Harper vi­sion ig­nores On­tario

Toronto Star - - EDITORIALS -

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?

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