CPC & NDP Agree on Crime: Download it to the provinces

By Jared Wesley on Sep 22, 2008

In separate platform planks released on the same day, in opposite ends of the country, it looks like Jack Layton and Stephen Harper agree on one thing:  Let's get tough on crime, but tiptoe around Alberta and Quebec.

Harper's decision to release the names of young offenders convicted of "very violent" crimes is contingent on each province's defintion of "young offender."  This is designed to appease Quebeckers, who prefer age 16 (to the conventional 14).

Meanwhile, Layton suggested his party would get tough on gun crime by "allowing" provinces to ban handguns.  The announcement was designed to stay onside of Albertans, who cringe at the thought of gun regulation.

This is more than a simple tiptoe exercise, however.  If the Liberals balanced the budget by downloading debt to the provinces in the 1990s, it appears the Conservatives and New Democrats are going to solve crime by downloading the political responsibility to the provinces.  Granted, unlike the financial burden, many Premiers have have been calling for both policies for a number of years.  My guess is that many would actually welcome the opportunity to explore tougher penalties and handgun bans.  The issue will prove to be a football in upcoming provincial campaigns, nonetheless.  In the meantime, both Harper and Layton have said to voters: "we've put the policy in place, it's now up to the provinces to follow through."

While the downloading strategy fits well under Harper's approach to "flexible federalism," it is a little perplexing coming from Layton.  Not only does it contradict his typically centralist approach to federal-provincial relations.  It reaches out to a very, very small constituency in Alberta:  those who like guns AND would vote NDP.  How many are there?

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