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EDITORIAL: A rising tide should lift all boats

Canada's provincial premiers meet in Toronto on Dec. 2, 2019.
Canada’s provincial premiers met in Toronto on Dec. 2, 2019. — Reuters file photo

Can provinces and territories get Ottawa onside?

It’s the way a country should work.

When one province finds itself in trouble, the federal government and provinces that are in better shape help out.

That’s the message that came out of the Monday meeting of the premiers of Canada’s provinces and territories — and it was a message that came not only from the premiers of provinces that most need help right now, but from other premiers as well.

Here’s Quebec Premier François Legault: “Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador are in very difficult circumstances with the rapid drop in oil and resource revenues and we’re all asking the federal government to improve this program to provide more support to those provinces.”

And Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford: “We’re a united nation. When some of the provinces are struggling we’re all there. We’re going to be there, we support them, and we’re going to have their backs. It wasn’t too long ago Ontario was taking equalization.”

It’s no surprise that provinces like Alberta were on side.

What the premiers have asked the federal government to do is to lift a cap on a fiscal stabilization program that’s meant to help cushion the blow when non-resource revenues in a province plunge by more than five per cent in a year.

Here’s Premier Jason Kenney: “This is a tremendous moment of solidarity. … I have been trying to convey to Albertans that we are not alone or isolated in the federation. There are provincial and territorial governments that get what we’re going through and understand our ask for a fair deal.”

There are times when resource revenue powers this country; when oil booms, revenues boom — not only for oil-producing provinces, but for the federal treasury as well. Workers from across Canada fill oilfield jobs, and paycheques stream out to provinces that have able workers but no jobs to give them.

It’s only reasonable then, that when times are tough in resource industries, the financial tide might flow in the other direction as well.

The mechanism, though, is not in the provinces’ hands — it’s in the federal government’s. What the premiers have asked the federal government to do is to lift a cap on a fiscal stabilization program that’s meant to help cushion the blow when non-resource revenues in a province plunge by more than five per cent in a year. The program, right now, is capped on a per-capita basis; the total a province can receive is just $60 a year per resident.

Provinces across Canada sent financial help after the Halifax explosion flattened the city. Even province that weren’t provinces yet, like the Dominion of Newfoundland, sent help. During the Dust Bowl years on the Prairies, what is now the Atlantic provinces and Ontario sent aid west.

When Fort McMurray burned in 2016, Canadians dug deep and found $325 million to help families who lost everything.

Being part of a country means helping other parts of the country when they are in need.

The ball, now, is in the federal court. Let’s see what happens.


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