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There's no point asking Ottawa to attack itself Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 27 February 2006

Starting back in the 1980s, it took Canadians about ten years to figure out that when governments operate every year on borrowed billions, they cause inflation, drive up interest rates, and kill jobs.

Well, we're about to go through the same long and difficult learning process with the Constitution.

Thomas d'Aquino, longtime president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), issued a report last week saying that Ottawa must stop paying for social programs.

The CCCE is not saying we should scrap social programs, just that provincial governments should pay for them, not the feds.

And to give them the tax room they need to do it, says the CCCE, Ottawa should stop collecting the GST.

There have been numerous reports over the past two years telling Ottawa to reduce its fiscal transfers and social programs, from organizations like the CCCE, the C.D. Howe, the Fraser Institute, the Frontier Centre, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, among others.

They're all saying that Canada's constitutional balance -- what Ottawa does and what the provinces do -- is out of whack. As a result, we are too overtaxed, too cushioned and too rigidly governed to succeed in an increasingly demanding global economy.

As with the deficit question long ago, however, there is a very wide gap between what the experts are saying and what politicians and voters are thinking about.

In fact we are being called upon to abandon the second Grand Illusion of the 1960s.

The first Grand Illusion -- now gone -- was that government spending creates prosperity. The second is that Ottawa should run the country.

All these reports and organizations are pointing out that Canada is (in many respects) a collection of little countries called provinces, not a single big one. In a federal system like ours, "sovereignty" -- meaning state authority -- is shared between the two levels.

There are certain national things that Ottawa must run, but social programs aren't among them, and never were.

The 1960s idea that Canadians could be united by "national social programs" like medicare and equalization was not only mistaken, it was constitutional poison.

It's poison because, unlike Defence or Foreign Affairs, the public demand for social spending is infinite. No matter how much there is, someone always "needs" more.

For this reason, it's essential that voters constantly ask themselves how much they can reasonably afford. And they stop asking themselves as soon as they think someone else -- in "rich" Alberta or Ontario -- is paying for programs through federal transfers.

Nor are they likely to start asking any time soon. Governments have spent the last half century creating and catering to present attitudes and appetites. The political will for reform is not there.

d'Aquino is saying Ottawa must voluntarily surrender power and responsibility.

As if. Show me the political party that can win a national election on the platform, "Don't tell us your problems, call your provincial premier. We don't want to hear about it."

Politicians are supposed to "care." They prove it by "taking responsibility" and spending our money.

The corporate generals who make up the CCCE know Canada is steadily falling behind the rest of the developed world. They see it happening. The voters don't. That's the problem.


- 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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