I think I might have mentioned one time that I have a Google Alert set up for the word ‘equalization’ and I get an email on a daily basis showing references to articles, reports, etc. with this key word. Literally on a weekly basis there are multiple criticisms of the unfairness of Equalization – virtually all in newspapers in Ontario and Alberta – and how places like NB are sucking Alberta dry (this column in the Telegraph Journal this morning is a notable exception). We are told that regional subsidies are worth about 5% of Ontario and Alberta’s combined economic output (interesting given that Ontario is now an Equalization receiving province).
We have debated this issue ad nauseum here but I will reassert my position that this will eventually have an impact. Large, systemic changes to how government works don’t happen overnight. They happen over a long period of time after proponents have beaten on the drum over and over again. This drum has been beating since at least Mike Harris in Ontario and certainly since the late 1990s in Alberta. NB and PEI, we are told, have lavish public services at the expense of poor Alberta which has far fewer nurses than NB for example.
As always happens with arguments, they get more sophisticated over time. Instead of only complaining about New Brunswick gold plated public services paid for by Albertans, the secondary message (aimed at Ottawa) is that equalization itself is dragging down the Maritimes, politicizing economies and creating the culture of defeat. This argument is meant to encourage maritimers to realize the true source of our problems.
It is likely that Quebec is the only reason why the equalization system hasn’t been ratcheted down in recent years. Quebec, although receiving far less equalization than New Brunswick on a per capita basis, gets far more on an absolute basis and would be seriously cranky if the program was cut back.
Now that Harper has his majority without much representation in Quebec, it will be interesting to see the dynamic around regional transfers.
In theory – just theory mind you – regional economic development should be a Tory idea. Not the whole subsidy train but government investments and policies that strengthen the conditions for economic development.
Don’t forget the federal investment in Hibernia was a Tory idea. I wonder if the feds are lined up to support shale gas development in New Brunswick?