It seems a simple enough concept: taxpayers in some provinces are paying more into the federal treasury than they get back in transfer payments.
But some economists think that it doesn't even exist:
Convincing arguments have been made by a wide array of economists that the whole concept is a provincial myth.
"The provinces have the means to fix their fiscal problems and we see little reason why Ottawa should do the job for them," Brian Crowley and Bruce Winchester, of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, argued in a submission to the Commons finance committee last February.
Their brief was particularly hard on Quebec, which has led the cries of fiscal imbalance for years.
The have-not province already gets favourable treatment on equalization and bloc transfers relative to most others, and has consistently spent more - in most cases much more - on its public sector than any other province over the past decade. As most provinces have scaled back public-sector expenditures relative to GDP, Quebec has not.
Two examples in the news today are Quebec's expansive subsidized day-care program and its rock-bottom tuition fees, the lowest in Canada.
Winchester and Crowley call this "a perfectly legitimate democratic choice . . . . It is certainly not an argument for taxpayers in other parts of the country to subsidize that political choice."
Quite an argument, if you think that the fiscal imbalance is nothing more than an accounting trick. But there is only one level of taxpayer to cover three levels of government. No matter how much one level raises or cuts taxes, it's still a zero-sum game, because there is only so much income and expenditure to be taxed at any time.
At some point, the feds will have to give back what isn't theirs. And then the blame will be solely on the other two levels if they squander it.