Sunday, March 25, 2007

I raise you one balance sheet

Mr. Bill Rowe, probably the province's highest profile provincial nationalist, in his ongoing efforts to express visceral contempt of all things Confederal, has issued the Premier a challenge in his weekly Telegram column. It's worth reprinting that paragraph in it's entirety:
But here’s another thought. Danny Williams should make a hard-nosed, ruthless and cunning move worthy of Harper himself: commission a study to find out if this province, all financial and economic factors considered, could be as well off outside Canada as inside.

And act accordingly.
I agree.

In fact, not only do I agree with Mr. Rowe and strongly support this challenge, I too call upon Premier Williams to convene a panel of reputable economists.

The task? To pull together a comprehensive balance sheet of all flows of economic resources, in and out of the province, to and from the federal government and the rest of Canada.

I want to see a grand spreadsheet of all the measurable economic inputs and outputs of this province.

I want to see the definitive set of net numbers of every dime which goes over the NL-Canadian border once and for all. Only through the results of that effort can we make an informed decision on our national destiny

We owe it to our people to show them, in no uncertain terms, the hard cold facts of the profound effects that Confederation has had on this province.

I'll see Mr. Rowe's study and raise him one comprehensive balance sheet.

It's just too bad that we will never see one. And not for the reason you might think.

In 1976, Quebec elected its first avowedly separatist government under the leadership of Rene Levesque. Reportedly, one of his first orders as premier was to ask each and every department of government to produce an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the province's relationship with Canada.

Two notable things about that exercise. The first was a massive collection of one-sided and myopic documents from across the policy spectrum pointing out how Quebec is disadvantaged by Canada in each and every possible way.

The second notable thing was a very conspicuous absence. No form of comprehensive balance sheet showing financial and financial-related inflows and outflows was ever produced. This government, more than any government before in the history of Canada, had every motivation to prove, one and for all, that their province was putting more into Canada than it was taking out.

And yet one was never produced. That document, that proof that would have proved the PQ government's case beyond any doubt once and for all, never materialized.

Not that this gaping intellectual and evidentiary hole ever prevented that and successive Quebec governments from claiming that Quebec has always been, and would always be, bled dry by the federal system.

Fast forward to July 2, 2003 (strategically the day, after Canada Day) to the release of the Vic Young Royal Commission on Renewing and Strengthening Our Place in Canada. To the joy of provincial nationalists across the province, the report provided a treasure trove of historical grievances, recounted tales of alienation and cited many damning statistics ripe for taking out of context with which to bash our relationship with the rest of the country.

But it took no time for the provincial nationalist fringe to bemoan the fact that Mr. Young and company neglected to produce the smoking gun. The Royal Commission never even made a preliminary attempt to generate a comprehensive balance sheet showing that the province was a net contributor into Confederation.

Never fear. That task was taken up by a local newspaper, the aptly named Independent who took it upon themselves to fill that hole left by the royal commission. Their so-called Cost/Benefit Analysis showed in no uncertain terms that we are, of course, victims, which is in accordance with that publication's point of view - this province is the ongoing victim of a heinous crime called Confederation.

Equally odd, instead of selecting anyone with qualifications, credibility or basic familiarity with economic concepts (say, the difference between net and gross), this supposed economic analysis was produced by a narrow panel of warmed-over provincial nationalists who used shoddy, incomplete and out-of-context statistics sprinkled through a qualitative anti-confederation polemic.

It made a stir for a few weeks but nobody really took it seriously as firm evidence of anything but it did sell newspapers. It was quickly recognized as a political piece of fluff and not much else.

And so we still have no comprehensive balance sheet to demonstrate the case of the nationalists. And don't hold your breath awaiting one either. As long as no such evidence exists, nationalists can say that we really are seriously disadvantaged.

And it's a whole lot easier to simply assert that fact than ever actually proving it.

The problem with proving something is that you might be proven wrong and that would put the nationalists, like Mr. Rowe and Mr. Bob Wakeham and others, in a real quandary.

If Mr. Rowe and others on the political margins want a balance sheet then let's do the balance sheet. It's time that bluff was called and that myth was shattered because it's a distraction from the job that needs to be done

And it is not getting done.

The 800 pound gorilla in the room is that if the provincial government would start facilitating major economic projects instead of capriciously blocking them while simultaneously demanding escalating economic reparations from Ottawa in the form of ever-sweeter equalization payments, we would surely become economic contributors in jig time.

But as long as this government sees equalization as a substitute for economic development, real pride is but a hollow dream and a faint hope.

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