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State of the Nation, Spring 2011 Print E-mail

Harper in Parliament, 2010 

The rise of the West and eclipse of Quebec

This federal election marks an historic turning point

It’s hard to blame the media for having pretty much missed the main story on election night, given the stunning upsets that took place. Still, you’d think by now they’d have grasped the significance of what happened.

State of the Nation, Spring 2010 Print E-mail

As goes Europe, so goes Canada

Events this winter did not cast a flattering light on the people of Greece. The whole world watched as they rioted and struck against government cutbacks, while harder-working northern European nations struggled to backstop...

State of the Nation, Summer 2009 Print E-mail

If ever proof were needed that Canada should have an independent, provincially-elected Senate, it is Ottawa’s $10 billion General Motors/Chrysler bailout.

State of the Nation, February 2009 Print E-mail

The coalition failed, but the deadlock remains

The federal scene has changed dramatically since we wrote our post-election newsletter in November.

The opposition coalition which blindsided and nearly defeated the Harper government in December has come and gone, taking with it the last deluded ambitions of Stephane Dion.

The turmoil left all sides scarred. Parliament remains frozen in the regional stalemate that has paralyzed it since the collapse of the Mulroney Conservatives 16 years ago.

Polls show that the Bloc continues to hold Quebec, the Conservatives the West. The Atlantic provinces remain divided, unsure which party better guarantees the entitlements on which they depend. Meanwhile, Ontario, growing ever larger and ever poorer, moves slowly and uncertainly from Liberals toward the Conservatives.

Nobody gained ground from the opposition uprising.

Driven into a deficit budget and making Senate appointments, Harper has shaken the confidence of his own rank and file.

Among the Liberals there’s a wait-and-see lack of enthusiasm for Dion’s appointed successor, Michael Ignatieff.

Jack Layton, who got most of the credit for initiating the coalition, will probably now reap the penalty for its failure.

Gilles Duceppe will pay too. His kingmaker role in the coalition promised Quebeckers the unholy grail of power without responsibility, and then it was yanked away, reminding everyone of Quebec’s growing irrelevance. By voting for the Bloc they are losing leverage. For the first time in four decades nobody from Quebec can become Prime Minister.

Overall, nobody in Parliament now trusts anyone.

In this respect, Parliament reflects the country. Political disillusionment and regional resentment pervade all provinces and all parties.

There is a solution – not by any means a magical one but a good one. It lies in the Senate.

State of the Nation, November 2008 Print E-mail

The chance to fix the Senate has come,
and may not come again


Senate reform is now squarely in the middle of the national agenda.

It was sidelined in last month’s election campaign, inevitably, by the economic storm that descended on the world in September.

But economic crises, even severe ones, pass by – usually in a year or two. Parliament is forever, and opportunities to reform it are rare.

From the perspective of reforming the Senate, the October 14th election could not have produced a better result.

Harper has control of the government, but not of Parliament.

This means he cannot force Senate elections into existence federally, because Parliament won’t let him – something he would probably do if he could, even though he shouldn’t.

Instead, his continued minority compels him to persuade provinces to elect senators. This is appropriate. It is provinces that senators represent, according to the Constitution (section 22, CA 1867), so it is provinces that should decide and supervise the manner of their own representation.

Parliament can stop Harper from enacting federal Senate elections, but it can’t stop provinces from doing what Alberta has done since 1989, and it can’t stop Harper from appointing the provincial winners.

State of the Nation - September 2008 Print E-mail

Which sounds better -- electing senators or paying a carbon tax?

Who would have predicted – who could have predicted – that Canada wouldone day fight a national election on reforming the Senate?

Yet so we are. Notwithstanding the huge concern of all parties about global financial problems, the 2008 election has also been cast as a contest between Stephane pleading for a carbon tax to save the planet, and Stephen advocating an elected Senate for the good of Canada.

It began this summer, when Dion launched his problematic “GreenShift,” and household mailers from Tory MPs focused on Senate reform.

From Harper’s perspective, there could be no more promising issue.

Senate reform is not in any strict ideological sense a“conservative” issue, but it’s popular and the Conservatives own it.For twenty years, polls have shown it to be supported by aboutthree-quarters of Canadians in all regions (even Quebec) and of allpolitical leanings (even NDP).

