13 February 2005

The galloping gimmes, Part 1

No surprise, really, that a number of other provinces are now seeking some type of Equalization side deal. The Globe and Mail and The Telegram are carrying similar stories about Dalton McGuinty complaints regarding the recent agreements between the Government of Canada and Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Over at the National Post, pact-checking fell apart in their Saturday edition. The front page story on the supposed revolt turned Danny Williams from a Tory into a Liberal. Maybe that explains why the Post has been criticizing him so harshly. They got his party affiliation wrong so they just instinctively went on the attack.

He's the actual quote, which, oddly is STILL posted on Sunday morning: "Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams, who like Mr. McGuinty is a Liberal, rejected Ontario's concerns, noting that "from our own perspective, we've never objected to special funding for other provinces."

Williams is the Premier, not Tom Rideout who, until 1985, sat as a Liberal MHA before the lure of a cabinet seat caused him to run to Brian Peckford's side. There's a whole column (already written eons ago) about Newfoundland politicians and their penchant for party-switching. Not to worry about Danny Williams, Posties. He's so Tory he makes former Peckford cabinet minister Bill Marshall look like a Marxist.

Paul Wells is claiming credit for having pointed out this potential backlash some weeks ago. He rightly notes that no one objected until now, simply because every successful precedent strengthens the case for a special deal for Ottawa cash. To be fair Paul, McGuinty actually did complain about this whole side deal back in mid-October. In fact, it was his letter to the PM, PM, that led to the October federal offer to Newfoundland and Labrador containing a so-called cap on the offsets. McGuinty's position is a little different than the one taken by, say Saskatchewan or even British Columbia, but more on that to follow in a later post.

As for McGuinty's supposed endorsement of the Williams proposals earlier on, Paul does link to a CBC St. John's story. I say supposed because the whole thing was grossly over-rated by Premier Williams himself when he claimed to have the enthusiastic support of almost all the other first ministers, save the Pm himself and Bernard Lord.

The hand-written note from McGuinty was hardly high-level first ministers' official correspondence - McGuinty's office couldn't even find a copy of it in their files when media started looking for it. In this whole exercise, of course, the public has never seen any proof of the endorsements Premier Williams claimed to have. McGuinty's was the first to surface and looked a bit more like a case of "the weather is here; wish you were beautiful" throw-away platitude than a hearty endorsement for the Danny Juggernaut.

I still wonder if the note from Ralph was on a beer-stained napkin from the local steak'n'ribs place. If you wipe off the rib sauce you might be able to decipher the scrawl. Most of the rest probably looked alot like McGuinty's, if they existed at all. It doesn't really matter now though, since Danny has his deal - or does he? [See "Counting Chickens", coming later on Sunday]

On a more substantial point, though McGuinty is just flat-out wrong. He is quoted by Canadian Press as saying "[T]here was a principle that said no have-not province could have a fiscal capacity that surpassed that of the people of Ontario," said McGuinty. "In this particular case, that is exactly what is going to happen and that's unacceptable."

Under the January deal, dear Ontario Premier, the Equalization offsets stop flowing when a province ceases to qualify for Equalization. Right now that point is 10% lower than the per capita fiscal capacity of your province and it has been in that range for most of the past 50 years. So there is no fear of Newfoundland and Labrador surpassing you using Equalization and the offsets. This province will go off Equalization and likely exceed Ontario fiscal capacity the old-fashioned way - by out-performing Trillium Central on a per capita basis.

At least get your facts straight, Dalton; better still, stop listening to John Crosbie. He habitually gets it wrong even when talking about a deal he helped craft. Under the old Accord offset arrangement, a province could get offsets after it had ceased to qualify for Equalization. You and your predecessors never uttered a peep about that.

Why all the fuss now?