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As population grows, B.C. premier wants feds to revise equalization

B.C. Premier David Eby calls for a review of equalization payments
Premier David Eby Monday called on federal leaders to review equalization payments. (Black Press Media files)

Premier David Eby is calling for a review of equalization payments as part of efforts to help support population growth in B.C. which could top out at almost 9 million by 2046, according to new figures from Statistics Canada.

"I continue to be frustrated that B.C. taxpayers are sending money to Ontario, sending money to Quebec for equalization payments, when the pain of cost-of-living is right across this country, when every family is struggling," Eby said. "There is absolutely no reason why B.C. taxpayers should be sending equalization payments to the (Conservative) Doug Ford government. It's ridiculous."

Eby made these comments Monday (June 24) in the fast-growing Fraser Valley community of Chilliwack, a region where the B.C. NDP has been making in-roads, but faces a challenge from the Conservative Party of B.C.

Local MLAs Kelli Paddon and Dan Coulter joined Eby at a playground, where he reminded the public about the upcoming one-time boost to the B.C. Family Benefit for low- and middle-income families effective July 1 but first announced in February. Additional amounts vary according to the size of the family. A two-parent, two-child family in 2024 will receive a maximum of $3,563. Some 340,000 families -- up by 66,000 -- will receive the boost. 

Eby paired this reminder with a critique of Ottawa's treatment of B.C. Eby specifically singled out Ontario's decision to spend $225 million toward the liberalization of liquor sales in that province for derision in questioning how Ontario is using B.C. tax money.

"I can't fathom it," he said. "Families need to be supported here."

He further linked the review of equalization payments to B.C.'s population growth.

One such scenario could see B.C. grow to a population of 8.8 million by 2046 -- some 3.3 million than it's current population. The lowest projection foresees a provincial population of 6.52 million by 2046 with most placing B.C.'s population above the mark of 7 million by the middle of the 2040s. 

"We need to build strong public services that support British Columbians and we are going to do that work," Eby said. "But we also need a strong federal partner and if we don't have that partner, we will struggle with this growth."

The projections also foresee B.C. as one of three provinces that would grow relative to the rest of Canada. While Ontario and Quebec would remain the largest provinces their relative weight would decline. Alberta and Saskatchewan join B.C. as areas where the share of the population would grow. 

These projections give B.C. another arrow when it comes to revising equalization payments, which are aimed at creating "reasonably comparable" living standards across the country.  

This system — common across federal systems — distinguishes between have-provinces that do not receive payments and have-not-provinces. Its changing formula over time has been a historic source of tension and Eby recently mused about B.C. joining a constitutional challenge by Newfoundland and Labrador to revise the current formula.

"The bottom line is we will work with everybody and anybody, who is in the Prime Minister's Office, but we ask for some very clear commitments across party lines. We ask for per capita funding for British Columbia. That means if you give $750 million for immigration in Quebec, that you give the same equivalent amount to British Columbia."

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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