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The media still haven't seen the real story of the next election Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 29 March 2004

If a week is a long time in politics, try seven.

On February 9, Paul Martin's Liberals were assumed to be invincible, and the leaderless new Conservatives irrelevant.

Then, on Feb 10, the auditor general reported that prominent Quebec Liberals had apparently stolen $100 million from Canadian taxpayers, and the entire political landscape has changed.

Two weekends ago, the Tories elected Steve Harper their leader by a whopping 56% of the party's "points," 65% of its votes, and majorities in 96% of its constituencies.

Never having had time for a policy convention, the new party is now Harper's to shape and direct as it heads full-tilt into a May election. Or maybe June. Or October.

Regardless of when Martin finds the nerve to call it, it will be unlike any election in the last half-century.

The most visible shift so far is among the national media.

The new media consensus is that the Tories have gained an outside chance of winning.

But so far the pundits still don't get the real significance of the approaching battle.

For the first time, a big-government centralist--Martin--will face a genuine small-government, provincial-rights confederalist.

Martin believes in social and economic management by the national government and the Supreme Court. He says so all the time. He said it again two weekends ago in Lethbridge.

Martin thinks the same way Trudeau and Chretien did, though he appears to lack their political skill.

In sharp contrast, Steve Harper believes in the Canadian constitution, which assigns jurisdiction for economic development and social assistance to the provinces rather than the feds.

He has been pointing this out for years. He said it in a famous "Alberta Agenda" letter to the National Post in 1991. He said it again in February, in a leadership campaign policy paper.

He believes Canada is a federation of provinces, and thinks the national government should reflect the varying attitudes and priorities of all Canada's regions, not just those of the Ottawa elite.

Harper holds that the federal government has no constitutional right to set terms for Canadian social programs. That task belongs to the provinces, singly or collectively. Parliament can assist them, but must not direct them.

He also thinks it is time to elect senators. In Alberta, which has already created the pattern, provincial parties run Senate elections. National parties are excluded.

Harper has committed to a policy whereby all federal appointees to national boards, agencies and superior courts (both trial level and Courts of Appeal) will be chosen by parliamentary committees from short-lists supplied by the provinces.

All such appointments are now under the authority of the prime minister and his enormous staff (which Martin is busily making more enormous still). If Harper wins, these will become genuinely "federal" decisions (ie. involving the whole federation), rather than unilateral decrees by the prime minister.

In short, Harper and the Conservatives would restore the constitutional balance of powers the Fathers of Confederation intended.

This in turn will bring an end to crippling regional alienation across the country.

And by eliminating Canada's costly jurisdictional overlap it will be possible for the first time to cut taxes.

- 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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