By Lee Greenberg TORONTO — Ontario’s Liberal government is getting prickly over equalization ahead of a meeting between provincial and territorial leaders in Vancouver.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan lashed out Wednesday at the federal program, saying the formula that has made Ontario a recipient for each of past three years is “absolutely crazy.”
Duncan’s comments follow those by Premier Dalton McGuinty, who said the province would aggressively oppose any effort to force a reduction of transfers to Ontario.
In three short years since being added to the welfare rolls of Confederation, Ontario has quickly become among the largest equalization recipients.
The province will collect $2.2-billion in equalization this year. Only Quebec, which takes in $7.8-billion, receives more.
Duncan, one of several Ontario cabinet ministers on a public relations offensive ahead of the province’s Oct. 6 election, denounced the “have-not” label applied to all equalization-receiving provinces.
He said Ontario is a net contributor to the Canadian system, sending $3.8-billion more to Ottawa than it will receive in equalization this year.
“I mean we are the head to most large Canadian corporations, we have the largest labour force, we have the fastest growing economy,” he said. “So it is completely dishonest to use that term ‘have-not’. It’s intellectually dishonest and factually dishonest.”
At least one scholar has warned Ontario’s increasing share of the capped pot threatens to destabilize the country.
Tom Courchene of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said there is a “crowding out” effect caused by Ontario’s new status. “It’s a big issue and it’s going to get bigger,” he said in a recent interview.
Other recipient provinces, including Quebec, Manitoba and the Atlantic provinces, have already indicated they would like the cap lifted.
McGuinty said Tuesday the province would “flex our elbows and assert ourselves” to guard against that. He believes any lifting of the cap would cost Ontario money.
“We would be opposed, for example, to any effort by the federal government to reduce transfers to Ontario,” he said. “Just as we would be opposed to any effort to increase the size of the equalization package for all the Canadian provinces. Both those things would come at a cost to Ontarians.”
McGuinty sits down with his colleagues at the annual Council of the Federation meeting beginning Thursday in Vancouver.