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I demand a referendum on CEWS payments!
There is a federal government program that provides financial support to ensure the provinces with weaker economic performance are supported and the residents of those provinces are less impacted because of that weaker economic performance.
I’m wondering if we should put this program to a referendum vote? Of course I am talking about the CEWS program which provides cash to employers to keep staff on the payroll during the pandemic.
Alberta has received 80% more on a per capita basis from the CEWS program.
Federal and provincial governments provide subsidies to the economy for various reasons. These are cash payments (or related) provided to many industries from agriculture to manufacturing.
I am wondering if we should have a referendum on the use of subsidies?
In 2017, the most recent year there is available data, government in Alberta (fed/prov) doled out 25% more in subsidies than in New Brunswick per dollar of industry output. Over the 2013-2017 period, total subsidies (on products and production) totaled $8.6 billion in Alberta and $828 million in New Brunswick. Again, on a per capita basis the subsidy gravy train in Alberta was worth nearly twice as much as New Brunswick ($2,030 per capita in Alberta and $1,080 in New Brunswick).
I know, I know. I’m kidding! Of course you can’t compare these two relatively small piles if cash to the evil Equalization program.
It’s just a bit of a thought exercise.
I’m actually kind of surprised that more Albertans didn’t vote this week for removal of the principle of equalization from the Constitution. Knowing how it has become an avatar out there for everything that is wrong about Confederation.
I think Alberta is swell. I spent 9 months living there in the early 90s and loved it. I also think the concerns over the energy sector, pipelines, etc. are well founded. The language about Alberta dollars funding gold-plated public services in Atlantic Canada is not so well founded. Using GDP per capita as a rough proxy, the health care sector in Alberta is 11% larger than New Brunswick.
In fact, I think every New Brunswicker should live in Alberta for a period of time - and vice versa - I think we would be a more tolerant country (in the real meaning of that word).
Concepts such as ‘equalization’ - i.e. that all Canadians regardless of where they live should have access to reasonably comparable public services - should be open for discussion. How far does that principle extend? Urban/rural? Is Equalization a disincentive for economic development? Immigration?
Having visited and studied a lot of different countries around the world I think we are better off with this concept than without. Deep economic and social disparities by region within countries is not particularly good for national unity.
And you never know there might come a time when Alberta and adjacent Saskatchewan might need that cash to smooth things out. Ontario received over $15 billion in Equalization between 2013-2019 - because the province qualified for it. It wasn’t that long ago that Saskatchewan was at the trough.
Ideally provinces would strive to reduce their dependency on Equalization through economic growth and prudent cost management. Ideally federal programming would incentivize and support the objective of weaning off Equalization.
And I am not opposed to a ‘strings attached’ approach to Equalization. If one province is doing things to undermine the economy of another, maybe that should be part of the conversation.