Harper vision ignores Ontario
There is a stark dividing line in this week’s federal budget. On one side is the resource-rich West, which received relief from bothersome environmentalists and aboriginal opponents and Ottawa’s blessing to move full speed ahead with development of the oilsands. On the other side is the struggling industrial heartland and the Maritimes, which were left to pick up the crumbs from Alberta’s oil boom.
The Prime Minister has never made any secret of his desire to turn Canada into an “energy superpower.” What Stephen Harper didn’t say in the past was that he was placing all of Ottawa’s eggs in one basket, leaving the industrial heartland to fend for itself.
He delivered that message unequivocally in Thursday’s budget, reinforcing Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s advice to Ontario: Reap the spinoff benefits of oilsands development. Become part of Canada’s energy-based economy.
There was no acknowledgement in the budget of Ontario’s attempt to incubate green-energy companies; no attempt to help the province cope with an oil-inflated dollar that is pricing its exports out of foreign markets; no plan to create jobs east of the oilsands.
There was no effort to narrow the gap between Canada’s struggling regions and its thriving regions or to address the inequality of opportunity and income that is turning Canada into a land of haves and have-nots. This was a budget designed to boost winners, not backstop losers.
There was no offer to work with the Ontario government on an adjustment plan that will buy the province enough time to redefine its future as a technologically sophisticated, globally competitive service centre, powered by its talent and ingenuity.
There wasn’t even a military contract or an initiative to put young people to work in non-profit organizations designed to tide Ontario over until its economy picks up, baby boomers retire in significant numbers and employers start hiring.
Rather than killing Katimavik, the 35-year-old Liberal program that gave thousands of young Canadians a chance to develop their work skills and discover their country through voluntary service, the Conservatives could have modernized it.
Rather than concentrating their public service job cuts in Ottawa, they could have spread them across the country. Calgary, for instance, example, has at least 30 different federal government offices.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who lives in Whitby, did spare his home province — in fact, all the provinces — from a reduction in federal transfers, which would have meant cuts in health care, postsecondary education and social assistance. And he dangled the prospect of business subsidies in front of companies that invest in research that drives economic growth. Ontario is well-placed to claim some of those.
But the central thrust of the 2012 Conservative budget is that Ottawa intends to boost the energy-rich West and let the benefits filter out to the rest of the country. It rests on a back-to-the-future vision in which Canada earns its way in the world by selling off its resources.
There is little room for Ontario in this plan.
What about your home province, Mr. Finance Minister?