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Provinces brought their deficits on themselves, not Ottawa, Harper says

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is shown on Oct. 8, 2013.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper is refusing to take the blame for budget deficits in the country's provinces, saying Ottawa will not hike its financial transfers to make up for the bad economic choices of other governments.

In a year-end interview with the French-language TVA network, Mr. Harper said federal transfers to the provinces have increased by more than 50 per cent since his government took power in 2006. He pointed out that the increase in Ontario came in at 60 per cent.

Mr. Harper's comments came as Ontario is angry with recent changes to the formula governing federal transfers, which have left the province facing a $640-million shortfall. In recent weeks, the Quebec government has also announced a two-year delay in its plan to return to a balanced budget.

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"Some provinces have made choices that have placed them in a bad financial position, but it's not because of Ottawa, where we have refused to increase taxes and have placed strict limits on our expenditures," Mr. Harper said.

The Prime Minister said it is not his job to "tell provinces what to do," but he made it clear that he has no plans to come to the rescue of his provincial counterparts.

"I can tell you that the financial state of the provinces is their responsibility. The federal government has provided a record amount of transfers, and one can't explain a bad financial situation in a province by a lack of transfers from the federal government," Mr. Harper said.

Mr. Harper also confirmed his intentions to either abolish or reform the Senate, which was engulfed in scandal most of the year. He said the controversy has left him feeling "betrayed, disappointed and angry," while adding it is not the prime minister's job to "discuss his emotions," but to take appropriate action.

"If reform is not possible, we will have to abolish the Senate," he said. "In the 21st century, one cannot justify an unelected legislative chamber."

Mr. Harper blamed his government's minority status from 2006 to 2011, as well as the current opposition from the provinces in the courts, for setbacks in the government's plans to reform the institution to this point.

On planned changes to the mail service in Canada, Mr. Harper offered his support for plans by Canada Post to increase the price of stamps and end door-to-door delivery across the country. He explained that his residence in Calgary is served by a community mail box.

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"The Crown corporation is a business, and it must have a balanced budget over the long term," he said. "If taxpayers use these services, these services will be there, but if they don't want these types of services, Canada Post must make changes."

Mr. Harper also conducted a year-end interview with Global News, which will become public later on Thursday.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More


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