The Legacy Of Two Premiers 5,000km Apart

Posted November 27th, 2010 in Canada and tagged , , , , , by Adrian MacNair

Photo: Jenny McCarthy, The Labradorian.

Maclean’s writer John Geddes mulls over the difference between two premiers who have stepped down this month: Gordon Campbell and Danny Williams. Focusing specifically on wringing concessions from Ottawa, Geddes observes that Williams was able to get 61 per cent more in federal transfer payments per capita than Campbell.

Newfoundland residents will receive $2,268 per person — at least that’s the theoretical value of the transfer payments — compared with the $1,385 for B.C. residents. As Geddes said, it might make sense for Newfoundland to get more because of relative wealth and economic circumstances. But according to Stats Canada the average weekly pay in Newfoundland was $798.82 in 2009, compared with B.C.’s $797.13.

That still doesn’t tell the whole story. Median total income by family type for 2008 was $67,890 in B.C. compared with $59,320 in Newfoundland. And the latest unemployment numbers shows B.C.’s unemployment rate fell to 7.4 per cent in October, compared with 13 per cent in Newfoundland for the same time period. Does this mean it makes sense for Newfoundland to get 61 per cent more than B.C. since it has a 57 per cent higher unemployment rate?

It may be important to crunch a few more numbers than that. Total unemployment is 33,800 in Newfoundland compared with 185,100 for B.C., which if put into this perspective means that B.C.’s need is five and a half times greater. And as much as 20 per cent of B.C.’s employment is sustained by part-time workers compared with 12 per cent for Newfoundland. Both provinces have an equal amount of full-time workers as a portion of their provincial total.

All of this would make sense with everything else being equal in cost of living. But those factors aren’t equal. It’s understood that at least 2.3 million people live in the Greater Vancouver Regional District, which has some of the highest cost of living prices in Canada. The housing market in Vancouver is widely considered to be the most expensive in the world.

But as one reader of the Macleans article points out, the elephant in the room is the Atlantic Accord that Danny Williams went to war with Ottawa over. Newfoundland’s 2010-11 transfer payments consist of $389 million from the 1985 Accord (down 30 per cent from 2008-09). Removing that total would bring payments down to $767 million and make per capita payments $1,500, which would be little more than the $1,385 received by B.C.

Put into this context, it isn’t that Newfoundland receives an inordinate amount of transfer payments from Ottawa. It’s that Newfoundland has fought to protect the Atlantic Accord.

3 Responses so far.

  1. real conservativeNo Gravatar says:

    A lot of people around here don’t like Danny Williams and I still don’t know why?? Yet he is without doubt the most successful Premier since Ralph Klein and often the two of them are mentioned in the same sentence.

  2. PeterInEdmontonNo Gravatar says:

    “The housing market in Vancouver is widely considered to be the most expensive in the world”

    Do you have a citation for this? When I look at the Mercer list of expensive cities at


    Vancouver comes 94th. I am too cheap to buy their background report, so cannot be sure how much housing cost factors into their rankings, but from their comments, it is a pretty big factor. AND that study dates back to June, when the full Olympic hangover hadn’t hit, yet. Witness the ongoing Millenium Place mess (this in one Edmontonian who is pleased as punch the Tories killed our Expodoggle).

    The housing price difference is a valid point – don’t spoil it with hyperbole.

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