Ministers of finance from three Atlantic provinces met in Halifaxtoday, Oct. 8, to discuss regional concerns about the governmentof Canada’s plans for fundamental reform of the equalizationprogram. Finance ministers Peter Christie from Nova Scotia, Mitch Murphyfrom Prince Edward Island, and Loyola Sullivan from Newfoundlandparticipated in the meeting. Jeannot Volpe from New Brunswick wasnot available to attend. Ministers spoke of the importance of equalization to the Atlanticprovinces’ ability to provide levels of essential public programsand services that are comparable to those in other provinces. Onaverage, equalization accounts for 19.4 per cent of totalAtlantic revenues. Prime Minister Paul Martin promised a separate meeting onequalization and provincial-territorial finances following theFirst Ministers’ Meeting on health care in September. In the Oct.5 federal speech from the throne, the government said it will bemaking the most fundamental reform of the equalization program inits 47-year history. Provinces and territories have been told that equalizationfunding will be increased to $10.9 billion in 2005-2006, and by3.5 per cent annually in future years. The federal government isalso proposing to appoint an expert panel to examine andrecommend an allocation formula for the future. The three finance ministers insist that equalization fullyreflects existing fiscal disparities and not include arbitraryper capita based components. They are also concerned aboutwhether the proposed changes will produce the needed improvementsto equalization, and in particular: — if the proposed level and growth of equalization are adequate;– how equalization is allocated to reflect the funding needs ofthe Atlantic provinces; and– whether there is a need for a panel of experts to review theequalization formula. The ministers will relay the conclusions of Friday’s meeting toAtlantic premiers as part of preparations for the First MinistersMeeting in Ottawa later this month. The prime minister andleaders of all Canadian provinces and territories will hold theequalization discussions on Oct. 26. Equalization is the federal government’s constitutionalcommitment to provide funding to eligible provinces to ensure allCanadians receive reasonably comparable levels of publicservices, at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.