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Harper On "federalism"...

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Federalism and All Canadians

Notes for Address by Stephen Harper,

Canadian Alliance Leadership Candidate


Saturday 19 January, 2002

I am visiting Quebec today to talk about Canadian federalism. In no part of Canada has this subject been debated and analyzed more than here. I am not here however, to give an academic lecture, but to campaign for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance, an entity formed to create a modern, national conservative coalition capable of winning an election and forming government.

So let me begin by making a few remarks on the coalition building that must take place in the province of Quebec. The sheer size of Quebec in Canada obviously makes the province crucial in the formation of a national government. As well, its status as the sole province with a francophone majority means that, even in federal politics, unique issues and voting patterns dominate the political culture.

Conservative political parties have long recognized that their relative weakness in Quebec is a critical factor in limiting them to opposition rather than government status. Indeed, the Liberals’ claim to be Canada’s natural governing party has often been due to its overwhelming predominance in the province of Quebec. (Ironically, this is not the case under the country’s first pur laine prime minister, Jean Chrétien. Throughout three successive majority governments, the Liberals have been a competitive party in Quebec, but not the dominant one.)

Conservatives have also observed that, when they came to power in Canada in the past century, they did so in coalition with the province’s so-called “nationalist” forces. This lesson has been interpreted by the Canadian Alliance as meaning that the party should position itself as a nationalist force in Quebec and focus on the significant anti-Liberal vote. To the extent that it had a Quebec strategy, the Reform Party before it tended to think the same way.

Over the past few years I have concluded that this strategy is fundamentally mistaken. It ignores the real lesson of Canadian history – that while conservatives have come to power by exploiting a nationalist strategy in Quebec, such coalitions have never lasted very long. Indeed, they have ended in political disaster. In my lifetime the federal Social Credit Party was torn apart by its separatist and crypto-separatist associations in Quebec. The similar flirtations of the Progressive Conservatives in the 1980s were equally disastrous in the long run, creating the unprecedented strength of the Bloc Quebecois and damaging the country nearly as much as the party.

The broad lesson of history is that Canada’s natural governing coalition always includes the federalist option in Quebec, not the nationalist one. This is what the Liberals were in the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century, when the Conservatives usually made up the government, they occupied a similar position. It would therefore be a mistake, in my judgment, for the Canadian Alliance to focus on simply grabbing the anti-Liberal vote in order to build a beachhead in Quebec. The party must undertake the long-run work necessary to become a federalist option in Quebec acceptable to a significant number of Liberal as well as anti-Liberal voters.

For this reason it is essential for this party to define its view of federalism. I have chosen for the title of my address today the phrase “Federalism and All Canadians”. I do this in deliberate contrast to the title of Pierre Trudeau’s famous book, Federalism and the French Canadians, for it is well known that I don’t share the centralist and socialist notions of federalism that have come to dominate the thinking of the Liberal Party in recent decades.

Ironically, the centrepiece of Trudeau’s book was not the crypto-unitary state in which so many Liberals have come to believe, but the constitutional division of powers that defines any true federal state. In particular, Trudeau argued that Canadian federalism was exactly what Quebec needed to protect its language and culture. To those who wanted a new constitution, he challenged, “Let them first come up with a system in which the rules of the game are really more favourable than the present one.”

Trudeau argued that Canadian federalism served French Canadians well. I agree, though I would prefer a vision of federalism that is pan-Canadian federalism not just for French Quebeckers, but federalism for all Canadians. Under such a pan-Canadian federalism, the provinces should be autonomous in areas of provincial jurisdiction. Canada is a country of regions with widely differing geography, cultures, and economic interests. Those differences are best served and reconciled by allowing differences to exist among provinces in a wide array of policy areas.

Federalism with greater provincial autonomy is not just a convenient way for Canada to deal with its vast geography, cultural diversity and regional differences. It is also a political arrangement best suited to meet the challenges we face today.

World events since September 11 have reminded us that we now live in a world with only one superpower – the United States of America. The world is being reshaped by that nation’s vital forces – liberal democracy, global markets, technological innovation, and unprecedented information flows. No government in the developed world is under more pressure from these forces than the Canadian federal government. On the one hand, there is the emergence of a truly international marketplace, continental integration, and what we call “globalization”.

These trends are leading to new forms of intergovernmental cooperation beyond the nation-state, of which the European Union and NAFTA are examples.

On the other hand, within this expanded horizon are revivals of older nationalisms, the regionalization of economic hubs, and what is called “localization”. Today, for example, we speak of “city states” as we used to talk only of nation states.

