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Fixing the Federation Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 October 2005

Ask and ye shall not receive

Three fundamental reforms

Since Preston Manning launched the Reform Party in 1987, western demands for deep reform have focused on three things:

  • A provincially-elected, provincially equal and effective Senate.
  • Restrictions on federal spending.
  • Referendums on major social issues now decided by the courts.

The attempt of the Reform Party to get these three changes did not last long. To appeal to eastern Canadians, the party soon had to stop emphasizing them. People in the central and eastern regions, for the most part, see no need for them. Yet they remain core beliefs in western Canadian hearts and minds.

This “triple-reform” is striking in several ways:

First, there is nothing “separatist” about it. It’s a coherent federal vision laying out clear divisions of authority and responsibility -- far more coherent than Ottawa’s.

Second, it would be good for all parts of Canada, not just the West. Federal spending has ruined and corrupted the regions it was designed to help. Judicial supremacy is destroying Canadians’ democratic self-respect. In the absence of a real Senate, prime ministerial power has corrupted government and castrated Parliament.

Third, implementing this triple-reform would reverse in one masterstroke the whole constitutional drift of the country over the last half century. In fact it would restore the original vision of Canada’s founders -- provincial primacy in social and economic matters, national primacy over sovereignty and security.

The first requirement is a government in Alberta with a clear constitutional vision and program.

Under Ralph Klein, this hasn’t happened.

However, his government did provide a starting-point for progress with the release last summer (July, 2004) of a report entitled “Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation.”

Chaired by then-MLA Ian McClelland and eight other Conservative backbenchers, it was a response to agitation by supporters of the Citizens Centre and the Alberta Residents League.

The “Strengthening” report got some things right.

It recommended more vigorous pursuit of a Triple E Senate, further consideration of an Alberta Provincial Police, further court challenges to the gun registry, exempting Alberta from the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly, challenging Ottawa’s expansion of Employment Insurance, giving provinces a veto on environmental treaties, and ending federal health and social transfers to the provinces.

However, the report left a central question glaringly unanswered. It strongly advised Alberta against taking a confrontation with Ottawa. But how can anything succeed without one?

Alberta and other provinces have been losing ground in all these areas for the last fifty years. Other provinces were co-opted by Ottawa’s “fiscal federalism” decades ago, and many now depend on it. Alberta can beg for reform until it’s blue, Ottawa doesn’t listen and other provinces won’t help.

In fact, nothing can change for the better unless the Alberta government takes a much harder line.

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