Quebec receives about $8 billion dollars per year in equalization payments. This flood of equalization dollars has helped enable provincial governments there to pursue politically popular but expensive, unfocused and undisciplined policies. Cut-rate university tuition, cheap hydro and huge universal childcare subsidies are examples that leap to mind.
Today, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois has announced that he wants another $1.5 billion dollars in equalization payments for Quebec as part of a $5 billion dollar package that also includes additional money for social programs and other priorities. This, he says, is the price of his supporting the government in Parliament, which may prove necessary to prevent an election.
The federal government’s budget deficit this year is around $50 billion. There’s no money lying around to meet Duceppe’s demands, and equalization payments to Quebec are too large as they are. The Prime Minister has an obligation to pursue policies that benefit the entire country, and writing Quebec another big fat cheque just doesn’t qualify. The response should come swiftly and be unequivocal: “No deal. The rest of Canada won’t be shaken down.”