Monday, September 24, 2007

Castrating Federalism

At first glance, this article in the Star just looks like more whining from Dion about Harper and the environment:
Dion fears result of bid to limit federal powers
Ottawa's ability to act on environment would be hurt, Liberal says

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper could make Ottawa helpless to deal with the environment if he goes ahead with plans to limit federal spending power, says Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion.

Harper's Oct. 16 throne speech is widely expected to include plans to formally limit Ottawa's ability to spend in areas of provincial jurisdiction. The government already telegraphed this plan in the last federal budget.

The trouble is, Dion is right. This latest move by Harper, if it happens, would represent a significant shift in power from the federal government to the provinces that will have profound implications for our country and how it is run.
"There is an interpretation that it would be a straitjacket, where the federal government would not be able to intervene in environmental policies, except on national parks, and we cannot accept that," Dion said in an interview with the Star.

Several years ago, Dion noted, the federal government regarded provincial efforts to save endangered species as too weak, so Ottawa intervened with its own species-at-risk laws.

"I don't want to have an impotent federal government," Dion said.

"I want to have a strong relationship with provinces. I don't want, for instance, Canada to not be able to have both levels of governments working in full respect to each other's roles, when it's time to strengthen our child-care system in Canada, which is so weak."

Opponents of the limits also like to say that if these limits had been in place several decades ago, there would be no such thing as the national medicare system. The Liberal leader wonders, meantime, how Harper's plan would let Ottawa do anything at all on child care.

"If he comes to the point that there is no federal spending power anymore, I don't see how the federal government could play a useful role for child care," he said.

A weakened, decentralized federal government has been a wet dream of Harper’s since his days with the Reform Party. Once again, he is taking his inspiration from the United States where the ideal is to have the federal government control the military, social security, foreign commerce, and very little else. One need only look at the patchwork of laws across their fifty states regarding everything from health care to the death penalty to (yes) environmental law to see what Harper is getting at.

In fact, this goes a long way to explaining his somewhat bizarre actions towards Quebec over the past year. He’s not just trying to buy votes - he’s seducing an unlikely ally, for a dismantled Canadian federalism is the one bed that both Quebec and Alberta can sleep comfortably in together.

Dion knows this better than anyone, of course. Sadly, Harper’s relentless attacks on him have taken their toll. The media and the public have cast him in the role of Chicken Little, and his warnings will likely fall on deaf ears.

At least until the sky falls on us all.


  1. Our constitution delegates reserved powers and the appointment of Senators to the federal Parliament and Governor-General for a reason (in addition to other powers), to hold the country together. Canada was in confederation at the same time the US Civil War of "States' rights/slavery/10th amendment that reserves all unenumerated powers to the states" and that leaves states to elect/appoint their senators to the Senate. Conservative Party of Canada leader John A Macdonald knew the relatively de-centralized US Constitution well, and decided against it in favor of the BNA Act.

    So with that in mind, why is it that every Conservative leader since the 1980s wants Canada to disintegrate? Sigh.

  2. Very astute as always, Jen.
    In Jurassic Park, the Jeff Goldblum character says he doesn't bother getting married any more, he just looks around for some woman who hates him and gives her his house. (I may not remember this quite correctly)
    This is exactly what Canada did in the last election.