Canada is simultaneously both a collection of its parts and itself part of a greater whole. As a nation of regions with differing geography, cultures and economic interests, it is highly subject to the pressures of localization from below. As an extension of the geographic, cultural and economic realities of the North American continent, it is uniquely vulnerable to the pressures of globalization from above. A federal state such as Canada, with its constitutionally autonomous federal and provincial governments, is ideally suited to react to this combination of global pressures and local concentration, or “glocalization”, as the Queen’s University economist Tom Courchene calls it.

Provinces, having jurisdiction over human-capital programs in health, education, job training, and welfare, are ideally suited to react to the regionalization of economic hubs. And the federal government, with its control over currency, trade, national security, and monetary policy, is ideally suited to deal with issues of intergovernmental cooperation, such as those of NAFTA, the G-7, and APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation).

The trouble is, jurisdictional boundaries in Canada have become blurred. As originally conceived, Canadian federalism was a unique effort to create absolutely clear boundaries between the areas in which the provincial governments would exercise sovereignty, and the areas in which the federal government would be paramount. Clearly defined barriers were established between the powers of the two levels of government, with the clear understanding that neither level could legislate in those areas falling under the competence of the other.

This was quite distinct from the models of federalism adopted under the Australian and American constitutions, in which a short list of areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction is provided, and all other matters are assumed to be under state control.

In the American and Australian models, it was anticipated that shared jurisdiction would develop in a wide number of areas. Section 96 of the Australian constitution contains a provision explicitly authorizing the attachment of conditions to federal transfers to states, in areas that would normally be regarded as being under state jurisdiction. In Canada, by contrast, the responsibilities of each level of government were laid out in considerable detail in the 1867 British North America Act. In the 1937 “Labour Standards” case, the Law Lords of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council would describe the uniquely clear lines of jurisdiction that exist in Canada as “watertight compartments which are an essential part of [Canada’s] original structure.”

It was to this arrangement that I, along with five co-authors, was referring when almost a year ago, we stressed the need to develop what we called “firewalls” between the federal and provincial levels of government. The clear delineation of powers that my co-authors and I called for is a part of Canada’s original design. It is time to recognize the wisdom of that original design, in a country as geographically and culturally heterogeneous as Canada, and to allow our institutions to evolve away from the forty-yearlong Liberal experiment in centralized federalism.

It is the evolution that the Liberals are so fiercely resisting.

This resistance was showcased most recently in the Liberals’ tepid and sluggish response to the events of September 11, and was reinforced in their latest budget. What was already clear has become even more obvious: Ottawa has for too long ignored the core functions that the constitution assigns to our national government. Worse, the recent budget shows no signs that Ottawa understands the need to focus the federal government on issues where it can do the most good for the most Canadians.

Following September 11, the spotlight on Ottawa’s core functions – Defence, Justice, Solicitor General and Immigration – revealed that they have been suffering what might at best be called benign neglect. It is no secret, for example, that Canada long has been a target and a base for actual and suspected terrorists. CSIS briefings have become ever more clear and specific on the risks Canada faces. If these warnings were not enough, as early as 1999 the infamous Ahmed Ressam case laid bare Canada's national security and immigration vulnerabilities. And benign neglect is too friendly a term to describe the treatment of our military over the past few decades.

This poor performance is not restricted to national security. In just about every area in its jurisdiction, Ottawa has performed badly. Our airline policy is a national disgrace. Only because of the pressure exercised by the able Alliance transport critic, James Moore, did the Liberals finally agree to put air marshals on our planes. And the continued failure of our national airline policy to bring real competition to the skies is imposing significant costs on Canadians and Canadian business. This situation has only been made worse by the airline passenger tax introduced in the recent budget – a cash grab that will fall disproportionately hard on smaller airlines.

Our currency is an international basket case. The decades-old policy of intentional devaluation is putting Canada’s natural resources, its businesses, and manufactured products available at fire-sale prices. Our criminal justice system is too soft on criminals because the Liberals care more about the rights of criminals that the rights of law-abiding citizens. Our economic union is too weak because Ottawa has failed to use the powers it has under the constitution to ensure that goods and services can freely flow across provincial borders.

I could go on, and on. The point is that our constitution assigns certain responsibilities to the federal government. And on nearly every one of these, the federal government is performing badly. Yet there is no alternative for Canadians other than for the federal government to do its job. Many of these areas cannot be plausibly assigned to the provinces. Nor is there any quick fix in to be found in schemes for greater continental integration. The relative size and nature of the government of the United States puts limits on further integration that do not exist in other parts of the world.

