Flaherty’s flatulation and health care funding

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.

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0 Responses to Flaherty’s flatulation and health care funding

  1. Anonymous says:

    To be ‘fair’, there is some other points that should be added from the federal point of view.

    First and foremost, New Brunswick has the lowest tax levels in the maritimes. So its hard to argue that there is ‘no room’ to raise taxes. Bloggers may not like it, but they’d like it less if they were in Nova Scotia where their taxes would be higher, they’d run a deficit, and they’d have higher debt and more debt payments.

    Next, of course is the lunacy that the government is actually LOWERING taxes on gas. That’s from an ontario perspective of course, where gas prices are now higher than in New Brunswick, but nobody is clamoring for less provincial tax on it.

    Next, and most importantly, there is the fact that New Brunswick gets the least corporate tax as a percentage of its budget as anywhere in Canada at 2.5%. With two of the worlds biggest and richest families, even people in New Brunswick (if they ever heard it) would be saying “what the *&^% is going on?”

    To compare, when he was minster in ontario he was getting 11% of his budget from corporate tax. If NB were getting that level that would add over half a billion dollars a year.

    Next, the point is that the New Brunswick government is avoiding the ‘tough choices’. From a minister in ontario’s point of view, New Brunswick’s complete sellout of its natural resources is a crime. Most of northern ontario has a timber industry, but when the americans started their boycott and when prices plummeted the Ontario company didn’t rush in with a bailout of Domtar. They told them to learn to live with the market. Many towns disappeared and suffered.

    They didn’t completely ignore them, they pushed urbanization as much as possible, so now Sudbury has a world class cancer research centre and neutrino laboratory. But that came from local initiatives, the province and then the feds said that if they put in the work they’d support them.

    Next, as a federal minister he might look at what I mentioned over at thebrucereport.com and that was the debatable point that money in New Brunswick is just going to go to highways anyway-hardly a way to build an industry. This is all hearsay, but like I said, the liberals were accusing the tories and the city of Saint John of not even applying for the Canada-NB infrastructure program. However, the current half a billion highway from Woodstock to Grand Falls IS funded by the Canada NB infrastructure program to the tune of $135 million, which would have cleaned up a lot of harbour, certainly more than the, what, 30 million? they are kicking in now as a separate expense.

    That’s how it can be seen from another perspective. If New Brunswickers want the lowest taxes in the region and are content with letting the Irvings and McCains and other corporations off with the lowest corporate tax AND the lowest contribution of corporate tax, then , as they say, you reap as you sow.

    HOWEVER, I don’t say all that to kiss the feds ass. The reality is that just as much of that goes on in Quebec and they got three times the increase. THAT is the issue. Even if a province has policies some may not agree with, the reality is that you at least treat them fairly. However, that ‘central canadian view’ has never been designed at fairness, its designed to critically examine all the minutaie of maritime budgeting while ignoring the reality of ontario’s economy.

    The only way to change that is by representation. That’s the political system. The more you ignore politics-the more it will ignore you.

    And what the heck is going on with your blog anyway?:) It doesn’t work or it doesn’t take comments over the last three days.

  2. David Campbell says:

    You make the point alot about representation and others have pointed out the need for a porportional representation system in some format. I am a bit ashamed to admit I have never really studied the political dynamic of the thing beyond my belief that a ‘strong leader’ could emerge which seems to be a bit of a fantasy. But my question is simple. A porportional voting structure would – almost by design – lead to minority governments/coalition governments, etc. If this is true (and I don’t have any expertise here), wouldn’t that mean perpetual ‘Flaherty’ situations where the national government would always tilt its policy and programming to the regions with high concentrations of population? It’s just a question. In a majority situation, you can cross your fingers and hope that the government puts politics aside and ‘does the right thing’ (naive of course) but in a perpetual minority how would underserved populations (geographic but also demographic) be effectively served? If you listen to Donald Savoie – who I have nothing bad to say – he is still constantly calling for the Feds to ‘do the right thing’ but there is no real impetus for them under the current political system. Would there be under a porportional system?

  3. mikel says:

    Wow, I don’t know what to say. You’re the first person to express an interest:)

    You are quite right about proportional representation. There are HUGE issues.

    First though, I’m not talking about PR here, I’m talking about who maritimers send to Ottawa as representatives. While the blue boys are national, we all KNOW they heavily favour the west, and now cater to Ontario and Quebec in order to get a majority.

    We pretty much know the red boys are an Ontario party now with some Quebec toadying as well. We know the bloc is obviously quebec. So in a sense we already have a ‘regional government’. NONE of those parties speak for the maritimes. One would think that if the provincial government weren’t happy with a budget then the federal MLA’s in the province would at least not be like Thomson and say how great it is. He says how great it is because he’s a tory. That’s party politics.

    So thats not the same as PR. An ‘Atlantica Party’ would have considerable power even, as now, when the fates have pretty much decreed minority governments anyway, so federally the need for PR is not so great since regions (except the maritimes) have a party that addresses their concerns.

    For solutions to that there are several. One is to simply get maritimers together somehow and say ‘let’s all vote for Party X so long as they will speak TOGETHER for our region’-NOT for their ‘party’.

    That’s ‘tough’ to do, but not impossible, and it has to start somewhere. My thinking would be for the NDP since the NDP isn’t as dogmatic on most votes as the others. Plus, a large group would have not only federal power, but internal power over the NDP votes, which means if you don’t happen to like Jack Layton you’d have enough members that he couldn’t simply dictate votes to them. In other words, maritimers would actually have quite a bit of control over a national party.

    However, in NB there is such a dislike for them that it would be tough, but maybe if it was lobbied enough people would come around. In a minority government, that would have even MORE power, certainly far more than the maritimes has EVER had. But of course then lobbying gets tough because of Irving who would never mention it. However, that’s just southern NB, many of whom get other maritime channels and news sources.

    The other option is the Atlantica Party, unfortunately I’ve just discovered these guys aren’t even trying to BE a national party, which is about the only level of government where I can see it really making sense. But the party is so small now that that can easily be changed -with enough members.

    Thats what I mean by representation. As you indicate, under proportional representation there are huge issues to deal with, not the least are the ones you mention. I’m also not talking about PR simply because there is simply no way to bring it about at the federal level. Fairvote has been trying for years, but I wouldn’t waste my time fantasizing about how things could be different under PR-that would be a COMPLETE waste of my time. Getting a maritime lobby together to support maritime ‘union’ federally may also be a waste of time, but at least its something that can be attempted. That’s pretty much the main reason I ‘waste my time’ on blogs, particularly here, since you are about the best one for the “look how we’re getting screwed people” line.

  4. mikel says:

    I forgot to mention, there IS another idea that many canadians are floating around, and thats the idea of just having a loose collection of independants run in each riding of the maritimes. That wouldn’t be quite as good because then there might be division based on rural/urban issues, or nb/pei issues. However, the thought that a government will ‘do the right thing’ forgets the basic law of politics, it IS doing the right thing-for its representatives. Thats why you either get regional representatives, or as my grammy used to say, ‘get used to the wooden toilet seat’.