Ontario’s 3 simple questions

TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Sun Mar 27 2011.    Matthew Mendelsohn

Many Canadians apparently don’t want this federal election. The risk is that voters tune out. This could yield tragic results for Ontarians because it may be the most important election for Ontario since the free trade election of 1988 — which fundamentally altered Ontario’s economic landscape.

Ontario’s economy is again under stress. Ontario voters should ask all parties what they plan to do about it.

While the Conservatives and Liberals have both been very clear that they will do whatever is necessary to protect the interests of the oil and gas sector and to win votes in Quebec, they have been mum about Ontario.

The Ontario government has been highlighting a number of key issues that affect the future of the province. Like Conservative and NDP governments before him, Premier McGuinty has been a strong defender of the provincial interest in the federation.

But Ontario more often than not is shortchanged in this political game.

Ontario simply gets less than other provinces during election campaigns. And this isn’t because Ontario premiers are less vocal or that Ontario’s position is less defensible. In fact, Ontario’s positions are usually more principled than those emanating from other provinces in their ritualistic shakedown of the federal government.

Other provinces often do better because their voters simply put more pressure on their local MPs and insist that they defend the provincial interest. And they back this up with their votes.

It is not necessarily a pretty game. But it is, alas, the Canadian game. So this federal election, Ontarians should act like, well, other Canadians. In this election it means putting a number of simple questions to candidates when they come to the door:

Will you fix employment insurance, along with the worker training funds that are a part of the EI program, so that Ontarians are treated like workers in other provinces?

Will you move toward the principle of voter equality in Canada? Right now votes in Ontario are worth much less than in other provinces because of the way seats are allocated. By law, a new allocation needs to come after the completion of the 2011 census. Will you fix what has become an international joke and a violation of the constitutional protection of representation by population?

Will you ensure that the rules governing federal transfers to the provinces are no longer rigged to deprive Ontarians of the money that others are entitled to?

Will you honour the funding commitments that were made to Ontario to help immigrants?

Will you support Ontario’s energy sector every bit as much as you support Alberta’s and Quebec’s?

These issues all come down to three very simple questions:

Will you ensure that Ontario gets the same deal as Quebec or B.C. or Nova Scotia?

Will you commit to treating Canadians in all provinces equally?

Are you committed to investing in Ontario’s economic transformation — just as surely as you are committed to investing in Atlantic or Western Canada?

Principled, equal treatment of Canadians and provinces would return our federal-provincial financial arrangements to a principled footing. They would make Canada stronger. They would reduce divisiveness.

The Quebec government announced that it has three simple priorities during the election: get the federal government to transfer federal offshore oil and gas resources to Quebec; provide Quebec with financial compensation for having adopted the GST almost 20 years ago, and get a large share of the federal shipbuilding contract. All are big money projects. Ontarians need to be as pointed with their federal candidates and just as clear on their goals.

The major federal fiscal transfers to the provinces all expire in 2014. Negotiations between the federal and provincial governments are beginning already. This election will determine who is representing Ontarians during those negotiations and whether those MPs feel the pressure to make sure that Ontario doesn’t get a raw deal.

Now is the time to ask your local candidates where they stand.

Matthew Mendelsohn is director of the Mowat Centre in the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto.

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