Ontario Party Would Get Some Federal Attention

Worth A Look, Equalization, Frontier Centre

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty figures the federal government is shorting Ontario $11.8 billion a year on things like health care transfers and employment insurance payments, but his campaign for financial fairness has received no response from Conservative leader Stephen Harper and “maybe later” replies from the Liberal and NDP leaders. Is anyone surprised?

Part of the problem is that the Ontario premier is woefully ineffective at representing this province’s interests. Instead of using the influence one would expect an Ontario premier to have with whomever becomes prime minister, McGuinty has been campaigning like a special interest group, sending letters to candidates and using an on-line petition. McGuinty would have gotten more for Ontario if he had sat outside Parliament Hill with a begging bowl.

This is not just a Dalton McGuinty problem, though. Ontario is not playing the game the same way that every other province is and that lets the federal parties ignore us, despite the fact that this province has more Commons seats than any other. It’s time that Ontarians did something about it, and I don’t mean signing a Dalton McGuinty petition. We need an Ontario federal party to stand up for our interests.

Look at how it has worked for Quebec. Since the emergence of the Bloc Québécois, federal politicians have been obsessed with keeping our neighbouring province happy. Harper boosted transfers to Quebec by $2.3 billion a year, including $700 million in so-called equalization payments. The extra equalization dough let Quebec Premier Jean Charest cut income taxes.

Meanwhile, back in Ontario, McGuinty has made scant progress on his crusade for fair treatment from the federal government. McGuinty’s latest weapon is a report from TD Bank economists saying that Ontario should get about $11.8 billion more a year. That’s about half the amount McGuinty had been claiming, but it’s also about $11.8 billion more than the federal parties are prepared to deliver.

Now consider this scenario: The Ontario Party is formed in time for the next federal election and it has a simple focus. What’s good for Ontario is good for the Ontario Party. There are 308 seats in the House of Commons, 106 of them representing Ontario. Just the existence of a credible party from Ontario would force the others to pay attention to us, but if the Ontario Party won even 30 seats, it would effectively prevent any of the big parties from winning a majority. Any party wanting to form a government would have to come to the Ontario Party and propose a coalition. Think they’d be blowing off the province’s interests then?

The Ontario Party would be conservative in spending, but liberal in its support for existing social programs. You can bet the Ontario Party wouldn’t stand by while the federal government dumped on its cultural industries and ignored its cities.

The OP’s big issue would be the Ontario economy and its key role would be to put together a strategy for economic success. That’s work that neither the provincial government nor any of the federal parties have done, so the Ontario Party’s strategy would be the best by default.

The OP could do worse than base its plan on the TD Bank economics report from which McGuinty has cherry-picked a single item. Read the whole report and you will get an intelligent examination of Ontario’s current economic status and sound recommendations for how to fix it. It’s a fine antidote to all the feel-good nonsense we’re normally given by political parties.

Ontario’s economic success has been built on a low Canadian dollar, good access to U.S. markets and cheap energy. With a high dollar, expensive energy and a faltering U.S. economy, it’s clearly the time for a new strategy. What TD chief economist Don Drummond is calling for won’t be music to Ontario Liberal ears.

The TD report takes McGuinty to task for spending virtually all of the $20 billion to $25 billion in additional revenue that has come his government’s way. What’s needed now is a balanced approach, with corporate and personal income tax cuts getting as much weight as new spending. Drummond also proposes harmonizing the provincial sales tax with the GST and considering a carbon tax to provide revenue to get income taxes down. The McGuinty Liberals have been against all of that.

Without federal fairness, Ontario won’t be able to do much of anything, Drummond says. The only way we will get that fairness is to play the game the same way every other province and region does. The Ontario Party’s time has come. Will someone step up to lead?