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Why Canada would work better with a lot less Ottawa Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 31 October 2005
Gradually, gradually, a new and very different vision of Canada is percolating through the country.

A much better vision, I believe.

A report came out this week from the Fraser Institute co-authored by Mike Harris, former premier of Ontario, and Preston Manning, founder of the Reform Party.

It’s entitled “Caring for Canadians in a Canada Strong and Free,” and it’s about social spending.

Its content is downright revolutionary, and well worth reading. (See it for yourself at

Manning and Harris say that Ottawa has no business interfering in Canadian social programs. None at all. It should leave both the taxation and spending for these things entirely to the provinces.

When Ottawa gets involved, these programs invariably become big, wasteful and ineffective. When Ottawa stands back and lets the provinces fund and run the programs by themselves, they work very well.

But then of course they aren’t “national,” and federal politicians can’t take credit for them.
Take welfare, for example.

For the longest time, welfare was called “relief,” and was run by provinces and municipalities. They were pretty stingy about it because they didn’t have much money and everyone was cautious not to encourage freeloaders. On the other hand, we can’t have people going around dressed in cardboard boxes…

Then in 1966 the big, rich, progressive feds showed up to “help.” For every dollar a province spent on welfare, their new Canada Assistance Plan would pay another. Provinces just had to follow Ottawa’s rules, guaranteeing equal and painless access to the program.

Result? Between 1973 and 1993, the proportion of Canadians on welfare doubled, from 5% of the population to over 10%.

Then Ottawa relented, removed the dollar-for-dollar incentive, and eased the rules on provinces. Alberta, B.C. and Ontario promptly reduced their welfare populations to 2%, 4% and 6% respectively.

In the rest of Canada--“federal equalization” Canada, it remains at 7%.

Manning and Harris argue that it would make more sense for Ottawa just to give the whole welfare field (both tax points and spending) back to the provinces.

In medicare, likewise, Ottawa invaded the provincial jurisdiction in the 1950s, and then imposed iron operating restrictions in 1984. Result? Services have become so rigidly monopolized by governments and unions that a long-term crisis of access has developed which provinces have been denied the right to fix.

A telling contrast is grade-school education. Ottawa has never (yet) commandeered a role in K-12 schooling, and--lo and behold--it functions remarkably well, with Canadians placing higher than Americans and most other countries on almost all international tests.

And the provinces that are most flexible about parental choice (notably Alberta) get the best results.

So why, ask the co-authors, is Ottawa now forcing its way into rigidly-prescriptive pre-school child care with yet another open-ended social commitment? It makes no sense.
They don’t answer their own question, so I will.

Politicians everywhere make their living by claiming to “care” about people, equating “care” with the spending of more money.

In this regard, the federal Conservatives are as bad as any. Promising money for things outside their jurisdiction is how all parties have won elections for the last half-century.

Until the provinces, led by Alberta, force an amendment to the constitution to restrict Ottawa’s spending power, the situation cannot change.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.

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