BLOG: Equalization Does Not Mean Equality

How have perceptions about NL changed among Canadians in the past few years?

It’s probably a psychological side effect of the foggy weather around many parts of Newfoundland and Labrador this summer but lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking (and very little lawn maintenance). Call it day dreaming if you will but I like prefer to think of it as a “vacation of the mind”. It may sound corny but when life gives you lemons (or in this case incessant pea soup fog) you do whatever you can to turn it into lemonade.

These mental excursions have lately led me to consider perception. How perception can, and often does, create a form of false reality and how even though perceptions can sometimes change they often stubbornly refuses to do so.

I wonder, for example, how perceptions about Newfoundland and Labrador have or haven’t changed among Canadians in the past few years. It’s not that I spend a lot of time concerned about that particular subject, in fact, though it may sound trite, I’ve learned over nearly 50 years that what matters most is how you perceive yourself, not what others think of you. Never the less, knowing quite well how Newfoundland and Labrador has been viewed by many Canadians for a long time I find myself curious about the current state of affairs.

In a recent unrelated article I mentioned that through my travels I’ve seen for myself how our oil driven economy and new attitude have helped alter perceptions far and wide, both inside the province and in other parts of the world, but when it comes to the old stereotypes across Canada I wonder if reality has finally begun to replace age old fallacies that have existed since 1949 or if those misperceptions remain as widespread as ever?

One of the oldest bugaboos that has plagued Newfoundland and Labrador for decades is the idea that the province is a financial drain on Canadian taxpayers. “Living off my tax dollars” was, and I’d argue still is, the prevailing attitude in places like Ontario where equalization payments to “the rock” have been seen as a form of federal welfare. Never mind that the tax dollars funding equalization come from citizens inside Newfoundland and Labrador just as well as they do from those in other parts of Canada, the perception remains.

Never mind as well that Newfoundland and Labrador hasn’t received one penny of equalization for a number of years now. And ignore the fact that a media driven cost/benefit analysis some time ago showed the province has contributed more to Canada financially than it received in all forms of federal transfers (equalization, health transfers, jobs, etc.) during its history. Regardless of any of that, the perception of a bottomless money pit where every Mother’s son is looking for a hand out has existed for a long time and it’s a hard image to shake.

Nobody ever said it was a requirement that perception have any basis in reality.

Those misperceptions are why today I found myself gazing into the ever present fog and pondering what people in other parts of Canada now believe. How much reality has managed to get through to the average man or woman on the streets of Ontario, Quebec or elsewhere in Canada?

Although accurate numbers are hard to find, due to holes in available public data, during the 62 years since Newfoundland and Labrador entered the Canadian federation, in 1949, my best estimates indicate the province received somewhere between 20 – 25 billion dollars in equalization payments.

By comparison, Quebec currently receives nearly 8 billion each and every year from the fund. In other words, over the next 3 years alone Quebec will receive as much, or more, in equalization as Newfoundland and Labrador saw during more than 60 years of Confederation. How much Quebec has benefitted from the program over those same 60 years is something I’ll leave to the imagination of the reader.

Add Ontario, Canada’s newest “have not” province to the mix and reality takes yet another turn away from some long held perceptions.

This fiscal year alone Ontario will receive 2.2 billion in federal equalization payments and that number is rising with each passing year. When you factor in the equalization payments Ontario has already received over the past two years, even if transfers remain at their current rate, in 10 short years Ontario will have collected as much in equalization as Newfoundland and Labrador did throughout its entire history.

Before everyone in Ontario suddenly emails me to remind me (in colourful language) that Ontario contributes more far more to equalization than any other province please stop, take a deep breath and try to get yourself get past that false perception as well. (our email server will thank you)

In reality Ontario doesn’t pay anything into equalization, no province does. Equalization is paid for by federal tax dollars collected from your paycheque and mine whether you live in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta or Newfoundland and Labrador. The “federal tax” item you see on your weekly pay stub is what pays for it along with other forms of federal taxation. The province doesn’t pay a penny into the pot no matter what any politician running for the premier’s seat might have to say about it.

Equalization payments are indeed issued to the provincial government but it’s individuals like you and me who foot the bill. I pay as much as you do when it comes to funding equalization so let’s not go there.
That aside, generally speaking I suspect equalization is a sore point for the people of Ontario who have long seen themselves as Canada’s economic engine but I don’t quote these numbers in an effort to belittle or thumb my nose at them or the people of Quebec or anywhere else for that matter. Many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians would likely feel well within their rights to do exactly that after having been looked down upon for so long but that’s not what this is about. Rather I quote the numbers precisely because they are not misguided or misinformed perceptions. They are facts, plain and simple.

I also quote them in an effort to lay a solid ground work for a personal request.

As I stated earlier, I’m curious about current attitudes across the Country so if any of our readers in Ontario, Quebec or elsewhere in Canada would like to comment on attitudes toward Newfoundland and Labrador where they reside I’d love to hear from you. Let me know if perceptions are indeed changing in your neck of the woods or if, as I suspect, old attitudes toward the province remain a Canadian reality.

I’d love nothing more than to have my own perceptions proven wrong.

Read more of the author’s blog at Web Talk – Newfoundland and Labrador

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