13 April 2007

Premature gasket-blowing

From Tom Marshall, minister of finance:
The Honourable Tom Marshall, Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, today confirmed that the federal government has misled the Provincial Government and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador regarding the true implications of the new equalization program as outlined in its 2007 Budget.
However, as Simon Lono points out at Offal News, there is something odd about Marshall's release in that it provides no provincial government calculations. Indeed, the provincial government has thus far provided not a shred of information or analysis to back its original contentions on Equalization. Ditto for the federal government, represented in this case by federal fish minister Loyola Hearn.

As Offal puts it:
You would think the Hearn would release numbers of his own to defend the federal position. He does not. Instead he's reduced to a weak claim that no province will be harmed.

But does he actually have any real idea whether the province will be harmed? Apparently not.

As for Marshall, he's definitely on the warpath now. And you can expect the Premier to be leading the barbarians at the federal gate as soon as he gets home.

But didn't Marshall already know that Locke's numbers were off in the first place?
Apparently not.

Wade Locke's latest analysis is interesting for two reasons.

First, it suggests that there is an interpretation of eligibility for Equalization offsets which is different from the one used in his original presentation. More will follow on that in a separate post.

Specifically, Locke quotes this section of an e-mail from an unnamed senior federal finance official:
In effect, NL would be eligible to receive Equalization and offsets as long as long its own-source per capita fiscal capacity (including non-resource yields and 100% of resource revenues) is not equal to or greater than the own-source per capita fiscal capacity of the non-receiving province with the lowest per capita fiscal capacity. [Italics in original]
On the face of it, this section does not contradict what appears to be the intention of the 2005 offshore deal or the 2007 federal budget as announced.

What Locke has done here is identified a potential issue. It is far from proven conclusively. As well, the provincial government appears to have blown a gasket before conducting its own review. Tom Marshall stated in a number of interviews that his officials were still seeking clarification on the issue, he had endeavoured to have the issue clarified with his federal counterpart and that provincial justice officials were reviewing the federal legislation. In one interview it appeared that Marshall was entirely unaware of this issue until Locke brought it to his attention sometime before Locke's news release today.

The one thing that can be concluded from this entire episode over the past 24 hours is that federal-provincial relations are at an all time low state. Marshall's inflammatory news release, done with the full approval of the Premier presumably, will not help resolve this matter successfully.

Claiming to be misled is one thing, if you have evidence and can prove it. Flaming the federal government - or anyone, for that matter - without substantive evidence is grossly unprofessional.

Dr. Locke has provided an invaluable public service with his analysis. Would that the politicians acted with the same professionalism he has displayed.