Province Bows to PM’s Bullying

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

For a few obvious reasons, no one (other than the NDP Opposition, perhaps) is terribly outraged over the decision by Premier Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party government to drop the equalization lawsuit against the feds.

One can see why:

Despite the unfair national perception from certain quarters of the country that Saskatchewan is filled with whiny, greedy farmers, the opposite tends to be true.

Recently, a Winnipeg Free Press columnist had the audacity to portray Saskatchewan people as selfish and greedy for their general condemnation of federal Liberal leader Stephane Dion’s Green Shift that specifically robs this province of its resource revenue through a carbon tax. This from a person who earns her living in a province heavily subsidized for its supposed “have-not” status to the tune of $2 billion in equalization money this year!

The truth be told, it would be extremely difficult for anyone to point to an occasion when this province has demanded more than it needs or deserves. And for those who doubt this, look no further than the rather magnanimous way in which Saskatchewan voters have seemed to react to Prime Minster Stephen Harper breaking his $800-million-a-year, 2006 election promise to Saskatchewan to remove non-renewable resources from the equalization formula.

Although a huge benefit to this province, Saskatchewan people seem to view this pledge as a political promise that was ill-conceived and not really in the best interests of the nation as a whole.

The notion that a “have” Saskatchewan doesn’t need $800 million a year right now has resonated in this province.

Would that have happened anywhere else? Can you imagine the furore if Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Quebec, or frankly, Manitoba were told they’re not getting the more-than $3 billion the Tories promised them? Wouldn’t they have demanded far more in compensation than the simple demand that we don’t allow a carbon tax to further rob us of our natural resource wealth?

But while it would be nice to think that the Wall government is being every bit as magnanimous as Saskatchewan voters by withdrawing the equalization lawsuit against the Harper government, this is not the case.

Simply put, Wall and his government have allowed themselves to be bullied by Harper. The big brother has taken the little brother’s allowance, threatening him bodily harm if he dares tell mom.

And Wall’s determination to keep big brother happy instead of looking out for Saskatchewan people’s interests is deplorable on several counts.

First, it simply rewards bad behaviour. It might not be the Saskatchewan Party’s role to enforce political ethics, but make no mistake that Wall is not only allowing the federal Conservatives to get away with a broken promise. Far worse, the Saskatchewan Party is not only shilling for its federal big brother, but also engaging in a little deceit of its own.

Let’s get real here. The nonsense the Conservatives have tried to sell that we somehow have already gotten a better deal than the equalization promise tells you all you really need to know about how much we should trust these federal Tories. Even if you include a quarter billion towards clean coal technology (which will require the province to pony up three-quarters-of-a-billion-plus) or the Saskatoon bridge, it doesn’t add up to the $3-billion-plus this province has lost since the Conservatives made the promise.

Given the magnitude of this broken promise, doesn’t Saskatchewan deserve a bit more in compensation than what we’re getting?

But is it realistic that we will get much more? Does anyone believe that Harper isn’t going to be pouring money — Saskatchewan’s money — into Ontario and Quebec before the next election?

This takes us to the final and most disturbing aspect — the short-term political gain for Harper, but no long-term gain for the people of Saskatchewan.

The day may yet come when we don’t have as much oil wealth pouring in. How do we protect ourselves in the future? How do we keep our independence from some future federal government imposing a carbon tax?

One day, Saskatchewan people may wish that Wall had pursued this legal action instead of giving in to Harper’s bullying.

Mandryk is the political columnist for the Leader-Post