Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Brison's "Constructive Federalism"

In our continuing series about the federal visions of leadership candidates. Scott Brison had this to say in the HOC:

"There has been a growing fiscal imbalance in Canada. The provincial governments have as their ultimate responsibility the providing of health care and education. The federal government has reduced its role in terms of the funding in those areas so the provincial governments in some ways have what Mark Twain would refer to as a bad job. They have all the responsibilities but no authority. The provinces increasingly lack the ability to have tax levers to raise the type of revenue necessary to cover growing costs in education and health care.

The federal government, by pulling back, has created a situation whereby it can then re-enter national programs... and appear like a hero. It provides the cheques with the maple leaves on them and takes credit for returning with a teaspoon some of the money it previous took out with a backhoe.

It is offensive to see this type of destructive federalism, this brinksmanship of provinces by the jurisdictional power grab of the federal government. ..

This is bad politically for a country that depends on maintaining constructive federalism on an ongoing basis. It is also bad public policy, because ultimately the provinces and municipalities, as the government levels closest to the people being served, are in many cases better able to assess the needs of those individuals and of those constituents to ultimately deliver services. "

I ask again, is the Liberal party to move towards this provincialism - or is there an alternative?

(Should I still even be talking about Brison as a contender?)


Blogger Steve said...

Federal dollars don't just have maple leafs on them they serve an important purpose of national citizenship. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. In fact, it used to be our calling card.
Still, is Brison running? And when will people start declaring?

10:46 AM  
Blogger Steve said...


10:46 AM  
Anonymous Leonid said...

I terms of alternatives, I attended an event with John Godfrey at McGill today and he doesn't seem to be much of a decentraliser. He wasn't questionned on federalism extensively, but he did defend the federal spending in areas like health and post-secondary education. And as his works on the cities deal shows, he can get agreements from provinces (including Quebec) on deals that involve federal spending in 'provincial' areas.
(This is not an endorsement of Godfrey - not yet anyway - but I have to admit I was impressed.)

2:33 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

If you want to know more on Goddfrey, check back for a post on him (In Their Own Words), earlier on in this blog.

2:44 PM  
Blogger HearHere said...

I actually agree with Brison. The problem he addresses has caused dramatic erosion of trust in the Feds at all levels of government. It has spawned separtist movements in Quebec and in the West. It has been so far removed from its own priorities that the First nations people have suffered from no accountability of the billions of dollars thrown their way and misspent to where they live in third world conditions and the middlemen live in luxury.
We may not like Brison's comments but I think he is a realist. This party can no longer ignore reality of the 21st century by clinging stupidly to airy fairy idealisms from the past century.
Let's get with the program and at least be open-mionded about some new thought or we are going to be as defunct as the NDP with a dirth of rightious idealism and no practical or workable answers for the real world.
Scott is okay in my books for this stance./

3:22 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Again, despite such comments: Canada is one of the most decentralized federations in the world. Brison is wrong to say the feds have encroached. That classical federalism has never been true here. The fact is, the federal spending power in areas of provincial jurisdiciton is recognized by the supreme court implicity, and explicity in being present in every major federation in the world. And in Canada it has been used less, with fewer conditions than virtually anywhere else. We must accomdate regional tensions but not to the point of destroying what we are trying to save, which will be the case if Canada becomes so balkanized that your membership is not to a national community but to a provincial one. As it is we have the mix where we can have both. A Canadian is a Canadian wherever they live and should not expect in moving from one province to another to see drastic fluctuations in services, etc. Collaboration is one thing, being a federal ATM is another.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

What you miss I think is that we are admitting this to be the norm now. So Brison deserves no award for originality. We would expect disagreement, hence the challenge.

As far as your assessment of federalism: What Brison is talking about has not caused such events. To say so is to say the legacy of the Liberal party has been a failure. if this is the case, why support the Liberals? Why should Liberals reinvent themselves in the mold of another party? I see the argument for this but I would think its quite understandable Liberals would want some identity of their own. This style of federalism has not eroded trust in governments. If anything, provincialism has diminished federal visibility. I don't know where this even comes from.

