“There is more Western Alienation right now in Alberta and Saskatchewan,” says Brad Wall, “than I have ever seen.”
Wall, the former Premier of Saskatchewan, is taking time out of his private life to discuss Justin Trudeau’s equalization move on my radio show. It’s a Friday night and like most Canadians, Wall would prefer to be kicking back. Instead he is fired up.
“Maybe it would have been hyperbole to say that a year and a half ago,” Wall said of claims that Trudeau is playing favourites. Now with the demise of Energy East, the killing of Northern Gateway, the special treatment of Energie Saguenay in Quebec and approval of a carbon spewing cement plant with no environmental assessment Wall said many in the West now feel there are rules for Quebec and rules for the rest.
Like many, Wall believes Quebec is getting special treatment with this deal on equalization. The current formula favours Quebec and the three maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI.
You could say this is about rewarding Trudeau’s power base.
The previous day the Trudeau Liberals announced that the equalization formula would be staying the same until 2024. That puts it not just beyond the 2019 election but beyond the election after that.
In essence, Trudeau and his team have made sure that as long as they are in government, Quebec will continue to get the bulk of the money in equalization while the other three are also rewarded handsomely. Vote Liberal and the money will keep flowing.
Equalization is mentioned in the budget a mere five times. Compare that to the word gender which is mentioned 359 times or innovation mentioned 197 times.
And yet in those five mentions, which discuss extending the program with increased finances, there is no mention that the formula must stay the same. It’s the same with the budget bill.
While Bill C-74 says it extends the fiscal plan and formula until 2024, premiers across the country had been expecting talks and negotiations on the formula in the coming year.
So while the Liberals will point to the budget plan and the bill, any reasonable person could be forgiven for thinking that this was merely extending payments and that the talks on the formula would still happen.
Current Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe had just this week put forward a proposal on how he wanted to see the formula changed. He expected this to be a discussion at the summer meeting of the premiers.
Trudeau promised that he would consult.
Moe can be forgiven for thinking that Trudeau wanted to consult with the provinces. After all, the PM kept saying that he was going to be different than Stephen Harper, would engage in dialogue and consultations.
He said it in stump speeches, he said it in an August 2015 letter to Quebec Premier Phillipe Couillard.
“Transfers to the provinces are a very important issue in federal-provincial relations. Unlike Mr. Harper, I do not intend to deal with this issue unilaterally,” Trudeau wrote.
“With regards to equalization, we are completely open to engaging in a dialogue with the provincial governments.”
And yet Trudeau has done none of that.
He unilaterally imposed a new health transfer deal, much like the move Stephen Harper made that Trudeau so loudly criticized. Trudeau is forcing the provinces to enact a carbon tax or he says he will impose one and now he has unilaterally imposed the extension of the equalization formula.
This greatly rewards the areas where Liberals have seats.
Here are the payments by province.
Quebec $11.7 billion
Manitoba $2 billion
Nova Scotia $1.9 billion
New Brunswick $1.87 billion
Ontario $963 million
PEI $419 million
Newfoundland and Labrador get nothing and haven’t for years. British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan similarly get nothing. See full details here.
Even though Alberta and Saskatchewan have faced difficult economic times of late.
Unemployed Albertans pay for Quebec daycare.
Alberta’s opposition leader Jason Kenney noted that Albertans sent their tax dollars to Ottawa who then gave them to the “have not provinces” even though some of those provinces were doing better than Alberta was. He pointed to the last few years when unemployment in Alberta hit 9% while Quebec was near 5%.
Despite that, Albertans and those from the other three provinces helped subsidize Quebec’s $7 a day daycare and ridiculously low university tuition for provincial residents.
To plenty of Canadians, this simply isn’t fair. Especially when some provinces prefer to take the payments than develop their own economies.
Wall says provinces that refuse to develop their economies should be penalized.
“If a provincial government willfully refuses to develop a resource to meet it’s full potential and its capacity whether its hydrocarbons or other resource there should be an implication on equalization, there should be a penalty. I’m not sure they should qualify at all,” Wall said.
So far Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – all of which have oil and gas deposits – have outright or effectively banned fracking. Allowing fracking, a long used method for safely removing hard to get at oil and gas, could turn around the financial fortunes of those provinces.
Wall feels that the West is being singled out right now while Quebec and the Maritime provinces that voted for Trudeau en masse get special treatment.
Given the facts, it is hard to argue against him.
Listen to the full interview below.