Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Closed-door federalism

Saskatchewan Government Relations Minister Harry Van Mulligen testified before the Senate finance committee today, discussing of the problems in federal/provincial relations since Harper took power federally. And beneath all the slogans getting fired back and forth, Van Mulligen makes clear that there are serious substantive problems with the Cons' refusal to deal with many provinces on any level other than a photo op.

Let's start with the prime example of the Cons' unwillingness to do more than try to take credit for others' work:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's refusal to meet with Canada's premiers has forced them to resort to megaphone diplomacy, Saskatchewan's government relations minister said Tuesday.

Harper has been prime minister for more than a year. Despite his vow to practice "open federalism," Harry Van Mulligen noted that he has yet to hold a first ministers' meeting with all premiers and territorial leaders.

Harper had intended to meet with all premiers last fall to discuss resolution of the so-called fiscal imbalance. But those plans were abandoned after the provinces failed to achieve consensus on the issue.
In sum, Harper was entirely willing to let the provinces do all the work in brokering a mutually agreeable deal, then convene a formal meeting to take centre stage as praise was meted out. But when the predictable disagreements among the provinces ensured that the Cons would have to contribute some effort (and that success wouldn't be guaranteed), the Cons apparently lost all interest in bringing the country's first ministers together.

And the unsurprising end result is that with most provinces having little opportunity to deal with the Cons directly, they've had to take their cases public instead to have any chance of being heard:
"As there are no multilateral engagements, (provincial) governments are forced to negotiate in public or through ad campaigns and web sites," Van Mulligen told the Senate finance committee.

"This is unhelpful, unproductive and does not serve the interests of the citizens of Canada."
The article goes on to discuss how the Cons' unilaterally-imposed policies ended up hurting Saskatchewan compared to both the Cons' election promises, and a system which would take into consideration obvious differences in the provinces' respective need and capacity to provide services. And it's worth noting that the result of the Cons' choices is to pour large amounts of social funding into both Alberta and Ontario...which should make for no less glaring an attempt to buy votes than Harper's interference in Quebec's provincial election.

But for all the valid concerns put forward by Saskatchewan and other provinces about their particular funding needs, the bigger problem is the Cons' highly selective willingness to interact with their provincial counterparts. And as dangerous as the Cons' bubble has been in their policy-making process so far, it only figures to be all the more so if Harper heeds Mario Dumont's call to attempt changes to Canada's constitution.

No comments:

Post a Comment