Editor's Note: A brief word on the E-word

“E” as in “equalization” – or should that now be “entitlement”?

I've been reading about the equalization dust-up — you know, the one between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Nova Scotia's (Rowdy Rodney) MacDonald, Newfoundland's Danny (Tiger Chavez) Williams, and Saskatchewan's Lorne (the Litigator) Calvert — and like most Canadians who've bothered, I've been struggling to make sense of it. With some reluctance, mind you. After all, anyone who values one's own time hesitates to engage in a debate about the dreaded E-word and understandably cringes at the complex issues of equity, history and mathematics that arise from the fact that so-called have-not provinces find themselves awash in resource riches these days.

My thinking on the issue so far is admittedly simple, but I keep arriving at this analogy: Imagine that a longtime welfare recipient discovered oil in his backyard and started to make millions of dollars a year from his find. The government, seeing as he's making millions, cuts off his welfare cheques. The guy sues — because, after all, the oil won't be there forever! (In Canadian constitutional law schools, this principle will one day become known as Oil brevis; the dole longa.)

Maybe I'm missing something here, but the stance of the three provinces, especially Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, seems to fit the analogy. What exactly are they griping about — that the prime minister broke a promise not to include resource revenue in equalization payment calculations? Well, the fact is that Harper should not have made the promise in the first place, but the federal budget goes out of its way to honour it (sort of) anyway. The provinces are still getting a sweet deal.

One dares not speak against equalization, as that would be un-Canadian. But if we're going to have this needlessly complex, politicized program, shouldn't its point be to make have-not provinces into have provinces? And if they get there by resource revenue, or industry growth, or whatever, what difference does it make? When did equalization become entitlement?

In our parochial state of politics, I guess, no good turn goes unpunished.