Premier revives transfer fight

Posted on July 23, 2008 in Equality Debates, Governance Debates – Ontario – Premier revives transfer fight: McGuinty asks Ontarians to stand up to Ottawa in battle over $20 billion sent to other provinces
July 23, 2008. Rob Ferguson, Queen’s Park Bureau

LONDON, ONT.–Ontario needs to be more like other provinces that “defend their interests so quickly it would make your head spin” to win its long-standing $20 billion funding feud with the federal government, Premier Dalton McGuinty says.

But there will be no stunts like lowering the Canadian flag, as Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams did to back demands for a better deal, McGuinty said.

Dusting off his crusade to get Ottawa to take less than the current $20 billion a year from Ontario’s struggling economy to help other provinces, the premier urged Ontario residents to get more vocal in backing him in the battle with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“We have been somewhat reluctant to stand up for ourselves,” McGuinty said after a luncheon speech to 350 people at the London Chamber of Commerce, in what amounted to a plea for help from citizens. “It’s one thing for me to take it to Parliament Hill and make the case as one Ontarian. It’s another thing for 13 million Ontarians to make the case together.”

McGuinty said it’s in their best interests to do so given high oil prices and rising unemployment in a manufacturing sector hit hard by rising costs of energy, the high dollar and a U.S. economic slowdown.

“Right now, despite the energy boom in other parts of the country, the federal government today takes more out of Ontario for redistribution to other provinces than ever before in Canadian history,” he said, noting the $20 billion accounts for 3 per cent of Ontario’s economic output.

“The system is so badly broken that every time the price of oil goes up – which means Ontarians pay more at the pumps – we have to pay more to the federal government for distribution to the rest of the country.”

Keeping more of the money would mean Ontario could provide more support for laid-off workers and cut taxes, said McGuinty, who cited a recent report that said Ontario could be a “have-not” province in need of equalization payments by 2010 if current trends continue.

The president of the Ontario chamber of Commerce supported McGuinty’s approach of fighting for a “fair deal” from Ottawa in a businesslike manner and not resorting to publicity stunts.

“Those antics may grab headlines but ultimately we want to be able to make some change and we want to be able to make sure that Ontario gets its fair share,” said Len Crispino, who was at the speech.

“We’re funding other parts of Canada to a far greater degree. … I think he’s on the right track.”

Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory, who wants the Liberal government to “open the books and issue an economic statement” this summer, said McGuinty should stop sniping at Harper.

“People want to see their governments working together and they want to see those governments maximizing every effort they can make to help them keep jobs in Ontario,” Tory told reporters at Queen’s Park.

“Mr. McGuinty should spend a little more time outlining what he’s going to do on his side – hopefully working with the federal government – and a little less time pointing out the shortcomings of others,” he said.

With files from Robert Benzie

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