Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ontario: The patsy of Confederation...

So, for a long, LONG time Ontario has been the quiet grizzly bear of confederation. We "Ontarians" don't think of ourselves as "Ontarians" at all, but as Canadians who live in Ontario. We accept equalization, in fact we're proud of our role in it. We accept that urban populations (of which Ontario is largely composed) will be underrepresented in Parliament, and that most of us will have less MP's voicing our concerns on the Hill per capita than people in most other provinces. We're federalists to the core.

However, we're not (in recent years) really all that conservative. And so, it appears, having given up on winning our support, the Harper Tories have decided to start poking at the sleeping bear.

We all remember when Premier McGuinty had the audacity to suggest that perhaps Ontario deserved representation by population in the House of Commons, instead of being underrepresented to the tune of over 20 MPs as we are now, and federal Conservative MP (and "Minister for Democratic Reform"!) called him the "small man of confederation" for even suggesting Ontario deserved fair representation in Ottawa (just keep your mouths shut and keep paying the bills, seemed to be the message). The latest poke is from (of course) Jim Flaherty, whose gone from running around telling people that my province is the "last place he'd invest in" if he were a businessman, to proclaiming that we're on our way to becoming a "have-not province". The last is particularly galling, given that he seems totally unconcerned as to why that might happen (Although, humorously enough, most Ontarians would probably LOVE to become a "have-not" province. As the only province to have never received equalization payments in the history of the program, a lot of folks around here would LOVE to start getting money from the rest of the country for a change!).

Ontario has long been the patsy of Confederation, and frankly, we were all quite happy to do our bit. But the Tories need to begin to realize that one can only poke a sleeping bear for so long.

Think about why Ontario might be struggling now, during this downturn in the economy, and how our citizens might feel about it. Murray Campbell summarizes things nicely in his column in today's Globe, "Is Ontario the patsy because of equalization?". Here's a snippet:

Consider just one fact: Ontario's growth rate in 2008 is estimated to be 1.8 per cent, but the equalization program that is largely funded by Ontario taxpayers will grow at a mandated 3.5 per cent. The scheme, which is directed by Ottawa, has grown from $10.7-billion in 2004-5 to $12.9-billion this year and will continue to grow at 3.5 per cent no matter how well Ontario's economy performs.

How smart is that? Not very, according to David MacKinnon, who believes that Canada's most-populous province is the patsy of Confederation. He believes that the country's "crazy quilt" of regional subsidies (not just equalization) is doing serious harm to Ontario and is also limiting the economic potential of the rest of the country. He believes many provinces have become addicted to Ontario's money and that this addiction has allowed them to build up a level of services they can ill afford. Why, he asks, can Manitoba spend $1.2-billion to subsidize electricity prices while it collects $1.8-billion this year in equalization payments? How can Atlantic Canada, with a population of just two million, afford 15 universities? The answer, he says, is the "tidal wave" of funding it gets from Alberta and from Ontario, whose taxpayers provide 44 per cent of federal revenues.

As MacKinnon points out, Alberta has a bit of a legitimate beef too (though, at least Alberta is paying in to an equalization system they once benefited from, Ontario's never done anything BUT pay) but these days, Alberta gets tax breaks for their wildly successful tar sands, nobody in the federal government would ever DREAM of doing something Alberta looks askance at, while struggling Ontario manufacturers get lectures from the Minister of Finance.

Ontarians have always been proud Canadians, and we've rarely complained that our money is being used to support programs in other provinces that we could never dream of affording here in Ontario (because we're paying for the other provinces' services - electricity rates subsidizing in Manitoba, ridiculously low tuition rates in Quebec, etc... etc... you're welcome by the way).

We in Ontario have always felt that such efforts were appreciated by the rest of the country, and that they knew we were doing our bit, and more (and I'm sure they do). At a certain point though, we're bound to get sick of this recent trend of getting nothing but contempt from the feds.

My advice to the federal Conservatives?

Stop poking the bear.

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3 comments:

Sir Isaac Brock said...

McGuinty needs to go all Danny Williams on Harper's fat backside and threaten to unilaterally pull out of the equalisation program until such time as the CPC finds some respect.

Here's the announcement: "You guys hate Ontario? You think we're insignificant? Fine. I guess you wont be needing our money then. Have fun explaining yourselves to your electoral base, much of which will end up living in shacks with corrugated tin roofs if Ontario stops underwriting their bloated lifestyles. You cretins."

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

LOL!

Aeneas the Younger said...

Like he said!