Friday, November 10, 2006

Harper's "Firewall" Federalism Taking Shape

We have a Prime Minister with a Premier's mentality. Harper's well known statements about "building a firewall" around Alberta to hobble the federal government find relevance in his latest, and dangerous, initiative:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is discreetly sounding out some provincial premiers about setting formal limits on Ottawa's powers, even if it means possibly reopening the Constitution, sources say.

While discussions are at a preliminary stage, officials in Ottawa and several provinces suggested constraints on the federal spending power could eventually take the form of a constitutional amendment explicitly restricting Ottawa to its own areas of exclusive jurisdiction a move that would reshape federal-provincial relations...

A senior federal Conservative described the discussions as embryonic, saying it is "premature" to say Harper is proposing a full-blown constitutional amendment, and adding it's highly unlikely such a discussion will take place before the next federal election.

At the same time, the official said, Harper is determined to explore the question of defining the federal government's spending authority more clearly...

Many Tories also view federal decentralization as a wedge issue, and credit Harper's vision of "open federalism" with helping put the party back on the map in seat-rich Quebec.

There is no question that the lines of jurisdiction can be blurred, but that tension is a necessary reality and there is a balance at play. The role of the federal government, in my view, is to counter the natural tendency of provinces to demand more control. Provinces act within their own self interest, and this fine, but it eliminates any real sense of greater good. Canada is already one of the most de-centralized federations in the world, despite all the saber-rattling about big brother Ottawa hovering over the provinces. Canada needs "national plans" to ensure some symmetry throughout the country, so I largely endorse most "incursions" because I see the spirit as unifying.

Stephen Harper approaches federalism as though Premier of Alberta, with little sense of his role as counter to further erosion. This is pure Reform Party philosophy at play in these clandestine talks. Keep the feds out, let the provinces act with impunity. Use Quebec's special status to weaken the federation, a tactic often used by Alberta reformers. This viewpoint is tribal, divisive and creates a climate where the nation drifts toward a meaningless entity. From this perspective, the federal government is the enemy, despite the fact it is our government. Frankly, it is a childish, small view of the world, that directly contradicts the idea of unity.

Canada doesn't need another Premier, it needs a Prime Minister. Stephen Harper has a disturbing paper trail, and now we see the early hints manifesting themselves in talks with the provinces. Important to note, no decisions will be made until after the next election, which highlights why a Tory majority may be worrisome. Think about the optics, a federal leader approaching provincial leaders to see how we can "cap" and neuter Ottawa. On this file, I have no doubt there is a hidden agenda and Stephen Harper is a dangerous man, if you endorse a workable federation.


Mark-Alan Whittle said...

I beg to differ Steve. The new realities have changed old thinking. As far as identities go, we don't have onse since Pierre Elliot told the Queen to go get stuffed. Since then it's been a melting pot that masks us over, blurs our heritage into what, have we forgotten our Aboriginal roots, we are guests here and Canada is not a Nation, it's a corporation of the Queen, like any other corporation.

Who in their right mind would allow a corporation like Canada so far into their lives, like Microsoft?

They were cut down to size when they became drunk with power, just like the Federal government.

This Stephen Harper knows, so nation building has come to the fore. Ontario has nations of it's own, nations within a nation, the true heart of open federalism.

Limited by the nations within. See the big picture now?

Anonymous said...

He is trying (in the long run) to download everything to the provinces, put it in the Constitution, then just be a puppet government

Anonymous said...

This is his feeble answer to the fiscal imbalance, at least the hopes the provinces buy into it. Great they say, except once you become a have-not province, developing a program to assist or change a deficiency ie social housing, poverty etc, you are severely limited without the involvement of the feds. Harpor of course only cares about the corporate side, appealing to people's basest instincts like fear (crime and punishment), anger (taxation and punishment) and deregulation of all things that could interfere with the profit margins. Neo-cons believe that gov't pry away at their right to profits, but in reality at least in social-democracies, gov'ts provide a fair playing field and protect the unprotected as best as possible from the ambivalent corporate soldier.
Yes, a majority would be truly scary. But i can see how this plan would appeal greatly to alberta, ontario and the separatists in quebec.

Steve V said...


"except once you become a have-not province, developing a program to assist or change a deficiency ie social housing, poverty etc, you are severely limited without the involvement of the feds."

That is a great point!

Monkey Loves to Fight said...

I do too oppose further decentralization, but I am not a fan of big intrusive governments. Government should have a role but where things can best be done by individuals they should be left to individuals and do what individuals cannot do on their own.

I think the real problem is in the past political parties take advantage of regional differences to score political points. The pitting of one region against another needs to stop and if this stops I think this would greatly reduce regional alienation.

Steve V said...

"Government should have a role but where things can best be done by individuals they should be left to individuals and do what individuals cannot do on their own."

The problem with all the de-centralization talk, the intrusive government is simply shifted to the provinces, to be crude same shit, different pile. The provinces love to bash the federal government, to score points as you say, but shifting power is simply that, it's not a recipe for less control.

Anonymous said...

Meant to comment a while ago on how perceptive I find this observation to be: instead I refer to it here.
Also to say that this decentralizing response is particularly Albertan (self servingly so) and essentially makes for less of a country...