Who’s afraid of the big, bad provinces? Stephen Harper, that’s who

Who’s afraid of the big, bad provinces? Stephen Harper, that’s who

Timidity isn’t something Stephen Harper and his government stand accused of very often. But some of the news this week did bring up something we’ve been pondering for a while—namely, is there something a province that isn’t Ontario could demand that Harper wouldn’t eventually find a reason to cave on?

The list of issues on which the Conservatives have either dragged their feet or surrendered outright to keep a key provincial voting bloc happy is pretty impressive:

  • There’s the potash issue, in which fertilizer suddenly became a “strategic resource” that couldn’t be owned by a foreign company—as opposed to, say, oil, which has foreign companies crawling all over the tar sands.
  • There’s a national securities regulator, and the question as to whether Ottawa can legally create one is largely seen as a no-brainer, but Harper is making it voluntary and with no fixed address.
  • And now there are rumours that the next budget may include more than $2 billion for Quebec’s tax harmonization. This is awfully similar to the $2.3 billion our allegedly small-government PM gave to Quebec to help Jean Charest get re-elected in 2007.

While Harper talks a big game about how only the Conservatives are strong enough to defend Canada, they’re awfully quiet when it comes to talking about anything that could be called the “national interest” if it steps on provincial toes. And it’s not just us saying this. Deborah Coyne writes at The Mark:

Increasingly the national government… prefers playing ATM to the provinces and territories in unaccountable intergovernmental forums. Provincial governments, not all Canadians, now define the boundaries on national action on everything from Canada Pension Plan reform to national securities regulation to clean energy and health care.

It would be one thing if a Conservative PM who doesn’t believe in a strong federal government simply sat out a lot of provincial disputes (as Coyne details). It’s quite another when the government veers wildly from issue to issue depending, apparently, on the mood of an electorate while it looks for a majority in the Commons. That we disagree with some of Harper’s choices isn’t the point. We’d just like to know if there’s any logic beyond “because I’d like to win the next election.”

• Missing: Canada’s Federal Government [The Mark]

(Image: World Economic Forum)