I think by now you know my position on Equalization. The program is designed not to provide parity in government service delivery across Canada but to provide a minimum acceptable standard for government services. The reason I think this is in the results. There is no one in Canada that would ever say that health care, education, or almost any other government service is at ‘par’ in New Brunswick compared to say, Alberta.
Here is one quick example from a recent CIHI study. New Brunswick spends, by far, the most in Canada on prescription drugs (as a percentage of income) not because they are more expensive here – we just use more prescription drugs (probably linked to the fact we are the least healthy province in Canada but I’m not a health economist).
Anyway, I hope you can read this chart below. A picture is worth a thousand words – in this case a chart. New Brunswickers spend out of pocket or through private insurance an average of $610 per person (so for a family of five, the average would be over $3,000) each year compared to less than $400 in Manitoba. Now this is a serious cost to the average family – a health care cost – remember no credit cards allowed – which is supposed to be one of those things that is equalized under Equalization.
Then look at the second graph which shows that public funding of prescription drugs is only up slightly since 1985 (per capita) while private spending is up somethink like 400%.
Now, I realize that many people will say that Equalization is not supposed to mean full equality but what’s all that talk about ‘constitutional rights’? New Brunswickers spend more out of pocket on health care than anywhere else. Alberta’s public school model is being exported to California because it is considered one of the best in the world and New Brunswick kids keep scoring at the bottom in the country.
My opinion is that if we want New Brunswick to be ‘equal’ we need to rely less on Equalization and more on own-source tax revenue generation. All we have to do is look around at the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ to see why.