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The only hope for the West now lies in major constitutional reform Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Tuesday, 24 January 2006

Anyone looking for genuine federal change in the January 23 election probably felt cheated.

The Conservatives -- the only party promising at least modest federal reform -- should have swept the country. They should have captured a majority.

Instead they half-won. They crawled to victory, if that’s what it was. By gaining 25 seats they eked out a paper-thin minority government.

From 30% in 2004, the Conservative vote edged up to 37%. From just under one-third of Canadians to a little over.

This despite the ongoing scandals of the Martin Liberals, their incoherent and unproductive minority government, an incompetent Liberal campaign, a flawless Conservative national campaign, and endorsements of the Conservative Party from almost every major newspaper in the country.

It's time for all Canadians to face the fact that two generations of abysmally bad and abusive government have turned eastern Canada into a backward, left-wing, and anti-free market place wedded to federal subsidies, patronage and freeloading transfers from the West.

In the next Parliament the Conservatives will confront a majority of three opposition parties united against everything they believe in and most of what they promised to do -- to replace Kyoto, abolish the gun registry, restore the definition of marriage, and fund parents instead of daycares.

They may be able to finesse some of these modest changes through a largely hostile Commons and Senate, and they may not.

But they will not be able to finesse their way around the fact that 60% of Ontarians, 63% of Maritimers and 81% of Quebeckers have clung to big-spending central government.

This includes the Bloc Quebecois, which is demanding a federal surtax on oil company profits, a major increase in Quebec’s equalization subsidy from the West, and implementation of the Kyoto accord. The Bloc even opposes Ottawa scrapping the federal wheat board monopoly in the West.

It is easy to see the shape of national politics to come.

With Ontario heading into recession and Quebec towards sovereignty, the opposition parties will clamor for Harper to “save Canada” with more central government spending and control, more financial transfers from the West -- especially Alberta -- and more federal intrusion into provincial jurisdictions.

And the eastern half of the Conservative caucus will be inclined to agree. Their 10 MPs from Quebec, the 40 from Ontario, and the nine from the Atlantic provinces will urge Harper to make the West pay more. If they hope to be reelected, how can they not?

With Martin gone, the Liberals will reunite under a strong centralist in the tradition of  Pierre Trudeau and it will be 1980 all over again.

It is time for provincial governments in the West, led by Alberta, to demand constitutional reform that permanently reduces federal transfers, taxes and control.

And if this constitutional reform is refused, we in the West will then have to decide what we will do about it.

- 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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