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Time for a hard line Print E-mail
Monday, 01 August 2005

Back in 1987, Senate reform champion Bert Brown drove a big tractor and 62-foot cultivator into a field north of the Calgary International Airport, and ploughed in the brown prairie earth a message one mile long for airborne passengers to read:

“Triple E Senate or else!"

It was an inspired advertisement, but it left hanging an obvious question.

Or else what?

The answer in 1987 was Preston Manning’s Reform Party. It had three core demands:

  • A provincially equal, elected and effective Senate. 

  • The right of Canadians to decide controversial social
    issues by referendum. 

  • Getting Ottawa out of provincial areas of jurisdiction.

Ever since the Trudeau years, Canada’s main problem
has been the growth of unchecked power in the hands of
prime ministers from Quebec.

It’s something westerners, especially Albertans, have never accepted. Under the rallying cry “the West wants in,” the Reform Party took 52 seats in 1993, and 60 in 1997.

Eastern Canadians, led by Ontarians, responded by electing three back-to-back majority Liberal governments under Jean Chretien.

Sensing he couldn’t win, Manning began the lengthy process of reuniting the Reform Party with the Conservatives in 1999, and the three-point western agenda was quietly abandoned.

Consider, however, if the three points had been accepted, how much better Canada would be today.

A Triple E Senate, responsive to provincial parties and governments, would have blocked the federal gun registry (which most provincial governments opposed).The scrutiny of an independently elected Senate would have prevented or reduced the corruption that has become rampant in Ottawa under one-party rule.

The smaller provinces controlling the Senate would probably have stopped the Prime Minister from gutting the Canadian military and abandoning the Anglo-American Alliance. In turn, the economic devastation inflicted by American softwood lumber and beef restrictions might have been far less severe.A Senate sensitive to provincial resource rights in the West and Atlantic would probably have prevented Chretien from ratifying the Kyoto accord.

Getting Ottawa out of provincial jurisdictions (health, economic development, culture, child care, cities) would have allowed provinces to set their own spending priorities according to their own resources, rather than pleading endlessly for more transfers for programs designed in Ottawa.

National referendums on major social policies, combined with Senate examination of judicial candidates, would have restrained the irresponsible Charter activism of the courts in areas like gay marriage, and probably in other key areas like aboriginal entitlements.

In short, the problem with the Reform Party was not that it had the wrong idea.

The problem was that the changes it sought couldn’t be delivered by a federal political party.Too many Canadians in other regions want a more powerful and centralized national government, even if it’s corrupt and incompetent.

Thus, Bert Brown’s famous ultimatum turned out to be an empty threat, leaving unanswered the question,“Or else what?”

Until some dire consequence stares a Canadian Prime Minister in the face if he does not concede in full to all three fundamental reforms, Canada can only slide further and further into corrupt, inept, abusive government.

Quebec has proven for the past forty years that the only way to move Ottawa is to threaten separation.

However, few western Canadians, even in Alberta, want to leave Canada entirely, and Ottawa knows it.

As a result, the only “or else” that can work in western Canada is one that falls short of separation, but still forces Ottawa to decentralize and disperse the power now wielded by the Prime Minister.

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