The fallout of our Premier protesting with feisty words and ads is no surprise. Any Premier ought to have been angry with Harper over this, and stand up for the province. The message was sent, received, will be repeated in the next election, but it's time to put it to the back burner right now to give full focus to home developments and promises. The Williams government has to obsess on projects that are stalled and dying. In this blogger's opinion, he has good intentions for the long term interests of the province. He's certainly not signing agreements with big oil just to say it was done under his watch. That's good, and bad obviously, but that potential is still there. He has gotten the message through that Harper can't be trusted out there, but needs to move on.
Rationalizing 100% Exclusion of Non-Renewables from Equalization Formula
Harper used several provinces to get elected, 21 seats in Atlantic Canada and Sasketchewan, the margin of his win. He will likely win big in the next election. But if Harper did not win the next election, or if there wasn't a Harper promise to remove non-renewables resources from the equalization formula at all in the first place, could their exclusion be justified on its own merit? And how? Of course there would be little, if any, controversy in NL if he had kept his campaign promise in last Monday's budget. It would have been a great opportunity to pay down the debt sooner, enhance infrastructures in the province, etc. But ultimately our province has to answer why should we be permitted to exclude non-renewables and be exempt from a cap on fiscal capacity. So people will ask, "what makes NL so special?" Some rationale rightly or wrongly might be, for example:
1. In 2005, we had the highest per capita debt load of any province at $23,280 (2005), much higher than the next highest, Nova Scotia, at $13,000 (2005)
Quebec Finance Minister Michel Audet announced last year that Quebec then had the highest per capita debt.
Like the other 7 provinces we do not want to receive equalization continually, but paying of our provincial debt will take generations.
We have to run a surplus of $250 million a year for 48 years just to get to no debt, and Alberta has passed that point. - Loyola Sullivan, 2006
2. NL chronically has the highest unemployment rate in Canada.
3. Significant and continuous outmigration and declining population.
4. Many see excluding non-renewables from the equalization formula as fair compensation for the lack of intervention of the federal government in the 1960's, after Quebec declined Newfoundland's request for a transmission line across Quebec for the Upper Churchill Hydro development. NL MHAs were ultimately responsible for approving the notorious 1969 deal. But in an interview with Cabot Martin, Smallwood said that his request to Lester Pearson to use federal authority to allow a transmission line across Quebec, was rejected before he could formally present the request out of fear it would jeopardize national unity. After 17 years of investigation, negotiations and preliminary development, NL and BRINCO ran out of money, choices and time. Quebec had a geographic advantage and would not budge from their position. Some called it a "revenge of geography" for a decision, decades earlier, of including part of Labrador as part of the province of "Newfoundland". (same source) As a result Quebec gets 96% of the benefits each year (roughly $800 million in 2005, compared to $20 million for NL).
5. Displacement of tens of 1000s of fishery workers resulting from the moratorium on northern cod. While many factors may have contributed to the collapse, one factor is mismanagement of the fishery.
"In our view, the major factor was clearly mismanagement."
- Report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans
In any future case where consideration is given to excluding 100% of non-renewables, some good clear rationale will have to be outlined. Non-renewables are finite, but also finite everywhere. If there are more arguments to support NL's case they would have to be compiled at some point.