Letter to the Editor: Equalization as Constitutional Right

As rural Nova Scotians are left trying to economically survive on their own, it should be noted that over the past two decades (1999-2019) the Nova Scotia government received over $30,000,000,000 ($30 billion) in equalization payments from the federal government.

Based on government data – some of which the government no longer provides — only about $640 million from that $30 billion was distributed in the provincial government’s inadequate equalization grant program ($32 million per year) to 40-some municipal units over two decades.

Professor Jim Guy’s column, “Running on Empty and Workin’ Overtime,” (Cape Breton Post, March 14) describes the difficulty the council of the CBRM continues to have trying to financially manage its economic decline while receiving just $15 million of equalization — which is then clawed back by the provincial government.

According to federal and provincial politicians, these yearly equalization payments to Nova Scotia are done with no strings/conditions attached. This is such an extralegal practice because this government obligation was given its legality and constitutional authority in Canada’s supreme law when it was enshrined in the Constitution Act, 1982.

How does a constitutionally enshrined government commitment to Canadians to “making equalization payments to ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public service at reasonably comparable levels of taxation” become a constitutional law that has never been complied with by both the federal and provincial governments?

How come there was not one politician at all government levels who raised this matter publicly by demanding a legal explanation for the constitutional authority to transfer such huge amounts of money unconditionally for so many years? What happened to the rhetoric of government accountability for spending the public’s money?

Both levels of government were aware that approximately 26% of total yearly federal equalization payments [to Nova Scotia] were provided due to the province’s relative weakness in property tax fiscal capacity. (It was confirmed for Nova Scotians for Equalization Fairness in a letter from the federal Finance Department dated 30 April 2012 and in another letter from N.S. Finance Minister, Maureen MacDonald, dated 8 March 2013, that it was 26.8% in 2011-12, when federal equalization payments totaled $1.417 billion)

Had this amount of federal money been distributed to the municipal units, the CBRM would have received approximately $3.909 billion dollars — and the other municipal units an equal amount too — over these two decades and budget infighting would not be the reality it is today, nor would municipal towns seeking dissolution.

This is not new information to the politicians, as the Cape Breton Post editorial of March 10, “Numbers Tell A Dismal Story,” reminded us that former mayor John Morgan tried to have this matter depoliticized by having the court enforce this legal commitment. This then had to be pursued all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada — which decided not to decide, without comment. 

In my view, the courts were riding shotgun on this legal stagecoach to prevent the provincial government from having to defend/justify the evidence that consisted of the government’s own policy of noncompliance with its constitutional commitment. The federal government, too, is just as guilty, being a signatory to this enshrined constitutional obligation.

The Nova Scotians who have been robbed of their constitutional entitlement over these many years of high property taxes and increasingly poor quality public services must take this matter into their own hands as the editorial of March 10 concluded: Want things to get better? Well…why not talk to your local MLA? Maybe they can explain where all that equalization from the federal government goes.” Also, call your federal MP for answers.

And don’t forget to mention that it is time to do an audit of the federal equalization after it is received by this province as the Liberal Party called for in its 2011 Annual General Meeting resolution.


Charles W. Sampson
Sydney Forks, NS