How Ontario Gets The Federal Shaft

Commentary, Equalization, Frontier Centre, Role of Government, Worth A Look

The fact Ontario and Alberta are contributing to the social services of Canada’s so-called “have-not” provinces, is a fact known to most.

What many people don’t know, judging by the reaction to last week’s column, is most of the provinces financed by these payments have more accessible and better services than Ontario and Alberta.

Numbers, unlike many politicians, don’t lie. Here there are only a few example of how the citizens of Ontario and Alberta, per capita, are supporting the major financial load of Confederation and yet, in return, don’t even get the services enjoyed by their fellow Canadians.

For example the provinces that receive most of the government regional subsidy, a very complicated system that includes equalization, are Manitoba, Quebec and the four Atlantic provinces. Most of that money comes from Ontario. In fact, Ontario contributes approximately $70 to $90 million every working day. Alberta gives less, but per capita gives even more than Ontarians.

Ideally, the purpose of this contribution is to help other Canadians receive the same services Ontarians enjoy. However, this is not the case.

In Nova Scotia there are 32 hospitals and in P.E.I. there are eight. Together there are 40 hospitals for a population of 1 million! In the city of Vaughan, with almost 300,000 people, there is not a single hospital.

You will not find any of this information in any official site in Ontario, or any other province. It came from a speech by David MacKinnon, former president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, Feb. 9 at the Toronto Empire Club. The speech, “Killing the Golden Goose,” focused largely on “the damage regional transfers are doing to Ontario and the recipient provinces.”

The speech, unfortunately, didn’t receive much attention, and MacKinnon was well aware that would happen: “I should warn you that this is a difficult speech for me to make and I suspect it will be difficult for you to hear,” he said.

“I will be criticizing a system which goes to the heart of our federation and to which many have an emotional and personal attachment.”

MacKinnon can speak freely about this subject because he has “lived and worked in Western and Eastern Canada and, of course, in Ontario. My family has substantial roots in Alberta and Quebec.”

The reality, however, is hitting us in the face and it’s impossible, especially for us from Ontario, to ignore.

Let’s take a look at the status of medicare. According to MacKinnon, in 2005, Ontario had 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people and Alberta 3.30. Manitoba and Newfoundland – recipients of money from Ontario and Alberta – had respectively 3.82 and 4.35. Newfoundland and Manitoba had 10.7 and 9.6 nurses per thousand respectively, while Alberta had 8 and Ontario 7.1.

The same goes for education. Average class size in schools in Newfoundland is 13.4 and 14.9 in Manitoba. In Ontario and Alberta, we go up to 16.6 and 17.9. Many believe that without equalization from the provinces, there would be no equalization in Canada.

Wrong, says MacKinnon: “If one takes equalization entirely out of the equation, federal spending in P.E.I. per capita is about double the level in Ontario and federal spending per capita is approximately 50 per cent higher in all recipient provinces except Quebec.”

The same goes for other sectors. Ontario, in percentage of population, has only half as many judges as Newfoundland and fewer than any other province.

MacKinnon also tells us about the public sector: “Total employment per 1,000 population in Ontario is 81, Alberta, 83. Quebec, 92, Newfoundland is 105, Manitoba, 117.”

In his speech MacKinnon also wonders “Why is it that Manitoba can subsidize electricity prices by $1.2 billion while it collects $1.8 billion in equalization?”

The media paid enough attention to the speech, but politicians, especially MPs in Ottawa, were not interested.

I spoke to MacKinnon this week. He told me “in our individual lives, we would regard the behaviour of someone who seeks donations from others to live at higher standards than the people from whom they are seeking the contributions to be reprehensible.

“Such behaviour is no less reprehensible when it is practised by provincial jurisdictions and it is especially reprehensible when it is funded and encouraged by the national government.”