Shortchanged for decades: Ontario must raise its voice

Posted on April 6, 2011 in Equality Debates

Source: — Authors: – opinion/editorials
Published On Wed Apr 06 2011.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has a good point — Ontario is being milked, yet again, by federal officials intent on draining its riches into other provinces. And he’s talking tough, warning that Ontarians are not going to take it any more.

McGuinty’s problem is that there’s every indication beleaguered Ontarians will put up with fresh unfairness. After all, they’ve accepted being shortchanged for decades, on everything from equalization payments to employment insurance benefits, and from money to settle new immigrants to the number of House of Commons seats granted the province. (Ontario was to receive an additional 18 federal seats to help provide some balance, but they haven’t arrived.)

The latest inequity involves a $4.2 billion loan guarantee for the Lower Churchill hydro project in Labrador. The proposed power plant is so effective at generating Newfoundland votes that construction has been endorsed by the Conservatives and favourably received by the Liberal national campaign. But, as McGuinty notes, 40 per cent of promised federal funding would be provided by Ontario taxpayers, yet there’s no similar election commitment benefiting this province.

That has prompted some muscular talk from the premier. “If the federal government is going to support the people of Newfoundland, they have a corresponding responsibility to support the people of Ontario,” McGuinty told the Legislature on Tuesday, adding that this province’s bold electricity initiatives, in particular, deserve federal backing. “We are doing the heaviest lifting in the country.”

No doubt, we will continue to do so — despite a sharp decline in Ontario’s manufacturing sector, heavy job losses, soaring energy costs and a nagging provincial deficit. Ontario is in profound need of assistance. Yet it’s rarely offered a helping hand.

The reason isn’t simply that a western-oriented Harper government is neglecting the province. Ontarians were getting stiffed even when they were instrumental in delivering majority governments to the Liberals under Jean Chrétien.

Unlike other, more tribal provinces — such as Quebec, Newfoundland and even Alberta — Ontario rarely speaks with one voice. The province’s remarkable economic and cultural diversity results in all kinds of splits and viewpoints, making it hard for all to unite in pressuring Ottawa on any given issue. Northwestern Ontario resents, rather than identifies with, the interests of the south. The province has a staggering disparity between its poorest and most affluent classes. And, while there’s a rural-urban divide across Canada, it’s never sharper than when it involves Toronto.

McGuinty’s effort at energizing Ontarians would have more wattage if he put forward a concrete project to be funded, such as a new power plant or some specific amount being sought from Ottawa.

With less than four weeks left until the May 2 vote, there’s a fast-closing window of opportunity for Ontario to press its case. McGuinty must seize the moment. This hard-to-inspire province needs a solid goal to rally around. Rather than continuing to talk in generalities, McGuinty should decide on a shared provincial objective and lead Ontarians in a charge to win it.

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