My province is bigger than yours

Who does more for Canada? Ontario, the traditional economic engine of the country, or Alberta, the energy dynamo credited with keeping Canada out of the current economic dog house? Both, if you listen to the finance ministers for the two provinces.

Yesterday Alberta’s Iris Evans was in Toronto making her pitch for why Canadians should feel all warm and cuddly towards Oilberta. “When Alberta gains $634 billion a year from GDP of these oilsands,” she told the Economic Club of Toronto, “Ontario gains $110 billion a year.” All told, she said, Ontario and the federal government receive half the taxes collected from the oilsands.

Not one to have his province’s financial fortitude questioned, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan issued a statement today just to remind everyone who wears the pants around here.

“When Ontario faces challenges, the rest of the country suffers,” Duncan said from the provincial finance ministers meeting. “A strong Ontario means a strong Canada.”

On the surface, this is simple politicking. Alberta knows it must counter the perception in the rest of Canada (isn’t that phrase normally reserved for stories on Quebec?) that it’s not the only one rolling in oil and gas lucre. Ontario, meanwhile, is desperate to squeeze more out of Ottawa for its struggling manufacturers.

But I think this is only the beginning of what promises to be a nasty power struggle between eastern and western Canada. So far, things have been pretty cordial. I doubt that will last much longer as gas prices soar and manufacturers in Ontario and Quebec are forced to lay off thousands of more workers. Ontario won’t trundle off into “have-not province” land without a fight, and you can be damn sure Alberta won’t stand for a grab at its oil and gas royalties. The opening shots have been fired.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.