A couple of quick observations this A.M.
First, I heard last night Fed. Finance Minister Flaherty say “absolutely not” in an emphatic voice when asked about a ‘side deal’ with New Brunswick to make up for the perceived lack of new Equalization funding. He was, in fact, frustrated and, in his words ‘disappointed’ at New Brunswick’s response to his budget. He insinuated – but didn’t say – that we seemed ungrateful.
Funny thing. But after reading Donald Savoie’s comments yesterday it would seem that the guru and the Minister are far apart on this issue.
Anyway, I try to be fair (honestly ) when I look at these things so let’s have a look at it from Minister Flaherty’s perspective. First, when he was finance minister in Ontario he was highly critical of Equalization and similar programs suggesting they were inhibiting Ontario’s economic potential. Second, New Brunswick means virtually nothing in the political calculation of a minority government looking to form a majority government. Third, Flaherty knows – more than anyone – that New Brunswick is now the second highest recipient of Fed funds – from all sources – of any province in Canada. One would expect he gets reminded of this by his Ontario compatriates on a weekly basis. Therefore, any calls for more money from New Brunswick could be construed as sour grapes*.
Fourth, and probably most significant, Flaherty knows that the cost of government in New Brunswick continues to rise well above the rate of inflation – even though the population is stagnant and slightly declining. As a result, he is increasingly sensitive to the areas of Canada that are fast growing but have seen their government spending rise more or less in the same range as New Brunswick. So, this is likely a gentle attempt by the Feds to tell New Brunswick to start getting its cost structure in line. Otherwise, within 15-20 years it will cost 2-3 times more to provide a typical government ‘service’ in New Brunswick than in Ontario.
However, if you read all my points, you would agree that obviously no one has made the case to the Minister that New Brunswick wants to use the new funding to reduce dependency on Equalization and to become a dynamic and growing province.
Maybe they should.
*Note that I make a massive distinction between funds from the Feds for ‘expenses’ (health care, etc.) and ‘investments’ in economic development (R&D, company loans/grants, investments in growth oriented infrastructure, etc.). On the latter, New Brunswick receives among the lowest funding from the Feds in Canada.
One final point. I am getting tired of people – local, provincial, national, expert, journalist, pundit and blogger drawing straight lines between health care spending and health care ‘success’. There’s a big story out today about the fact that NB has the highest ‘home care’ spending in Canada on a per capita basis. Every story I read on this spins this as a great thing. Quotes are inserted. Thanks given to Richard Hatfield. And not one mention in any article about whether or not this level of spending is a good thing.
We have come to the point now that just spending in health care is automatically considered a good thing by all those aforementioned personages.
Consider this. Bernard Lord bragged about putting $2.5 billion more into health care during his tenure and New Brunswick is still either dead last or second last on every major health indicator (obesity, etc) and every major health system metric (wait times, etc.). But it seemed that just spending the money itself was the outcome.
I hope that somebody, some day, is going to figure out that there is good spending and there is bad spending and in health care, that is a critical point.
I’m not saying that having the highest level of home care spending is a bad thing. I am saying that somebody should at least ask the question.