Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Dion's "advanced federative form"

I've decided to take my own advice and weigh in some of the competing federal visions of leadership contenders. After fruitless hours trying to dig up anything on Gerard Kennedy, I fell back on a less ambitious project: Stephane Dion.

Few contendors have been as outspoken on issues of federalism. He is popularly considered a "hard-line federalist". It is important to understand, however, that this is hard-line federalism of the Quebecois acamdemic variety (i.e. in the sense of a separatism vs. federalism dichotomy).

He earned national credentials writing on the realistic potential of separatism. His Impossible Secession argues that the weight of economic fallout and social disunity would crush any secession attempt in its earliest stages (after a "yes" vote). Separatism is thus not only unwanted, but completely unworkable, unsustainable, and destined for immediate failure.

On the federal vs. provincial debate, however, Dion lands soundly in another camp. Here he departs from the Chretienites that brought him into the fold.

From an Intergovernmental Affairs press release:

"Our decentralized federation, based on solidarity of its citizens and cooperation among its governments, is perfectly equipped to take on the issues of globalization."

The Minister refuted arguments in favour of centralization, which depict the power of the provincial governments as excessive. "In the 1960s, in the heyday of the Keynesian movement," he noted, "it was said that provincial autonomy was preventing rational economic planning." Today, he continued, globalization is the concept in fashion fuelling calls for Canada to centralize... But these arguments in favour of centralization will be proved as wrong in the future as they have been in the past

From another:
Minsiter Dion argues...the decentralized nature of our federation, which is striking in comparison with other federations, is a good thing and well serves the interests of Canadians: "Such a large and diversified country as Canada could not function other than under a very advanced federative form. It is a good thing that we have strong provinces."

From an HOC debate:
"Are we too decentralized? I do not think so. Can the decentralization process be improved? I think so. But this so-called centralized federation is a chimera that only today's independentist leaders are trying to sell people; that term is inaccurate."

My feeling is that this provincialist outlook will be a centerpiece to his bid, should he make it. But who will offer the alternative?


Blogger Steve said...

This is at odds with the common impression, yes. In one sense, you can see that he is answering the seperatists crying centralization by pointing to the reality that we are decentralized. That is essential in realistically battling seperatism. However, you've found some pretty concrete evidence that he would accelerate this process. Note, it was he that gave us the Social Union Framework Agreement (well very much in part gave us), which could be viewed either way. Certainly decentralist despite Quebec academia, it could also be argued he gained in the sense that it was unavoidable with provincial common front to face, and in that sense he legitimated the federal speding power. H

He has said much of worth in battling back seperatism, and is an intelligent voice for the Liberals. He can always respond effectively when provoked, and has credibility on the environment. He's an obvious asset to the Liberal team.

However, you paint a pretty clear picture on federalism and its certainly nothing new. Is this all that we can expect? Meech and Charllottetown recycled? I would hope not. I think now the time is right for someone to present an alternative.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:56 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

The point about separatists crying centralization is well taken. That is his argument - but it sounds as though he is suggesting not only that it is a myth, but that that is inherently a good thing. I'm glad you raised SUFA, which was largely his project. I had a quote of his which I subsequently lost that said something along the lines of SUFA is not Meech recycled, but rather takes a step beyond Meech. I'm not sure that this is necessarily true, but the comment is a meaningful one.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Yes, many have argued SUFA is more than Meech, including constitutional expert David Cameron. For one, the feds have to have a majority of provinces for new national social programs, but as Lazar points out, despite Quebec and conservative academia, this is very unlikely to happen w/o the big provs. And so they can stay out and not lose the political capital by saying we're not technically standing in the way. The argument is that de facto, SUFA gives provinces the opting out they want. THey only have to meet vague (and jointly defined) "national objectives" and program design is left up to them. The federal spending power is legitimated, but this was already the case in all political reality.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I'm not taking a stand on that, that's just the argument. I am well aware of the other side too.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:02 PM  

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