Sask. finance minister slams equalization plan
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Sunday, January 21, 2007 11:26PM EST
Saskatchewan Finance Minister Andrew Thomson says the federal government appears to be using Western oil money to buy votes in Quebec.
Quebec media reported this week that a proposal in the upcoming federal budget would exempt half a province's revenues from non-renewable natural resources, such as oil and gas, from the formula used to calculate federal equalization payments to the provinces.
Quebec supports the plan -- which will give it an estimated $6.4 billion -- but Saskatchewan's NDP government is vehemently opposed because it goes against Prime Minister Stephen Harper's position before the last election that all revenue from non-renewable resources should be excluded from the formula.
By Finance Minister Andrew Thomson's calculation, removing non-renewable natural resources from the formula "would mean we'd keep about $800 million more that's generated in Saskatchewan, in Saskatchewan."
However, according to a letter from federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, under the current proposal the province -- now in the "have" rather than the "have-not" category due to oil and gas revenue -- may get nothing at all.
"Our fear is that this is what it will be seen as, is that they're going to use the Western oil money to essentially buy votes in Quebec," Thompson told CTV's Question Period on Sunday.
"We all know that this is a government that is very fixated on how it can get re-elected. They believe that they can take the votes in the Western part of the country for granted and they're obviously focused on how they can gain more seats in other provinces; Ontario and Quebec."
Flaherty, reached in Beijing where he is on a trade mission, said nothing is written in stone, and that the letter he sent to the provinces is just a starting point.
He said the provincial finance ministers asked to know the minimum amounts they would be receiving under the program.
"That's the floor for equalization this year, as I made very clear in my letter to all of them," he told Question Period.
"But I think it also should be remembered that one of the goals of equalization, one of the good things is for have-not provinces to become have provinces. And when they became have provinces, that's actually something to celebrate rather than to feel poorly about."
When asked if Quebec -- a province where the Conservatives are desperate to gain more support -- is being treated favourably, he said "absolutely not."
"Quebec is in the have-not, the receiving category with respect to equalization, and the population of Quebec is quite large, so when you multiply the number on a per capita basis in Quebec, the number, of course, is quite large."/>