Given Ottawa’s gross failures in its own jurisdictions, does it really make sense for it to try to do things that the constitution assigns to provincial governments? The call for firewalls is about refocusing the federal government on its own responsibilities as much as it is about giving provinces greater control over their responsibilities.

I advance this notion of pan-Canadian federalism as an alternative to the mentality that led to the dead-end constitutional debates of the late 1980s and 1990s. Those debates, which produced the Meech Lake Accord, Charlottetown Accord, and Calgary Declaration, were premised on giving Quebec a vague special status in response to an even vaguer threat to Quebec’s language and culture.

That approach threw a poorly thought out sop to the separatists. The core assertion of its proponents – that special status is needed to protect the French language in Quebec – is simply false. The French language is not imperiled in the province of Quebec. Language retention among Francophones in Quebec remains at nearly 100 percent, and this percentage increased from the 1970s to the 1990s. Today, no one disputes the view that French should be recognized as the predominant and common language of the province.

The reality of the strength of French in Quebec is one of the principal reasons why the sovereignty movement is fading. While nationalist sentiment will always be an important factor here, there has been a steady growth in the confidence and security of Quebeckers regarding the state of their language. This security robs the increasingly anachronistic sovereignty movement of its central premise unless, of course, federalist advocates of special status choose to fan the flames.

Speaking of not fanning separatist flames, let me also state unequivocally that the Canadian Alliance, while it must defend legitimate provincial jurisdiction, must never defend those who interpret provincial power as including a right to unilateral secession. Any act of secession on the part of any part of the country must be done within the confines of the current constitution, which includes the rule of law and clear democratic consent.

I spent a good part of my first term in Ottawa working on this issue, and my fundamental position has not changed. I should acknowledge that the Liberals have done the country a great service by recognizing these principles in the Clarity Act – an act the Progressive Conservative Party continues to officially oppose.

I cannot help feeling a certain amount of paternal pride when I look at the provision of the Clarity Act that now requires a question on separation to be clearly worded. In 1996, I introduced a private members bill that stated in part,

No referendum or plebiscite conducted by the National Assembly of Quebec on the question of the separation of Quebec from Canada shall be recognized by the government of Canada if that question implies that Quebec is empowered or may be empowered by an affirmative vote in the referendum to unilaterally amend any part of the Constitution of Canada [such as the right to secede unilaterally]; is ambiguous or unclear.

Before leaving the subject of Quebec’s specific place in Canada, let me take a minute to address the question of language policy. Provinces, including Quebec, have a legitimate role in this field. I support Quebec’s right to legislate in the area of language. Having said that, I also support the Charter rights to freedom of expression and language choice. As a federal political leader, I would not intervene in Quebec language legislation, and I would leave the courts to deal with constitutional challenges.

But it would be disingenuous to suggest I am comfortable with all aspects of Bill 101. It is one thing to recognize the predominant status of French and promote its use as a common language. It is another to restrict the use of English or to make it difficult for Francophones to master the language. I cannot pretend that I agree with those aspects of Quebec’s language policy, and responsible federal leaders should not voice approval of linguistic restrictions here any more than they would in other parts of the country.

But I am also confident that debate in Quebec will liberalize these laws over time. They are contrary to an increasingly libertarian and individualistic ethic in this province – one that has led the country in debates over trade liberalization and health care reform. They also obscure the real threat that Quebeckers face along with other Canadians – the gradual decline of Canada as an internationally competitive economy.

The upshot of all this is that conservatives can lead the long-term evolution of the country if they recognize the principles of a pan-Canadian federalism. This means support for provincial autonomy and jurisdiction, including differing language policies within the context of a free and democratic society, and opposition to ideas of special status and unilateral secession that only serve to inflame separatist sentiment.

I see two major areas where these principles can immediately be put to work. First, within the next few months, the federal government and the provinces will have to renew the 1999 Social Union Framework Agreement, or SUFA – an agreement that is intended to regulate jurisdictional interaction between Ottawa and the provinces. The existing Social Union Agreement is flawed in at least three ways.

First, the Agreement allows Ottawa to impose a program in provincial jurisdiction with the support of as few as six provinces. Ottawa could potentially invade provincial jurisdiction with the support of the six smallest provinces containing only 15 percent of Canada’s population.

