On June 19, 2007 Saint John MP, Paul Zed, wrote and open letter to PM Harper in the Globe and Mail. His title read: “Dear PM: You’re cheating New Brunswick out of a billion dollars.” That’s making a pretty blunt accusation, but Mr. Zed is as irresponsible with his research as he is with his allegations.
In his opening salvo, MP Zed says the APEC report “has confirmed…Mr. Harper’s changes to the federal equalization program are going to leave New Brunswick behind.” He goes on to conclude that “Mr. Harper… has created two classes of equalization.” The report confirmed no such thing, and the Prime Minister has done no such thing. He goes on to lament that New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan were not offered the choice of the “status quo” and “[a]s a result, New Brunswick is being robbed of $1.1-billion in equalization.”
This is such a gross distortion of fact that Mr. Zed should have his license to practice law revoked. As he well knows, his former Liberal leader succumbed to political pressure and signed only two side-deals exempting provinces from standard equalization – Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. There was no choice that robbed NB of $1.1 billion dollars because we have never been part of an Atlantic Accord.
He goes on to say that “Mr. Harper promised that his budget would be a permanent fix that would end provincial conflicts on equalization.” What the Conservative government did claim however was a resolution to the fiscal imbalance and an end to federal-provincial bickering. What Mr. Zed seems to have missed is that the dissenting Atlantic premiers have merely carried their fight over from the stalled provincial meetings that failed to agree on a new equalization deal! As Dan Leger rightly stated in the Chronicle Herald, “We might not be having these problems if the provinces themselves didn’t squander their chance to create a new equalization formula. Last summer, the premiers battled themselves to an impasse trying to work out a new system, leaving Stephen Harper the right and responsibility to devise a new one.”
The Saint John MP claims that “former premier Bernard Lord…got hustled by Mr. Harper for partisan purposes. This has led to no new money to address poverty, child care and early learning, no new money for housing and literacy.” To the contrary, New Brunswick got $5.7 million for new childcare spaces and $217 million in social transfers. The Harper government’s resolution to the fiscal imbalance gave almost $2.3 billion in federal money to the Liberal government of our province. That doesn’t sound to “partisan.”
In conclusion Mr. Zed states that “Mr. Harper has delivered a serious blow…by cheating New Brunswickers out of a billion dollars. We will not stand idly by while the Prime Minister and his minority Conservative government starve our region…If this new equalization formula is the best this Prime Minister has to offer, our answer is: No thanks.” The question arises, who is Mr. Zed speaking for?
Contrary to all the MP’s partisan bluster, our Liberal premier has accepted the equalization with thanks. That is because he wrote to the Prime Minister on October 11, 2006 demanding a “10 province standard” and a principles based formula – that’s what was delivered. Furthermore, our Liberal NB government categorically dismissed the APEC report as depending on “statistics, speculation and growth predictions that are subject to change.” Perhaps he should have consulted with his provincial counterparts who accepted the new equalization and rejected the APEC report before presuming to speak for our province!
Even Danny Williams’ Finance Minister Tom Marshall refused to make public his department’s equalization projections because of the unknown factors involved. He said, “There is a plethora of numbers and there is a plethora of assumptions that one would have to make to do these calculations … we are going to get caught in a debate involving the minutiae of our assumptions” (St. John Telegram - May 19, 2007)
So Paul Zed is willing to go against his own province, and step out on a limb even farther than the warring Danny Williams’ government – why? One can only assume to embarrass the Conservative government and continue to spread misinformation and confusion in Atlantic Canada. The APEC report hasn’t “confirmed” anything. There are not “two classes of equalization,” but one new formula supported by provinces representing 95% of Canada’s population. The only exceptions to this 10 province standard are Newfoundland and Nova Scotia who were ‘grandfathered’ in with respect to existing agreements. It is shocking that Mr. Zed would allow such fabrications to be printed in his name.