Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is on his best behavior right now as he campaigns for re-election, but he no doubt had trouble biting his lip this week when a new provincial budget came down in Quebec.
The government of Philippe Couillard is projecting a budget surplus of $2 billion over the next 12 months, and they’re planning to use the money to pay down debt. Assuming the numbers are correct and not merely ‘creative accounting’, Quebec will likely be the only province in Canada to show a surplus this year. People like Brad Wall must really be wondering why and how.
This ‘distinct society’ that has flirted fairly often with the idea of leaving Confederation is once again benefiting hugely from being part of Canada. Provincial revenue is a little over $102 billion. One fifth of that, more than $20 billion, is transfers from Ottawa, and other provinces like Saskatchewan.
Quebec is a truly wonderful place to live if you’re a university student, or a working mother with young children. Tuition fees have long been the lowest in Canada, and heavily subsidized day care is the most affordable. For a long time, Premier Wall sat quietly when the premiers met as a group. He resisted the temptation to lambaste Quebec for living large off resource revenue from the west, but recently he has been quite noisy.
Wall and Alberta’s Rachel Notley would like to see speedy approval for the Energy East pipeline that will carry western oil to refineries in the Maritimes. But Quebec is not prepared to go along. Because the pipeline will cross through their territory, the province is insisting on the most thorough environmental assessment possible. It’s a process that could take several years.
In the meantime, the western oil will be stored in tank farms, or in the ground. The two oil producing provinces may run deficits for the next several years, while Quebec puts up big surpluses.
All in all, it is not the best of times for Canadian unity.
I’m Roger Currie