In Brief: In this op/ed that appeared in The Toronto Star, David MacKinnon, AIMS senior fellowin fairness in Confederation, the Ontario Perspective, provides Ontario residents with three questions they should ask during this federal election.

by David MacKinnon

The Oct. 14 vote will be a highly unusual federal election for Ontario’s citizens.

For the first time, their income per capita is at the national average and moving on a trend that would see it fall significantly below that level.

Over the past year alone, Ontario has lost 6 per cent of its manufacturing jobs.

Ontario’s key customer, the United States, is in a financial crisis more severe than anything seen in 60 years, a crisis that already has reduced the capacity of Americans to buy goods and services from us.

The vice is tightening on Ontario and unfortunately the federal government is doing much to help it close. Ottawa is still taking about $80 million every working day from Ontario to fund subsidies, including equalization, for Manitoba, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.

This is dangerous: In the past four years, equalization alone has grown from $10.9 billion to $13.6 billion, an increase of 25 per cent. According to one Maritime expert, it will almost certainly cost $30 billion 10 years from now. The equalization bill for Quebec alone is up a remarkable 67 per cent in the past four years and Ontario’s taxpayers have paid for nearly half that amount.

Put differently, equalization expenditures are growing at least four times faster than the Ontario economy.

In these circumstances, candidates for federal office in Ontario need to be pressed about the actions they will take to prevent Toronto from becoming Detroit North and Ontario from becoming Ohio across the Lake. These are the likely outcomes if federal policies are not drastically changed.

I suggest three questions for candidates at all party meetings:

  • Why are Ontario taxpayers required to provide so much funding to other Canadians at a time when Ontario’s growth is negligible and when, as testimony to the standing committee on finance demonstrated, the Ontario government has the least real income per capita of any province?
  • Will you, as a candidate, support cuts in the equalization program and other subsidy arrangements so that they are reduced by an amount that would bring accessibility to services in other provinces in line with standards in Ontario and Alberta?

    At the moment, Statistics Canada data as well as data from many sources demonstrate that access to judges, nurses, teachers, hospital beds, universities, community colleges and many other programs is better in recipient jurisdictions than in Ontario.

  • What will you do to ensure that recipient jurisdictions (Manitoba, Quebec, the Atlantic provinces) stand on their own feet and cease to be fiscal dependencies of Ontario and Alberta taxpayers?

In recent years, accountability has been a major theme in federal politics. The federal election is a rare opportunity to bring accountability to the vast structure of regional subsidies in Canada by which large amounts of money are provided to other jurisdictions and regions for purposes – program comparability is one – that aren’t even measured.

Accountability will only come if citizens demand it. The time to do that is now.

David MacKinnon is a senior fellow in the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies in Halifax and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg. He is also a past president of the Ontario Hospital Association.