Parochialism in Canada
David Frum argued, in a recent column in the National Post, that the NDP’s surge in Quebec can be traced to the decline of the Liberals following the repatriation of the Constitution in 1982. In repatriating the Constitution without Quebec’s consent, Trudeau offended Quebec.
Frum also could have argued that the Liberal’s National Energy Policy (NEP), introduced shortly after Trudeau’s victory in 1980, alienated Alberta, and the Liberals have never recovered in that province.
While many so-called, political analysts point to these two events as major flaws in Trudeau’s legacy, I counter by arguing that Trudeau was the last Prime Minister to have the courage to stand up for Canada and fight against selfish, parochial interests. Every Prime Minister since then has catered to provincial tribalism, and in the current election campaign, no leader has been willing to stand up to Quebec, Alberta, Newfoundland and all the other provincial whiners.
Quebec had the choice to sign on to repatriation in 1982. Quebec chose not to because they were not offered a large enough bribe. Quebec wanted everything, including fiscal transfers in perpetuity. Quebec’s demands if granted would have made the province a de facto, independent state subsidized by the remnants of Canada. Indeed, this is the NDP’s current strategy in Quebec and the main reason for their popularity.
No politician has had the courage to tell Quebecers the following. If you want to go your own way, you are free to do so. The rest of Canada will not stand in your way. However, all fiscal transfers will be cut immediately. Quebec can choose whatever currency it wants, but if it is the Canadian dollar, Quebec will have no representation or influence on the Bank of Canada. The Air Canada Act will be amended immediately to permit the company to move its headquarters and maintenance facilities out of Quebec. Further, Quebec will be subject to the rules of the GATT or NAFTA, depending on which trade agreement it chooses to join, and the Quebec Inc. policies of the government will no longer be tolerated by the rest of Canada. They will be challenged . I could go on.
The Quebec elite is fighting the wars of 50 and more years ago. They have every right to continue to bury their heads in the sands, and promote their selfish, tribal interests. But there are many more advantages in keeping Canada together, and for Quebecers to look beyond their selfish, provincial interests to the broader interests of all of Canada.
As for Alberta, this province, its political leaders and its inhabitants seem to believe that their wealth has been the result of their hard work, ingenuity and willingness to take risks. I guess that the extended Saudi royal family has the same beliefs.
The wealth of the province stems largely from being in the right place at the right time, and from generous financial assistance over the decades from Ottawa to develop these resources. Were it not for the transfer of control of resources to the provinces in the 1930s, an idiotic and legally questionable move by Ottawa at that time, and artificially high oil prices today, Alberta would not be as wealthy; but it might have developed a more balanced economy.
The Liberals were viciously attacked for trying to extract the economic rents generated by the second oil price shock in the 1970s, economic rents that should have been used for the benefit of all Canadians. Stephane Dion was viciously attacked when he proposed a carbon tax, which was viewed as another attempt to skim the economic rents in Alberta.
The original NEP was a good policy; at least the objectives were, if not the complexity of the program itself. A carbon tax makes sense today. Yet, no politician has the courage to stand up to Alberta and claim that all Canadians are entitled to some of the economic rents accruing largely to the oil industry.
Greed and tribalism abound in Canada. We are solely responsible for success, someone else, most likely Ottawa, is responsible for failure appears to be our motto. Canadians do not act as Canadians, placing the interests of the country as a whole above their narrow, parochial interests.
I, me and myself characterize the thought process of Canadians. And we have no national leaders to challenge us.
We will deserve the government we elect on Monday. Unless, this election produces a strong, national leader, and Canadians are willing to change their behavior, Canada will continue to be a highly, over-rated country!
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal ad do not reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.