Friday, June 09, 2006

Equalization Highlights Division

The divisive debate over equalization highlights the problem with dilution of powers within a federation. Watching the various Premier’s approach this issue is a perfect example why firm centralism isn’t necessarily a bad concept. The narrow self-interest exhibited by all sides demonstrates why we need a decision making body that rises above regionalism and can approach matters with a level of detachment that incorporates the “greater good”. What we are witnessing with regards to equalization is a complete failure of a system, that shows how quickly things can deteriorate if these men are left to their own devices. Harper’s “firewall” analogy is exactly the mentality that will be displayed within a federation where power is decidedly provincial.

I realize that ultimately the feds step-in on equalization, but the debate does give much insight into how quickly Canada would unravel without an overriding voice that has the necessary constitutional teeth to blunt self-interest. It is simply counter-intuitive to believe that a Premier would compromise to such an extent where he risks backlash with his own constituents. There is no such thing as the notion of totality in a Premier’s mindset.

This reality is what makes Harper’s philosophy about “federal incursions into provincial jurisdictions” all the more troubling for the long term health of the country. Any talk of federal-provincial power sharing by Harper always speaks of what the feds should give up, never what measures are required to strengthen the core. If Harper’s view of federalism achieves concrete application, then the recent equalization acrimony is nothing more than a precursor of things to come.

3 comments:

Scotian said...

Steve:

Agreed. However the problem is that Harper and many of his party appear to genuinely believe that the federal government in Canada has powers like unto a dictatorship when in reality this is one of the most decentralized federations on earth with a correspondingly weaker federal government and stronger Provincial governments. Therefore he is not going to consider there to be a need for Provinces to surrender powers seeing as in his mind they are so much weaker than the feds to begin with.

Unfortunately as you say the ramifications from this kind of thinking becoming implemented are very serious. This I also fear will end up making it harder for this country to stay united. This was why I did not want a Harper government more than any other reason last election, while I had serious issues with other elements of his political agenda it is this aspect that worried me most, especially with a Separatist party interested in strengthening their Province's powers to work with in a minority situation even if there was no CPC majority.

Now it is starting to look like that fear may have been very well founded. This fiscal imbalance stuff combined with all the other things Harper thinks the feds should not be involved in I fear will bring us back to the divisions I remember from the 70s/80s in this country. I would be far more comfortable if Harper was realigning powers in a more rational manner giving some up to gain others but that does not appear to be where he is headed. No he appears headed towards a one way devolution. Not a good idea IMHO.

This was why I wanted a Liberal win last time out, hopefully a loss under those circumstances would have cost Harper and his fellow reformers in the CPC to lose power and a more traditional PCPC type conservatism came to power within that party. Then I would not fear the CPC as a government, well not as much anyway and particularly not that they would end up literally destroying the country as a united whole. This though I fear if allowed to continue for more than a year or so, especially if Harper gets another government (especially a majority but not limited to it) next time out. This is a fragile country and playing around willy-nilly out of ideology with the fundamental powers of this country is almost a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

Steve V said...

"I would be far more comfortable if Harper was realigning powers in a more rational manner giving some up to gain others but that does not appear to be where he is headed. No he appears headed towards a one way devolution"

Scotian, that is what worries me as well. There are areas where the provinces can do a better job than the federal government, and in reality there may be some incursions which aren't welcomed. The problem with Harper, we never hear any argument where the federal government role should be expanded and this lack of a sense of balanced "realignment" means his philosophy is a one-way ticket towards seperation. Canada is a fragile country, for a multitude of reasons, which is why it so crucial to have a federal influence that recognizes the need for centralism to counteract the ever present forces that foster tribalism. Where is the balance with Harper?

CuriosityKilledTheCat said...

The concerns in the blog and comments are well founded. It appears that Harper really has decided that the best way this country should run is if we have several feudal lords, with virtually unbridled power, and a very weak central government, restricted to a handful of functions and stripped of the financial power to initiate national programs for the common good. His mindset seems to be rooted in the old statism of the southern states of the USA, where "states rights" were the holy grail.

Harper did say that he did not need to debate many of his most substantial changes in Parliament, as he could achieve much outside that body. We are seeing him start this process with the so-called new federalism and the equilization discussions.

Harper once called on Alberta to erect a "firewall" around that province, to minimize the impact of federal government actions there. It seems he has expanded his thinking to that of erecting firewalls for every province....

And all of this is being done by Harper and Premiers, none of whom has a mandate from their voters to carry out substantial changes in the Canadian political structure. Harper would not today have a minority government if the last election had been about his policies, instead of the cries of corruption upon which he rode to power.

Will Canada have a Premier who stands tall and seeks a mandate from the voters in his province before agreeing to major changes to Canada?

Will the Liberals (or at least, some of the many candidates now competing to lead that party), stand for Canada, and initiate a public discussion of what is happening?

Or will Canada be lost by stealth, through private discussions of men in backrooms, and with nary a debate about what is happening?

We need a Canadian Paul Revere to ride hard and fast, and warn the people about this Yankee-fied Prime Minister and his hidden plans.