Campbell and Williams: transfer payments as they exit

Mulling over this month’s two big political resignations, B.C.’s Gordon Campbell and Newfoundland’s Danny Williams, I got to thinking about their contrasting styles when it came to federal-provincial relations.

Williams presided over an unprecedented boom for Newfoundland and Labrador, and famously fought to maintain federal equalization payments to his province, even as its oil-fueled economy outgrew have-not status.

Campbell’s run coincided with uneven economic times for B.C., and he sometimes argued for a better deal on transfers—in mainly in the context of the broader “fiscal imbalance” debate of a few years back—but he never made fighting Ottawa a major focus of his politics.

So where did they leave their provinces as they step aside, when it comes to payments from the feds? Newfoundland is slated to receive $2,268 per person this year from Ottawa, while British Columbia gets $1,385.

(Those per capita figures are based on all transfers, including the big ones, like those for health and welfare, along with niche programs, such as labour market training and the like; the Finance Canada tables are here.)

One might think Newfoundland’s larger take still makes sense, since the West Coast remains more prosperous. But that depends on how you assess relative wealth. Statistics Canada tells us that average weekly  pay in Newfoundland, including overtime, was $798.82 last year, about the same as B.C.’s $797.13.

Williams’s popularity was, of course, based on more than how hard he bargained with prime ministers. Campbell’s unpopularity was not simply due to his failure to establish himself in the popular imagination as a fighter for B.C. against the centre. But this is not a negligible reason for their very different exits.







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