Federalism


Thanks to The Walrus Magazine who have reprinted this article in ebook format. For more info on format see their FAQ.

200 years ago today, in what is now called Moraviantown, Ontario, the great Shawnee warrior, Tecumseh was killed defending Canada against invading American troops during the War of 1812. After waging a fearsome battle with the encroaching American militia for over five years, Tecumseh had struck terror in the hearts of American settlers, soldiers and commanders alike. His alliance with the British General, Isaac Brock, and their victory at Detroit, decisively shifted the early momentum in the War to Canada’s favour. No longer could the Americans boast that victory would be (as Thomas Jefferson promised then President James Madison) “a mere matter of marching.” Indeed, it can be said that it was Tecumseh – as much as any other single individual – who saved Canada in the War of 1812.
(more…)

The 2011 Gordon Osbaldeston Lecture
by Allan R. Gregg

“That above all – to thine own self be true; And it must follow as the night the day. Thou canst not then be false to any man”

Polonius’ advice to his son, Laertes in Hamlet

A Short History of the Erosion of Trust

Even someone with only a passing interest in current affairs would know our political leaders are in big trouble.

A few years ago, Seth Meyers of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live developed a routine where he lampooned politicians by simply asking “Really!” …. no narrative; not even a snappy punch-line; simply a run a clip of a politician followed by an incredulous “Really!” Jon Stewart has taken this vein of comedy one step further where the joke doesn’t even require speech … just show the politician speaking; pause for a moment; and arch an eye brow. Both routines are invariably followed by gales of laughter. Not only is the joke on our elected leaders, it seems they are the only ones left on the planet who don’t get it.

And you also would not have to be a student of Canadian history to know that this condition is very different from the Canadian political culture of the past.
(more…)

THE UNFINISHED CANADIAN
The People We Are
By Andrew Cohen
McClelland & Stewart,
270 pages, $29.99
REVIEWED BY ALLAN GREGG

As the title suggests, journalist turned academic Andrew Cohen sees Canadians as “unfinished,” a species whose insularity and self-satisfaction have prevented us from achieving our full national potential.

So that we can “become a more confident, more accomplished people,” he offers a plan. To become “future Canadians,” we need to rediscover our past by establishing national standards for teaching history and celebrating historic occasions. A more “mature” relationship with the United States, in which we would no longer fear absorption but harness our mutual interests to our mutual benefit is also prescribed. Our sense of civic-mindedness and creed could be strengthened by placing a higher value on citizenship: making it harder to come by, setting more rigorous standards for its attainment and doing more to integrate new Canadians into our host culture.

Some of Cohen’s medicine would be easy for Canadians to swallow and relatively simple for inspired governments to implement: Honour past and present achievement and achievers; create a culture (and presumably a tax regime) that encourages charity; restore historic buildings, monuments and sites.

Others might be greeted with more controversy and cultural resistance: Become more accepting of both the foibles and importance of our politicians; call on all taxpayers to invest in the national capital region; launch a 21st-century project of national enterprise to spark the collective imagination, as did the building of the railway.

If guiding us to be a better people and a more enriched nation was Cohen’s sole purpose – and if he were prepared to take the time and space to catalogue how we might reach this destination – this would be a laudable and worthy journey. For example, instituting a national historical curriculum would be a worthwhile and appealing initiative, though education is squarely in provincial jurisdiction.

In the same way, the evidence of increasing isolation from the mainstream among Canada’s foreign-born is alarming, and any bold, new thoughts on how to reverse this trend would certainly get my attention.

Sadly, though, Cohen has chosen not to turn his keen mind to these challenges; indeed, re-imagining “the future Canadian,” and offering how we might get there, warrants a scant 19 pages. He dedicates the vast majority of his analysis to tilting at the windmills of Canadian myths and lecturing us about “the people we are.”
(more…)

Appeared in Sept 2006 issue of The Walrus Magazine

If the British North America Act were being
written today…natural resource ownership
would most likely remain with the federal
government.

