It's all just Greek to Quebec

In Greece, the citizens can, on average, retire with a full government pension at the age of 58. In Germany, the citizens expected to help bail out the bankrupt Greeks must work until the age of 67 before they can retire.

Naturally, German citizens are wondering how this can be considered fair. Why should they have to work nine years longer so Greek citizens can live a life of leisure?

What's more, in Germany, most working people pay taxes. In Greece, only 20 per cent pay taxes. Again, unfair.

And yet, equalization between "have" European Union states and "have not" European Union states continues, even though it's not making things equal - it's rewarding laziness, leisure and possibly even criminal tax evasion. Why pay taxes if some hard-working Germans will do it for you? Thus the riots in Greece. They believe they are entitled to those entitlements.

Dysfunctional? You bet. We Canadians would never stand for such a thing, right? Think again.

Equalization in Canada was established to ensure that "have-not" regions could enjoy the same programs as "have" regions and most Canadians wouldn't quibble with that. But that has not happened. In fact, the reverse has occurred. The have provinces have fewer services than the have-nots. In Quebec - which opted out of the Canada Pension Plan and administers its own pension plan - citizens can retired with a full pension at age 62. In the rest of Canada, the age contributors can receive full benefits is 65.

In light of the fact that Quebec received $8.6 billion in equalization payments in 2010-2011 out of a total equalization pot of $14.4 billion, it's safe to say that citizens in Canada's "have" provinces - British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario - are paying for Quebecers' early retirement, as theirs is the only province which has such a generous, early retirement benefit. In other words, equalization is not very equal.

What's more, Quebecers can take advantage of $7-a-day day care, whereas, in most other provinces, $7 wouldn't even buy you an hour of day care or babysitting. Quebec has a very generous pharmaceutical program unlike any other in the country and Quebec university students pay considerably less for tuition within Quebec than students from anywhere else in the country.

Lately, Quebecers, like Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, have criticized Quebec's over-reliance on equalization, saying Quebecers are "spoiled children."

But that's got Quebec's Liberal provincial government fighting back. In its 2010-11 budget document, the Jean Charest government is actually arguing that it should receive even more equalization than it's getting because Alberta's oil industry is keeping the Canadian dollar high, which, in turn, harms Quebec's manufacturing sector. This is not a joke.

In other words, Quebec, which received $8.6 billion of the $14.4 billion doled out in equalization this year, is arguing that it's not enough. Alberta paid $37.064 billion in taxes and transfers to the federal government and the feds returned $17.567 billion in services and programs, meaning that Alberta contributed $19.5 billion net to the rest of Canada.

But Charest, who complained in Copenhagen that Alberta's oil sands industry "embarrassed" him, is actually making the argument that despite Alberta's largess, it's to blame for the trouble Quebec is in. In short, it's all Greek to Quebec - and that's frightening.



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