Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Issue Liberals Need To Champion: Part 2

I am curious to see if any of the Liberal leadership hopefuls offer a bold vision on federalism. The Conservatives have their "renewed federalism" agenda, which is centered around provincial appeasement as a means to curry favor and secure votes. It is imperative for the Liberals to counter the drift towards regionalism and present a workable federal model that reaffirms the idea of nation. Politically risky, the idea of constitutional reform seems to offer more pitfalls than benefits and this has led to policy paralysis, with piecemeal initiatives.

The other day I heard none other than Peter Lougheed defend a Canada first approach, in the face of provincial prosperity. Lougheed argued that Albertans shouldn't see their current fiscal windfall as a vehicle for further de-centralization. A proud Albertan, Lougheed said the nation should take precedent over province. The fact that someone like Lougheed finds it necessary to defend Canada illustrates the challenges for federalism moving forward. I don't think there is any question that Canadians are developing a stronger identity as it relates to their region, at the expense of the nation. The Liberals have two choices, avoid the obvious and play it safe politically, or open up the debate and attempt to re-invent confederation.

Harper's proposal for senate reform is a short-sighted bandaid that circumvents the constitution and makes his policy largely ineffective. The Liberals need to offer their own package that incorporates all the players and issues. Centralism for centralism's sake is not a winning strategy, but if it can address provincial concerns, while arguing for a national agenda where applicable then compromises can be found. To remain silent for fear of alienating certain sub-sections is the equivalent of placid compliance as Canada unravels.

It is time to bring the lingering problems to a head, once and for all. How can we expect federalism to prosper when we have a permanent anti-federalist party presence in the national parliament? We now have provinces where federal bashing is civic duty and identity is forged through a "us and them" mentality. The only counter to tribalism is leadership, a force that articulates a unity. I favor a constitutional summit, preferably after Klein exits, that is willing to risk the nation to save it. Yes, Canadians have constitutional fatigue and would not relish opening old wounds, but the alternative is equally unattractive. Canada is losing its soul, slowly but surely. We can either sit on the sidelines and watch it happen, or be proactive and administer to the patient. Right now there is little dialogue, no path and much denial. Let's see if any of these leadership contenders acknowledge the obvious and turn up the heat.

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