Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Limiting federal spending power is a bad thing?

Political Staples links to James Laxer's latest innuendo-laden siren sounding of a "right-wing" takeover in Canada:

Harper declared that if Quebeckers elected a federalist government, Ottawa would negotiate a deal with Quebec that would severely restrict the power of the federal government to undertake spending initiatives in areas of provincial jurisdiction.

In return for Quebec's acceptance of this version of a dramatically de-centralized federalism, Harper would either legislate (or seek a constitutional amendment) to remove Ottawa's right to make such initiatives in the future. The new rules would apply to the federal government's relationship with all the provinces, not just with Quebec. This Grand Bargain would fundamentally remake Confederation.

Such a change in the basics of Canadian federalism would, for instance, bar Ottawa from launching the kind of national early childhood education program to which both Liberals and New Democrats are pledged. In a more distant future, it would block any attempt on the part of Ottawa to substantially lower the cost of tuition for colleges and universities in an effort to prevent post-secondary education from again becoming the preserve of the privileged.

With his proposed Grand Bargain, Stephen Harper would bring his over-arching objective of a Canada, not only with a market economy but with a market society as well, much closer to fruition. Gone would be the potential to establish national programs to create common standards across the country. At the federal level, progressive liberals and social democrats would be blocked from undertaking initiatives to advance the cause of greater social equality.

Harper's Grand Bargain, the re-casting of Canada according to a right-wing agenda, was implicit in the election in 2006 of a Parliament in which neo-conservatives and sovereignists held the majority of seats. If it were consummated, the Grand Bargain would complete the work begun with the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA in the 1980s and 1990s. It would constitute the social counterpart to the economics of free trade.
Simply on the grounds alone that I actually like the idea of the Grand Bargain, I would say that Laxer has nothing to worry about. More to the point, however, such a thing will either:

a) never come to pass;
b) pass, but in a significantly abstruse manner with enough loopholes and vagaries to drive a yard of gravy trains through; or
c) be hailed or decried according to political preference, but ignored according to political exigency.

Politicians, ministers and bureaucrats at all levels of government have got a good thing going — they're not going to give it up that easily, except maybe rhetorically. Speaking of rhetoric, Laxer concludes:
Stephen Harper's Grand Bargain with Quebec would place the capstone on the edifice of a right-wing Canada, which neither Quebeckers nor English Canadians want. Progressives who reject the idea of a stripped-down market society need to understand the stakes in the next federal election. It is one they cannot allow the Conservatives to win.
Wow, that could almost make me want to vote Conservative… if I actually believed the guy.

On the subject, Political Staples is definitely the place to go for election junkies like me who want their Quebec election fallout fixes.


Jake said...

At least Quebec has finally shown signs that they want to trim their elaborate welfare state. The surge of the right-wing ADQ last night will significantly change the course of Quebec. This will allow a more free market, less statist economy.

I think what the Tories are proposing will not come to fruition the way they propose. Just like the Accountability Act, The Liberal dominated senate will water down anything that threatens the status-quo on government spending powers.

If Harper gets a majority, the first thing he should do is reform the senate. This is what is preventing much of the needed government reform more than anything.

Thucydides said...

Too bad pundits don't know the history of their own nation. Mr Harper is suggesting that the Government of Canada be bound by the constitution, or more specifically the BNA act; which restricts the areas the Federal government is allowed to access by law.

What a horrible thought for the modern progressive: legal limits and defined areas of jurisdiction? Good Lord, will these right wingers be agitating for the Rule of Law next?