The Harper government’s plan to limit how it spends money in the provinces should be a concern to federal taxpayers now, and possibly provincial taxpayers later, Nova Scotia analysts say.
The Conservatives’ throne speech said they plan to put formal limits on federal spending power for new cost-shared programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction, something Quebec has demanded. The Tory plan would allow provinces to opt out of the program but still get the money if they offer “compatible” programs.
Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, called the proposal “manna from heaven” for the provinces.
He pointed out there’s no hint that the federal government would spend less money, but cutting the strings to the cash that goes to provinces would mean more freedom for them and less accountability for Ottawa.
“It would be very hard for voters to hold the federal government to account,” Mr. Cirtwill said.
Premier Rodney MacDonald has said he likes the federal Conservatives’ plan because provincial officials know better how to deliver services in Nova Scotia.
Critics say less control by the federal government means the possibility of provinces not spending federal cash properly.
Lori Turnbull, a political scientist at Dalhousie University, said it’s possible the federal government’s plan won’t change anything for Nova Scotia as the province would be able to opt into a program.
But there’s also the potential that the federal Conservatives could be planning something more, Ms. Turnbull said.
“This could be the start of a slippery slope,” she said. “If this is the first move of the federal government getting out of the business of funding social programs, then that could be a big problem for have-not provinces.”
Ms. Turnbull said the worry would be that Ottawa would tax and spend less, leaving it up to provinces to collect more tax from people to fund programs. The idea would be the taxpayer wouldn’t pay any more in total, but the amount going to each level of government would change.
Ms. Turnbull said that could be trouble for a province with a declining and aging population like Nova Scotia’s.
“(The provinces) all have the same methods of collecting taxes, but they have very different tax bases,” she said.
Jody Dallaire, a New Brunswick woman who chairs the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada, said the Conservatives’ plan means they are “in effect slamming the door on ever having a national child-care program.”
The previous Liberal government tried to set up such a program but the Conservatives ended it, instead sending $100 monthly cheques to parents with children age six or younger.