"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Not at the table

Glorious Leader, speaking at his whistle-stop announcement that he isn't actually "hard-topping" the Trans-Labrador Highway this year, is quoted in The Telegram today:

"Our government has had its share of money on the table for the past two years and, unfortunately, the federal government is not doing a great job of keeping its promise of providing their fair share the past two summers."
Again with the "fair share". Could someone, anyone, in the press gallery, please, for the love of decency, the next time Danny uses that phrase in relation to anything, ask him to define "fair share"? Thank you.


In the context of the Trans-Labrador Highway, anyone with a memory — and yes, that class of people is pathetically small — will recall that the Trans-Labrador Highway has been built through a hodge-podge of ad-hockery since the 1970s. Things really kicked into gear in the 1980s, though, first through the Special Recovery Capital Projects Program, which pumped $16-million into the TLH, 85% of which was federal money.

From 1986 to 1992, the ERDA money budgeted in the last Trudeau administration paid for further $47-million worth of work, 62.5% of which was federal money.

In the early 1990s, another $10-million was channelled in, under the RTRA program, 100% of which was federally sourced. And that was a mere stop-gap until the 1997 Labrador Transportation Initiative, which supplied $231-million worth of Trans-Labrador Highway work, again, 100% paid for from federal, not provincial, coffers. And that doesn't include LTI Fund money which was channelled into branch roads on the south coast, community streets, and other highways and road work in Labrador, not TLH in the strict sense of the phrase, which easily brings the federal share, for LTIF alone, to over a quarter of a billion dollars.

It might sound so very generous of the provincial government to announce that it's "going it alone" with $15-million in TLH spending this year. However, at that rate, if the province spent $15-million per year on the TLH, and the federal government nothing, it would be at least 13 years before St. John's and Ottawa had kicked in equal shares of TLH spending since 1983. If you factor in federal funds spent before 1983, and federal funds spent, before and since, on roadwork in Labrador other than the TLH, it would take even longer for the province to come up to it's "fair share", if you define "fair share" as a 50/50 split.

And when the province brags about what it's "had on the table", it might also talk about what it's taken off. Or, alternatively, someone might ask them.

In 2004-05, the province budgeted $22.5-million in its main estimates. In the following fiscal year, that amount was revised downwards to $6.8-million. In 2005-06, the budgeted amount was $41-million, revised down the following year to $32-million. In 2006-07, the TLH budget, on paper, was $41.7-million, revised down, this year, to $23.6-million. Nor is this pattern exclusive to the current government; the downward revisions, for budget years since 1998/99, has totalled over $75-million. What accounts for the discrepancy?

Nor is this the only bit of budgetary funny business involving the TLH. In four out of five fiscal years, beginning in 2003/04, three of those years being in the Danny Williams Era, the province voted itself nearly $35-million worth of federal revenue for the TLH project — federal revenue which, inconveniently enough, the Parliament of Canada had never itself appropriated. This highly unusual (to say the least) budgetary practice contributed to balancing the books on paper, but, more imporantly, provided a convenient way of fed-bashing, trotting out the same old tired "fair share... come to the table" lines.

That $15-million announced this week should also be looked at in the context of what the province derives in revenues from Labrador. In terms of both taxes from persons, and resource revenues, Labrador more than pulls its fiscal weight within the province. The provincial government's "fair share" of TLH spending should be measured not only as against the very substantial share that the federal government has already contributed over the years, but as against the very real contribution Labrador makes to domestic finances.

After all, the provincial government complains that, in respect of fiscal federalism, they are only looking "for what is ours", or "for a fair share". Does the same principle not apply within?

"...We have been three years trying to get the federal government to come to the table on this," Minister Hickey complained to The Aurora earlier this month.

If the provincial government of the province of which Labrador is supposedly an "integral part" had come to the table, it might have had a leg to stand on.

But it didn't. So it doesn't.

Labrador is part of a province; according to Danny Williams an "integral one", even.

It's time he started acting like it. After all, what does it bode for the separatist fantasy of his separatist supporters if all the grand plans for Labrador are dependent on funding from the country you want to separate from?


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