It is also useful. If f the Senate is reformed properly, and theUpper House becomes truly independent, it will provide the firstmeaningful check on the power of a majority Prime Minister sinceMackenzie King centralized federal power in the 1940s – arguably sincethe country began in 1867.

At this point we’ll award high marks for anyone who asks, “But why would Harper curtail his own power?”

The answer is, he won’t. He will curtail the power of his successors.

Even if he gets a majority in the Commons, it will take six more yearsof Senate retirements before elected members outnumber appointed ones.It will be nine years before two-thirds are elected. If Harper remainsPrime Minister during that time, he will have control of the reformprocess from beginning to end, but will probably never face anindependent Upper House himself.

Social and fiscal conservatives have learned that Harper is stillleery of fighting elections on “right-wing” causes. Canada’s urbanmajority is not conservative, it is a herd easily frightened – by gunowners, by the “A” word, by car exhaust, by free speech, and by Quebecseparatism. Harper is determined not to give Dion the slightestopportunity to start a Chretien-style political stampede back to theLiberals.

But there is nothing faintly scary about electing Canada’s Senate. In fact, it appeals to almost everyone


Senate reform could cover a multitude of sins Print E-mail

Senate reform could
cover a multitude of sins

Senate reform What should conservatives expect of Prime Minister Stephen Harper?

Smaller government? Less bilingualism? Traditional values?

Most of us would probably say “all of these.”

But let’s face it. In his first two years Harper’s answer appears to have been “none of these.” He has made the national government bigger (in cost, if not in scope), has vigorously promoted bilingualism, and has muzzled his social conservatives.

The private explanation from Tory MPs is that until they win a majority, the Conservatives can’t be very conservative, only less liberal than the Liberals.

But the longer they say this, the more it sinks in that they’ll say the same thing after winning a majority, and for the same reason.

Small-c conservatives of all descriptions are slowly having to accept something Harper has seen from the beginning – that most Canadians are not in any defi nable sense conservative. They want (or have come to expect) paternalistic, non-moralizing, bicultural government. If the Conservatives offer anything else – at least any time soon – they will be defeated.

What, then, should small-c Canadian conservatives do?

Rant? Despair? Start a new federal party?

No, no, no.

Harper's long-term goal becomes clear Print E-mail

Harper's long-term goal becomes clear

Bert Brown enters the Senate, and Canada gears up for a constitutional struggle over the future role of Parliament's long-neglected Upper House

Bert Brown It has taken almost two years for Canadians to figure out where Stephen Harper is leading the country, and how he hopes to get there.

Frankly, the initial signs were mostly discouraging.

 Harper deliberately made it look like his government would enforce the Kyoto Protocol. He has spent even more money on programs than Paul Martin did, who spent more than any PM before him. Harper taxed western energy income trusts (but not eastern real estate trusts) after having promised not to. He has muzzled his caucus more completely than any Commons leader in Canadian history, and he has pandered shamelessly to Quebec.

So did all this mean Harper and his party have gone liberal? Or was it a smokescreen while a longer-term conservative game plan was put in place?

Developments this fall convince us at the Citizens Centre that Harper is not a liberal, and not becoming one. Rather, he’s a conservative leader of a country habituated to left-liberal thinking.

As soon as the Conservatives started polling above 40% this fall, and Harper gained confi dence he can win a majority, he began positioning to the right.

Everything in and since the October 16th throne speech proves it:

» Harper has now stated clearly his government will not impose Kyoto CO2 reductions. He appears set to outwait the international hysteria over “climate change,” doing only the politically-permissible minimum in the meantime.

» He has stated openly that his goal is to make Canada the world’s lowest taxed developed nation, and has begun making it so. Spending will decline only as taxes decline.

» He has refused to fill Senate vacancies and to use the federal “spending power.” Both refusals are unprecedented, and will soon precipitate a constitutional confrontation with the provinces.

People thought Pierre Trudeau was a constitutional wizard. Perhaps he was. He was certainly relentless, and he dragged the whole country reluctantly to the left.

Stephen Harper seems just as tough as Trudeau, and just as determined to drag it back to the right.

Harper almost never mentions the Constitution, because it’s a subject voters came to dislike in the 1980s and 1990s. But don’t be fooled. That’s where Harper’s going.

What Trudeau screwed up, we think Harper is determined to fix.

Lougheed's dire warning. Print E-mail

Lougheed's dire warning.