As far as seperatist movements that is wholly without merit. Western alienation has some specific grievances which have been adressed or need to be but that come from a history of mistakes not this style of governing. To ignore the modern western alienation as to a large degree a regionalist trojan horse for US-style neo-conservatism is to ignore the platforms of the parties supposedly representing these interests, as well as the fact that when decentralization has conflicted with social conservatism Reform et al have always chosen the latter.

I know all about the constitution in '82 but Quebec seperatism is far too complex an issue to tie directly to this type of governing, though I should note we haven't actually articulated a specific form. In Trudeau's last term he had 73 of 74 seats. He defeated the seperatists and it went on the decline. Now to say this vision, of a national country more than the sum of its parts, failed, is wrong. The failure can be tied to the exact arguments you support, which includes a steady shift in that direction. That cannot be discounted. And this had its day, Meech, etc., and it failed. So who's "stupidly" clinging to their views?

Then again, I acknowledge this shift and if we were as doctrinaire as you make us out to be we wouldn't be Liberals. I am open to new ideas, you have to be realistic etc. And the Liberals have found ways to innovate in this regard. That doesn't mean we need to go completely the other way though. What we are saying is we dont' need to turn back the clock but we also don't need to accelearte it. Particularly at the expense of national values, of a country where French-speakers are not confined to Quebec. Unrealistic? Ask the Acadians to move to Quebec then, I call that unrealistic.

Most importantly, nothing that goverend Canada for most of the last 40 years is airy fairy. Secondly, let's not pretend these are old ideas and you are speaking of the future, you are speaking of Joe Clark's Community of communities and it has been around for just as long. It has also been used to varying degrees over recent years (such as Mulroney's reign) and yet you paint a pretty bleak picture so it is no panacea I guess? When Canadians voted down Charlettown in 1992, they weren't calling this a dream they were saying no. What you are talking about are not new ideas in any way. To say they are from the last century when we are six years into the next is weak. And you absolutely cannot accuse us of being too rigthteous etc., as the Liberals have worked to collaborate with the provinces a great deal and we are Liberal supporters. No, we should not become righteous to the point of irrelevance, and we have shown that we won't do that with our allegiance to an evolving party. But at the same, time we also must believe in something other than winning, or who cares if he do win? You can disagree but to say we should abandon ANYTHING that does not get us votes is to stand for nothing. If I were an NDPer you'd have a point. You can't believe to the point of accomplishing nothing, but that's not what we're saying and I've made that clear.

I also do believe that an alternative has found support with the public consistently.

What you are proposing is the Conservative party line, and I ask why, other than the obvious success of Liberals in winning elections (exactly for our side of this resonating with the public more than yours), are you supporting the Liberals? Conservative values are just fine; in the Conservative Party.

5:59 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

I'd add something if there was anything left to add. Brilliant and thorough post, Steve. I'm sorry it has to be wasted in this most humble of forums. Cheers

6:49 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Much appreciated.

What you can add and that I left alone (if you want) is a response to the comment about federalism and aboriginal policy.

I may have gone a wee bit overboard in my response. ha ha.

7:11 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

Ah yes, I missed that on my first skimming. I'm glad it was raised.

Yes - the vast amount of distance between the federal government and the First Nations is a clossal problem. It is arguably Canada's single most problematic governance relationship.

However, devolving power to the provinces would do nothing to solve it. On the contrary - it would render things even worse. First Nations communities do not fall under the purview of the provinces. Recall Kashechewan: on boil-water warnings for the better part of 8 years, despite being visited by a number of provincial cabinet minister. Each shrugged their shoulders in turn - no provincial jurisidiction. So trasferring further health spending abilities would only limit the chances that First Nations have at receiving any of that funding.

No - the solution lies elsewhere. The First Nations deserve the recourse of a second, local level of government. This vertical division of powers is the centrepiece of federalism. But the second order of government is not the province. It is Self-Government - hopefully Canada's next great nation-building project.

Brison's model of decentralization offers nothing to our First Nations. In fact, it would be a major step backwards.

9:21 PM  
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