– “Policy Options,” October 2005.

It should have been a love fest.

Leading up to the March 30, 2006 Alberta Progressive Conservative Annual General Meeting polls declared Premier Ralph Klein the most popular man in the province, and for good reason. As an expert panel appointed by the former Liberal government, provincial governments, and even the Governor General, all recommended that Alberta share its bountiful riches with the rest of Canada, the tough-talking premier said, essentially, ‘over my dead body.’ It was classic Klein. For years, the premier had been Alberta’s chief defender and his record was impressive. He led the PC Party to four consecutive majority governments, enjoyed over 90 percent approval ratings each time he faced a leadership review, and could boast of a series of accomplishments envied by all other provinces. In 1993, Klein inherited a government bleeding $3.4 billion a year and with an accumulated debt of $23 billion. Thirteen years later, Alberta is Canada’s only debt-free province, the operating surplus for 2006 hovers around $10 billion, and the populist premier can justifiably lay claim to creating “the Alberta Advantage.”
(more…)

Having a variety of voices in the Liberal leadership race will be good for the party, but whoever wins will have to borrow heavily from the others to win back voters

As most predicted, the Liberal leadership contest has turned into a packed race. The absence of an obvious front-runner has excited the aspirations, ambitions and, in some cases, the delusions of contenders who otherwise might have stayed in the starting gate.

Listening to their early declarations, it is apparent that the regional, gender and generational diversity of the candidates is going to be matched by the strategies they hope to employ — first to win the contest and presumably, thereafter, the country.
(more…)

Even Albertans and Quebeckers are showing a profound commitment to the nation, say politicos Peter Donolo and Allan Gregg

From the Manitoba schools question in the 1890s to the 1995 Quebec referendum, Canada’s peaceable history has been punctuated by regional conflicts that threatened to tear the country apart. Such tensions are evident to this day and often dominate the national agenda. Whether it is Newfoundland’s Premier, Danny Williams, banishing the Canadian flag to protest Ottawa’s “betrayal” over offshore resources or Alberta Premier Ralph Klein telling the rest of Canada to “keep your hands off” his province’s oil, regional grievances have come to be accepted as a permanent part of the Canadian condition.

It’s high time Canadians see past the clichés and recognize that when these grievances surface, they are often a function of self-serving sabre-rattling rather than a lack of commitment to the nation; a misconstrued stereotype rather than any deep animosity by citizens in one region toward those in another.

A good example is the most recent survey we conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV, released last week. It reveals a reality — particularly regarding Alberta and Quebec — that is much more nuanced than the rhetoric we often hear from politicians and political commentators. The results show a level of commitment to Canada by those provinces that belies the long-held view of Quebec and Alberta as the “crybabies” of Confederation.
(more…)

Notes for Remarks to the ADM Forum
Ottawa, May 11, 2005
By Allan R. Gregg

Over the course of the next few hours, we will undoubtedly hear a lot of talk about section 93 and 94 of the Constitution, “Orphans of Confederation”, fiscal imbalances and probably even the dreaded “asymmetrical federalism”.

Before we settle comfortably in, deciding what form of federalism best fits modern-day Canada, it may be wise to take a step further back and begin by re-examining why we even have a central government.

It starts, of course, with a tacit recognition that we are better served acting as citizens than as individuals – that our goals are better pursued as a group, than alone, in isolation. As part of that tacit recognition, we also freely give up some of our unbridled freedom for stability and order. We erect a stop sign, knowing it delays our arrival to our destination, in exchange for the comfort of knowing we are reducing the risk of head-on collisions. Group activity is also more efficient – we can do things together than we cannot do alone. Less recognized but no less important, we come to appreciate that membership in a group has a ennobling effect on the individual – our adherence to the rules necessary to function as part of a group forms the foundation of citizenship.
(more…)

Pierre Trudeau tried to stop a cycle of blackmail, where one province held up the national interest by bargaining solely for its own parish. Paul Martin’s new health accord is an invitation not just for one blackmailer, but for ten.
(more…)