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If Harper wins, letís not repeat the mistake we made with Brian Mulroney Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 16 January 2006

Much to my astonishment, I may be delivering a free bottle of scotch to Barry Cooper, a U of C political science professor, on January 24.

At a party before Christmas he boldly predicted a Conservative majority victory on January 23.

I told him he was crazy. Three weeks into the campaign, the Conservatives were still polling at 29%, seemingly locked seven points behind the Grits.

The Conservatives, countered Barry, were doing everything right. More important, the Liberals had fallen apart. They had the wrong people making wrong decisions.

The party was divided, he said, and would go into a free-fall after New Year.

Which it has. Even the Liberals’ anti-Harper “attack ads,” so effective last time, are actually hurting them this time.

With the Conservatives now above 40% and the Liberals below 30%, the only uncertainty is whether the Conservatives will win a strong minority, or if I’ll be buying Barry a bottle of Dalwhinnie.

Not that I’d mind losing this bet.

If the Harper Conservatives do win a solid victory, everything changes for the better.

But let’s not make the same mistake we did under Brian Mulroney in 1984. Let’s not assume the task of reforming the Canadian federal system is over.

In fact, it will have just begun.

Almost immediately Quebec will demand more federal money under Equalization, and no more interference in how it spends transfer funds.

You might have noted that in last week’s leaders’ debate, Gilles Duceppe demanded both of these, and Harper replied -- and later repeated -- that the “fiscal imbalance” debate will be long and tough.

He wasn’t kidding. It will be the central focus of the next government, no matter who is prime minister.

Quebec sovereignty enthusiasm is once again running high, Charest’s Liberal government is in trouble, and Quebec’s loyalty never comes cheap.

Ontario will probably support Quebec’s demand for more federal money, but not from Ontario. Ontario already bonuses the federal treasury $23 billion a year (compared to Alberta’s $12 billion), and the province is heading into a long-term economic slump.

That leaves Alberta, still amassing multi-billion-dollar provincial surpluses, with no apparent need for them. They are legitimately Alberta’s dollars, but since when did western ownership rights mean much in eastern Canada?

Within weeks of a Harper victory, count on the opposition Liberals to start engineering their comeback by uniting Ontarians and Quebeckers in a demand for Ottawa to “save Canada” and “correct the fiscal imbalance” by “sharing” Alberta’s “obscene windfall profits” in the “national interest.”

Ralph Klein and Albertans had better be ready to push back, and draw a lot of eastern criticism in the process -- including from eastern federal Conservatives.

Klein will have to push Harper hard. Otherwise, Harper will do exactly what Mulroney did in 1984: take Alberta for granted and start doling out huge concessions to Quebec to consolidate his hold on Parliament.

Klein must point out -- as forcefully as necessary -- that Canada will be saved by cutting taxes, cutting federal transfers and entitlements, and boosting productivity in eastern Canada, not by stealing surpluses from Alberta.

Steve Harper actually agrees with this. But let’s never forget that though he comes from Calgary, voters in Ontario and Quebec make him prime minister.

The job of defending Alberta falls to Ralph Klein.

- 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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