Second, the Agreement has no opting-out provision for provinces that object to an invasive new federal program. Third, and most important, Quebec has not signed the Agreement. It refused to sign primarily because of the two flaws just mentioned. As the CD Howe Institute has said, the Agreement risks “Quebec’s progressive isolation’ from other provinces and forces “Quebec to stand alone in defence of its constitutional rights.”

It is worth remembering that Quebec did not isolate itself from the Social Union Agreement. Quebec had agreed to a Provincial Consensus document containing much more stringent constraints on the federal spending power until a week before the signing of the SUFA agreement. In the end, Ottawa effectively bribed nine provinces away from the Consensus with the promise of gobs of money for health care.

The first priority for SUFA¹s renewal, therefore, must be to bring Quebec back to the Social Union Agreement. It is simply unacceptable that any agreement dealing with such important matters of provincial jurisdiction can effectively exclude a quarter of the country’s population.

This leads me to the second major area where the principles of pan-Canadian federalism should be put to work immediately – health care. Predictably, Ottawa’s infusion of cash to the provincial health care systems has failed to resolve the country’s worsening health care problems. Conditions will only continue to deteriorate as long as Ottawa plays its destructive role in the health care debate. The federal government has never met, and will never meet, its historic funding commitments for health care. With few exceptions, it does not pay health care professionals, operate the health care system, or have any substantive ideas of reform to apply to growing crisis. Ottawa is less worried about the health of Canadians than about using the outdated Canada Health Act to grandstand as the defender of a centralist national identity.

The key principle of the Canadian health care system is that no Canadian be denied necessary health care services anywhere in Canada due to inability to pay. Abiding by that principle does not preclude examining innovative payment and delivery options. Nor do the provinces pose a threat to that principle. The Canadian Alliance should take the lead in being the federal representative for the growing number of provincial voices – Quebec, Alberta, Ontario – demanding fuller provincial jurisdiction and freedom in developing solutions to the serious challenges facing the health care system.

I am running for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance because it is the only party in Canada placed to pursue these issues – responsible federalism for all Canadians, strict division of powers between provinces and the federal government, a stronger federal government that focuses on its priorities and does them well, and greater autonomy for provinces in areas where they can be accountable to their provincial voters, rather than to Ottawa, for the results they deliver.

The Canadian Alliance can make these arguments because it is the only conservative party worthy of the name in Canada. It is the only option for the millions of Canadians who believe in traditional institutions such as family and community. It is the only option for the millions of Canadians looking for a greater democratic voice in Ottawa. It is the only option for the millions of Canadians who want to stop applying the solutions of the past, and want to start thinking about new solutions for all Canadians for the future. It is the only party taking a consistent position on issues of smaller government, lower taxes, and more freedom.

In running for the leadership, I want to ensure that the Canadian Alliance will continue to address these issues that matter to Canadians. Today I have outlined a vision of federalism for all Canadians. In the coming weeks I will comment on other areas of policy of concern to Canadians. I welcome all like-minded Canadians to help me in building not only a party but also a country that is able to face the future with confidence.

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Great speech. Was it reported in the media ? Given CBC exposure and scrutiny ? Chewed over by the Glib and Maul or the Toronto Scar ?

Harper presents some powerful reasons for; reconfederation; proper economic policies; priviate health systems; a new policy with Quebec; a more mature foreign/military policy. Compare his speech with the vacuity emanating from King Paul II's office where he maintains that all promises for all people at all times is da Canadian way.

Following September 11, the spotlight on Ottawa’s core functions – Defence, Justice, Solicitor General and Immigration – revealed that they have been suffering what might at best be called benign neglect. It is no secret, for example, that Canada long has been a target and a base for actual and suspected terrorists. CSIS briefings have become ever more clear and specific on the risks Canada faces. If these warnings were not enough, as early as 1999 the infamous Ahmed Ressam case laid bare Canada's national security and immigration vulnerabilities

The problem with Canada is that 1. Constitutional reform is nigh impossible without breaking egos and heads and engaging in a lot of political payoffs. I have always believed that unilateral action is not only necessary but moral. For instance Alta and Toronto should start to wall themselves off from the groping hands of Ottawa. Though i applaud those who wish to negotiate, there is no earthly reason why King Paul II and his inner court would willingly give up power.

2. Trudeau-Chretien Liberalism is no longer tenable in a world of terror, economic regionalism, selective globalisation and trade-alliance dependencies. The state is simply too large and too many areas are controlled by socialist forces and bureaucrats. Health Care as cited by Harper needs to be liberated. Universal access and private care are compatible regardless of what the media spins out.

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