Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Is Canada A Failed State?

The mere mention of tinkering with the Canadian Constitution generally brings shrieks and dismissals.  A posture borne from past experience, suggestion of reopening seen as reckless and dangerous.   I don't want to rehash all the sound arguments for not revisiting- I appreciate the history- but at the same time this position is also tantamount to endorsing a stale, outdated status quo, basic acceptance of a forever flawed country.

There will never be a "good" time to reopen the Constitution, which means Canada is essentially stuck in time, we can never modernize or update, evolve or become contemporary.  No, the cautionary disposition amounts to paralysis, as well as an admission that the current amending system is unworkable.  As an example, have a discussion of the role of the monarchy and the bottom line always becomes, "well you can't change it anyway".

Re-opening the Constitution is seen as potentially breaking up the country, again the historical context a clear illustration.  However, I would submit that the country is drifting apart anyway, rather than the sound and fury that accompanies cconstitutional wranglings, we have the "slow burn", almost imperceptible, but with the perspective of time, the drift is quite clear and equally alarming.  Canadians simply don't discuss what type of Canada they want for the future, we simply let sleeping dogs lie, which allows for a delusional sense of calm.  Support for separation in Quebec is low, and somehow that equates to a strong federation, when really disengagement and narrow regional perspectives have probably never been more pronounced.  Factor in increasing agitations elsewhere in the federation, outright acrimony and disdain for our fellow Canadians, and I believe the calm in Canada is a mirage, reality is uglier and alarming.

I read some comments from Danny Williams, in relation the current pipeline battle and the larger question of maximizing benefits for ALL Canadians, a more unified approach and shared perspective.  Are we all in this together, or is this country merely a series of fiefdoms that actually sees other Canadians as "them" in a sense.   Unfortunately, this national pride we feel at events like the Olympics gloss over regional dislikes and outright disdain, perhaps we can work together beyond sporting events.

Anyone who lives or has lived "out west" can appreciate the regularity with which you hear eastern bashing, almost required articulation, identity through mutual dislike, the psychology is fascinating.   The reversal is also true, to the point of almost universal animosity, bashing is national past time, finding commonality through a common "other".   A gigantic geographic country requires many tethers to maintain cohesion, and yet the current set up demands Premiers create outside threats to solidify their own base, slagging Ottawa a primary political tactic to garner approval.  Without a strong national counter, things are out of balance and you have a country which is a bit of a fraud when you appreciate the real animosities that exist and persist.

It's about time some entity articulates a national discussion, Canadians desperately needs to speak about our common vision moving forward, there is a fundamental vacuum which needs a champion.  Rather than ignore the situation, balk at any suggestion of modernizing the federation, we shouldn't fear a philosophical debate that speaks to the nature of a society.  Either we revisit, or we are forever shackled in a suspended state.  To ignore is to watch the country drift further and further apart, until we reach a state where affinity is a quaint ideal, but practically a thin veneer.  To my mind, there is just as much "risk" to the federation with the status quo, as there is with challenging current mindsets and allocations.


Dan F said...

If young Mr. Trudeau one day does become PM, he may be in a position to complete what his father started. We'll have to wait and see what his vision for the country really is.

Edstock said...

It's a head-space thing. Canadians are not used to thinking about the Constitution, and not used to using it in legal challenges to various governments.

But, this is changing, as we see with the legal hoo-ha over RoboCalls and the G20.

It's not so much that our Constitution needs immediate changes, but rather, IMHO, Canadians have to learn to use what we already have.

Purple library guy said...

An interesting post, but it seems to deal with two separate issues and simply assume a connection between them rather than establishing one.
The constitution has flaws, which are to some extent left because they are difficult to fix.
And, we have problems in terms of regionalism and parochialism overwhelming anything resembling a national project.
Both true, but I'm unconvinced that the former is a very significant factor in the latter. First, because I think the major problems are ideological--our governing consensus tends to rule any kind of large government action out of bounds as being incompatible with free markets, free trade et cetera. Second, because to the extent any of our founding documents are causing trouble, I would argue that the biggest problems lie in the BNA act, such as where it gives the provinces exclusive control over resources, rather than the 1982 constitution proper.

Steve V said...

Yes, I would agree on the BNA act.

I do believe regional attitudes hamper any national objectives. There is a kneejerk resistance to any national thrust in some provinces, no matter the context, Premiers actually use resistance to appear strong. The National Securities Regulator is a perfect example, as soon as it was floated, you knew Quebec and Alberta would resist, it's boringly predictable.

Gloria said...

I don't blame any province or Canadian, that wants to separate from Ottawa and Harper. There is nothing left, to be proud of.

This country is no longer Canada. Our Nation is just a cesspool of corruption, lies, deceit, dirty tactics, dirty politics, thefts and cheating to win.

This country is being sold out, to Communist China. Anyone who wants to separate, had better do it fast.

The Mound of Sound said...

National or social cohesiveness is something that is carefully nurtured. Some countries, some peoples get it, many do not. Inequality - social, political, economic - destroys social cohesiveness, divides a people into disparate groups often harbouring real hostility toward each other.

The United States today is plainly more divided than at any time since the Civil War. It's almost as though there are two countries barely co-existing within one sovereign territory. Yet the politics of division thrives in that environment. Harper has introduced something quite similar to Canada.

We desperately need policies to bolster equality - income, wealth, and opportunity (which means education and health services also) - if we are to create a harmonious society. Yet Harper, with Ignatieff's assistance, has dragged Canadian politics much too far to the right for these ideas to take hold. Our political class has failed tthe Canadian public.

Kiwehtin said...

Purple Library Guy–

I think both of your points show a misapprehension of the relationship between the BNA Act and the dearth of common national purpose.

To take your second point first, the section 92A that grants exclusive legislative jurisdiction over nonrenewable natural resources to the provinces was inserted into the former BNA Act as part of the 1982 reform of the Constitution, as part of the conditions for the provinces agreeing to "patriation".

Much of the cause of the regionallstic tensions that work against a national sense of purpose comes from the way a series of decisions by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, in the first several decades following Confederation, actually undid many crucial strong powers of Parliament and the Dominion government — in blatant contradiction of the explicit text of the BNA Act — and bestowed them as bounty on the legislatures and governments of the provinces.

This is part of the reason why, among other things, we still have no fully-fledged economic union and there are still trade barriers between the provinces. It's also part of the reason why Quebec has been able in the first place to legislate restrictions on the use of language in business. If the JCPC had respected the clear language of the BNA Act, then Parliament would long since have been the only body legislating on any question touching on trade and commerce, and similarly Quebec would not have been able to legislate on use of language in the public sphere, let alone in business.

There are many other examples, such as the fact that securities regulation, coming under trade and commerce, is unambiguously an exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament according to the BNA's wording on trade and commerce, but the JCPC's decision that provincial authority over property and civil rights should take precedence gutted the power that the Fathers of Confederation intended Parliament to have, and gave the provinces wide-ranging powers they explicitly intended that they should not have.

Steve V said...

No shit.