Fairness for Ontario

NationalPost.com – opinion – Fairness for Ontario
Published: Tuesday, September 23, 2008. Dalton McGuinty

On Oct. 14, my fellow Ontarians will elect more than one-third of Canada’s MPs. Our province will have an important say in who gets to form the government, and who gets to be prime minister. That’s an important responsibility –and a tremendous opportunity. Right now, Ontario is not being treated fairly by Ottawa.

Over the last 50 years, Ontarians have been proud to contribute over $100-billion in equalization payments to other Canadian provinces. That’s almost half of all the funds contributed to the program over half a century. Of that, Ontario didn’t receive a cent.

Our contribution has allowed other provinces to build stronger economies, and build opportunity for their people, so all Canadians could benefit. And if you asked Ontarians, they would tell you that we still want to be there, for our fellow Canadians, for another 50 years. But at the moment, Ontario, Canada’s manufacturing heartland, is facing some challenges — such as an expensive dollar, expensive oil and a severely weakened U. S. trading partner.

In the face of these external challenges, we have created a solid plan to help grow our economy and emerge from this global economic slowdown stronger than ever. Our plan has five parts: We’re cutting business taxes. We’re investing in the green economy through innovation. We’re investing in infrastructure like never before. We’re partnering with businesses to help them grow stronger. And we have created Canada’s biggest ever worker retraining program.

We are doing what we need to do to strengthen Ontario’s economy and create new jobs. But we could DO MORE AND do it faster if we were treated fairly by Ottawa — and if we could keep more of our own money.

Under current federal rules, Ontario transfers over $20-billion to other parts of Canada. We’re doing this despite the fact that some of these other regions are as prosperous as we are — thanks, in part, to the success of the equalization program.

Soon, economists are telling us, Ontario itself may qualify to receive equalization funds. That’s because the North American manufacturing sector is being hit hard, which affects us here in Ontario. Meanwhile, places that produce oil and gas are doing quite well. Canada’s oil-producing provinces are getting richer, faster than we are.

Yet we may never see that money. One of the worst-kept secrets in Ottawa is that many believe Ontario must never be allowed to collect equalization. Unlike the other nine provinces, we are told, Ontario is only to be a contributor to our national insurance program, and never a recipient.

What makes this all the more unfair is that if we did receive equalization, we would merely be paying ourselves. We would simply be keeping more of our own money, which we are now sending to Ottawa.

Despite the fact that a recent TD report says Ontario could qualify for equalization in two years, none of the federal party platforms are budgeting for this. That doesn’t bode well for Ontario.

Ontarians need to know where the federal parties stand on this issue. So I have written to all the leaders and have raised four other specific concerns Ontarians want addressed:

1. Unemployed workers in Ontario get $4,600 less in employment insurance than they’d get if they lived in other parts of Canada. That’s money that would help parents who have lost a job pay the mortgage, buy groceries and get the training they need to get back into the workforce.

2. Ontario families are being shortchanged by nearly $800-million a year for their health care. We’re getting less for our health-care than Canadians in other provinces get for theirs.

3. Ottawa makes regional economic development investments for Canadians living in Atlantic Canada, the North, Quebec, and the West. But there is no such program for Southern Ontario, which is home to over 10 million Canadians and the heart of Canada’s manufacturing sector.

4. Ontario receives almost a billion dollars less than our fair share for infrastructure investment.

These are all clear-cut cases of unfairness. And I look forward to making public the responses I receive from the federal party leaders. In the meantime, we have created an online petition for Ontarians to sign, so we can send a message, with one voice, to all federal leaders. Our Web site is www.fairness.ca.

I’m also asking Ontarians to raise these issues, one-on-one with their local candidates –at the door, at the debates and in letters. When it comes to federal candidates, Ontario needs eager, enthusiastic, unapologetic champions –not shrinking violets.

And we need to ask them: Are you prepared to fight for us in Ottawa so we can keep more of our money here in Ontario? So we can help our unemployed, provide better care for our sick and build a stronger economy? Are you prepared to stand up for Ontario, home to 13 million proud Canadians, people who are absolutely determined to build a bright future for ourselves and our country?

After all, we are asking for nothing more than to keep more of our own resources so we can get that job done.

We have a real opportunity in this election to send a clear message to Ottawa: give us fairness. Let us build a stronger Ontario for a stronger Canada. – Dalton McGuinty is the Premier of Ontario

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