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Harper says he’ll open the Constitution. What changes do we want? Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 01 May 2006
Until now the Citizens Centre has been pretty much alone in advocating the reopening of constitutional negotiations.

Until now we’ve been told by politicians and policy experts everywhere that constitutional change is politically impossible.

They say Canadians are still suffering “fatigue” from the Trudeau and Mulroney era. Though the last round ended fourteen years ago, apparently we’re still prostrate from exhaustion.

Now at least one person agrees with us.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

He told a huge assembly of the Montreal Board of Trade two weeks ago that within one year we will be reopening the constitution, to address the “fiscal imbalance.”

This refers to the feds having more money than responsibility, while the provinces have more responsibility than money, and must always be begging for federal help.

It’s a direct result of Ottawa’s intrusion into social policy after the Second World War -- EI, medicare, OAS, CPP, regional economic development, etc.

Under the rules set by the Fathers of Confederation, Ottawa had no jurisdiction in any of these areas. The provinces were supposed to finance their own futures.

Although Ottawa did persuade the provinces to make constitutional amendments to allow for a couple of these changes, for the most part it just started taxing Canadians, and dividing up the money as it saw fit -- making sure that people in most provinces received more than they paid in.

In other words, Ottawa ignored the constitution, perfected the politics of divide-and-conquer, and in the process Canadians have lost control of their national government.

Harper says he wants the division of powers restored and respected, and he wants provincial revenues to match provincial responsibilities.

In short, he will ask us to decide whether the whole country will be run from Ottawa, or will we go back to being a federal union of semi-sovereign provinces?

A century ago Albert Dicey, who is still considered the best authority on parliamentary democracies like ours, said that a federal system can exist only if people value their provincial autonomy more than their national unity.

He said federalists must never let an emotional desire for national unity and uniformity override the federal principles on which their union was created.

Pearson, Trudeau, Chretien and Martin were dead-set against this federal way of thinking, and wanted everything run centrally from Ottawa.

“Who will speak for Canada?” asked Trudeau, arching his imperious brow at the provincial premiers. “I believe in one Canada, not ten,” said Martin.

What Chretien said nobody could understand.

This is how Liberals think. But how do Canadians think? What do Canadians want?

That’s the whole focus of a grassroots event the Citizens Centre is hosting in Calgary on September 29 to October 1 called the Calgary Congress (

Will it be Trudeau’s Canada, in which Quebec, with less than one-quarter of the population, carries half the federal clout? In which successful provinces are looted to buy federal votes in the rest? In which national identity is based on federal entitlements?

Or will it be the Canada designed by our federalist founders, who believed in a clear and responsible limitation on the role of the national government?

Harper says we have a year to decide. This fall would be a good time for Canadians who want a change in national direction to speak up loud and clear. It will have a big impact.

- 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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