We should love our provinces as much as our country
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 03 July 2006

Saturday was Canada Day, and brought with it the obligatory media lecture about why we should count our national blessings.

Well, of course we should. But in addition we should reflect on where we’re going.

There was a flare-up of feelings a week ago, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to describe Quebec as a “nation,” and Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff countered that Quebec IS a nation, and that it strengthens Canada that so many Quebec federalists are Quebeckers first and Canadians second.

To which National Post columnist Andrew Coyne curled his Ontario lip and dismissed Ignatieff’s comment as “pandering tripe.”

But is it? Is Quebec a nation, and is it unpatriotic as Coyne argues (http://andrewcoyne.com/ July 1) to put your province first?

No, it isn’t.

One of the seminal thinkers about such things was Albert Venn Dicey, the English jurist and Oxford professor who wrote “Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution.”

It is still considered authoritative almost a century after his last revision in 1914.

He devotes a long chapter to “Parliamentary sovereignty and federalism,” in which he contrasts Britain with Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and other federations.

First, he says, for a federation to exist, many people must identify more closely with their local province or state than with the nation as a whole.

Second, in all federations, the written Constitution is the “supreme law of the land.” The federal Constitution itself is the “sovereign.” This concept is foreign to Britain, where there is not a single fundamental law beyond repeal by the monarch supported by Parliament -- not even the Magna Carta.

Third, says Dicey, the heart of every federal Constitution consists of a written division of sovereign powers between the national and the constituent governments -- a division of sovereignty that must remain sacrosanct, because it’s the very essence of the federal pact.

So is Quebec a “nation?” Not in any constitutional sense. But it is sovereign -- like other provinces -- in large areas of government, especially social affairs, economic development, culture and minority rights.

As I have written before, it was Ottawa’s wholesale intrusion into these fields of provincial sovereignty after 1945 that ignited the separatist movement.

I was astonished to read in the June 28 National Post the comments of Jacques Bergeron, former secretary-general of the nationalist St. Jean Baptiste Society.

After forty years of futile struggle, Bergeron no longer wants independence, nor even constitutional recognition that Quebec is a “distinct society,” nor any other words implying favored treatment by Ottawa.

“All Ottawa has to do,” he says, “is put into the Canadian constitution that Quebec is a French-speaking province, from which all its laws should be inspired, with an English minority to be respected by the province.”

Give us that, said Bergeron, and the sovereignty movement will collapse.

Well, I suspect most Canadians would give it to him in a New York minute.

For that was the whole point of Confederation -- separating Ontario from Quebec economically, socially and culturally (because they had given up trying to function together), while transferring their shared concerns to a newly created national government that also included Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and soon others.

What a concept!

- 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.