Greenhouse gas' will trigger a crisis ten times worse than the NEP

To anyone who experienced it, the National Energy Program of 1981/82 is on a par with the Great Depression.

While Ottawa helped itself to billions of petro-dollars, Albertans lost jobs, careers, homes, businesses, marriages and savings. The unemployed fled in tens of thousands, financial institutions collapsed, and projects remained halfbuilt for a decade.

Former Alberta Premier, Peter LougheedAlbertans therefore took notice when former premier Peter Lougheed warned recently that a confrontation “ten times greater” than the NEP is now almost inevitable over carbon dioxide emissions.

Lougheed’s unpublished, untitled August 14 breakfast address to the Canadian Bar Association was extensively quoted in Canwest newspapers and the Globe and Mail.

Just as Ottawa sought to control the ownership of the petroleum industry in the 1980s, he said, today it is determined to control carbon dioxide emissions. This will produce an epic constitutional collision, pitting Ottawa’s primacy over environment against Alberta’s right to develop its resources.

“The government of Alberta,” Lougheed predicted, “with its acceleration of oil sands operations, will in my judgment be seen as the major villain in all of this in the eyes of the public across Canada.”

“My surmise is that we’re into this constitutional legal conflict soon,” he said. “And my surmise is that – and this is strong stuff – national unity will be threatened if the court upholds federal environmental legislation and it causes major damage to the Alberta oil sands and our economy.”

Though Lougheed uttered somewhat more soothing and hopeful remarks 10 days later, he did not unmake his point.

Confederation will stand or fall on federal carbon policy.  Plausible rumours have circulated for years that the federal bureaucracy has developed an environmental master plan to effectively reverse the 1930 federal transfer of natural resources to Alberta and Saskatchewan, and open a massive new revenue stream to Ottawa.

Lougheed knows better than anyone there is an unwritten federal principle more powerful than anything in the Constitution.

t is this: that outer provinces like Alberta may not grow unchecked at the expense of Ontario and Quebec.

This unwritten rule drove the National Energy Program and is now driving climate policy. And no prime minister, Liberal or Conservative, from West or East, will ever be allowed to ignore it.

Including Stephen Harper. 

Enough talk. It's time to go political. Print E-mail

Enough talk.
It's time to go political.

Since we began the Citizens Centre four years ago, we have been officially nonpartisan.

We have advanced certain political policies – and even politicians who champion them. But not political parties.

Parties bring a lot of complications with them. So we have stuck to policy and principles: provincial rights, Senate reform, and judicial restraint.

With your help, we have done this through newspaper columns, our web site and weekly emails, speeches, mass email campaigns, newspaper and radio ads, billboard campaigns and a national congress.

But we think we’ve taken it as far as nonpartisan advocacy can.

We think the time has come to switch strategies, and enter the political arena.

The key to reforming Canada lies in the Legislature of Alberta

Alberta, as everyone knows, gave birth to the Reform Party a generation ago.

That era is gone. It ended in January, 2001, when six noted Reformers in Calgary penned a famous “firewall letter.”

This was the first admission by Reformers that federal reform can’t come from Parliament. The initiative must come from provinces.

Best-known of the six were Stephen Harper, Tom Flanagan and Ted Morton, three of the best public policy minds in the country.

The firewall letter urged Premier Klein to use all the constitutional means at his disposal to distance Alberta from Ottawa, by opting out of the Canada Pension Plan, ending the provincial RCMP contract, collecting provincial income tax directly, and more vigorously challenging Ottawa in court over environmental and health interference.

Since they wrote that letter, the whole structure of “fiscal federalism” (federal subsidies to weaker regions) has come increasingly under attack by policy groups across Canada.

They say regional wealth transfers are bad for all provinces, not just the stronger ones. They also kill any incentive for have-not regions to take responsibility for their own future.

Ontario is even more harmed by the federal system than Alberta, but is too politically mired in left-liberal conventional thinking to force the issue.

The only province with the spirit and resources necessary to force change is Alberta.

But it must come from the Legislature. That’s where the constitutional power of the province resides.

August 2006 - Progress Report - National Vision Print E-mail
 August 2006 - Progress Report
PDF format - 1,211kb
Summer 2006 - Progress Report - How Canada Should Work Print E-mail
 Summer 2006 - Progress Report
PDF format - 758kb
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