it doesn’t seem fair.

And with­out equal­iza­tion, the other three At­lantic prov­inces would be strug­gling, too. New Brunswick col­lects $1.874 bil­lion, Nova Scotia $1.933 bil­lion and P.E.I. $419 mil­lion. In a small prov­ince like P.E.I., with very lim­ited nat­u­ral re­sources, those pay­ments are cru­cial.

As MacLauch­lan noted, the fed­eral equal­iza­tion pro­gram is part of the glue that keeps Canada to­gether, eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally. Equal­iza­tion al­lows prov­inces like P.E.I. and N.S. to bal­ance their bud­gets, build up their economies and boost their pros­per­ity — and lessens the need for help in the fu­ture.

Why do some prov­inces and politi­cians think there is some­thing wrong with a pro­gram de­signed to build a stronger and more pros­per­ous Canada?

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