MACLEAN’S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Blair Fraser September 3 1966
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Blair Fraser September 3 1966

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Blair Fraser

Ottawa isn't moved by the poor-little-rich-boy act Saskatchewan's putting on

WHEN PREMIER Ross Thatcher professed himself “shocked and dismayed” at the very idea that Saskatchewan is no longer entitled to a $35 million “equalization payment” from the federal treasury, he raised a few eyebrows in Ottawa. It has been known for at least a year (and was in fact reported in this space last Dec. 1) that Saskatchewan was almost certain to be dropped from the federal payroll and made a member of the affluence club along with Ontario, Alberta and BC.

Saskatchewan is not yet quite as rich as Alberta, but it’s getting there. Saskatchewan’s average personal income per capita is $1,966 compared to Alberta’s $1,974, almost a tie for

third place after Ontario and BC, and $220 higher than sixth-place Quebec. Saskatchewan’s population is almost exactly equal to Manitoba’s, but Saskatchewan’s provincial revenue is higher by $56 million. Saskatchewan’s revenue from natural resources and other “privileges, licences and permits” is exactly twice as much per capita as Quebec’s—$46 compared to $23.

The reason Quebec has been made to appear one of the relatively rich provinces, all these years, is that until lately “tax sharing” consisted merely of divvying up personal and corporation income tax. Because company head offices are concentrated in Toronto and Montreal, these taxes are concentrated accordingly. But it has long been recognized that income taxes are only one measure of fiscal capacity, and not the fairest. Alberta, though not the richest province, has been the richest provincial government since the oil boom started 19 years ago—yet even Alberta, until 1961, was drawing so-called “equalization payments” as a “have-not province.”

Now it’s Saskatchewan’s turn. The tax structure committee, a joint federal-provincial body, has been working for two years on an accurate definition of fiscal capacity. Several formulae have been devised, and will be the subject of negotiation in September. But no matter which one is chosen, Saskatchewan is due to be promoted—kicking and screaming— from a status of poverty to one of relative wealth. If this is a surprise to Ross Thatcher, he must have been neglecting his homework.

REPORTERS WHO go with L. B. Pearson to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in London in September will be looking with a clinical curiosity at British Prime Minister

Harold Wilson. His health has become a topic of speculation here.

We’ve had two brief glimpses of him lately. Last December, when he made a one-day stop in Ottawa on his way home from Washington, he looked the picture of health—round ruddy cheeks, clear sparkling eye, general impression of vigor. At the end of July, on a similar brief stop here, he looked just the opposite— face heavy and puffy, the color of an ill-poached egg, general impression bone-deep fatigue. Sitting beside L. B. Pearson, who was 19 and a serving soldier when Harold Wilson was born, Wilson looked much the older man of the two.

This may have been a temporary effect of weariness, but it looked like worse than that—and sometimes one quick look at a man, after months not seeing him at all, can be peculiarly revealing. Ottawa reporters who saw President F. D. Roosevelt only twice in their lives, at the two Quebec conferences of 1943 and 1944, were able to see what apparently was invisible even to Roosevelt’s own doctor—that he had become in 12 months a very sick man.