HALIFAX – Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s comments on cuts to the federal equalization program only contribute to division in the country, Nova Scotia’s premier said Thursday.
Premier Stephen McNeil said Wall was taking an opportunity to make headlines when he suggested Wednesday that some of the have-not provinces are getting too much money under the program and that the funds could be better spent elsewhere.
McNeil reminded Wall that Saskatchewan once received equalization and it’s important to have a financial structure in place to help provinces when they need it.
“He looks for an opportunity for a headline any chance he gets. But to be perfectly frank, it doesn’t help the national debate,” said McNeil after a weekly cabinet meeting.
“If you look back historically, there’s been many provinces who at some point in time have relied on equalization and that was the intention of (equalization).”
Wall said he wants a dialogue on changing the federally funded, constitutionally guaranteed program, which sees more than $17 billion a year distributed to poorer provinces.
He said some of the funding could be diverted and used for a combination of infrastructure work and tax cuts.
McNeil said he agrees there should be a national discussion on infrastructure and maximizing resources, but the way Wall expressed himself divides the country and does not help the debate.
“We need to (have those discussions) in the context of unifying the country, not in the context of dividing the country,” said McNeil. “Mr. Wall often looks for an opportunity to get a flashy headline… but it does very little to move his cause along, if it truly is about unifying the country.”
The equalization program is designed to enable poorer provinces to offer government services at tax levels similar to richer jurisdictions.
It is based on a complex formula that assesses each province’s ability to raise its own money, and brings poorer provinces up to the national average.