I like the way the Fathers of Coonfederation wrote our constitution. I believe in a minimal federal government. the grits believe in very big government. Chantal Hebert gives a little advice to the grits: pay attention to the division of powers.
In Liberal circles, what passes for federal leadership often amounts to a series of unsolicited interventions in provincial areas of responsibility.
Reading some Chrétien-era throne speeches, one might be forgiven for thinking the provinces did not exist.
Under Paul Martin the same philosophy resulted, most notably in the creation of a now-defunct federal body devoted to “learning”. (Its deathbed salvo was a lengthy plea for a federal education framework.)
There was also a failed federal attempt to deal directly with Canada’s big cities.
Ironically, over the Chrétien-Martin years, the social safety net was most significantly expanded in Quebec, with landmark provincial initiatives on the fronts of childcare, parental leave and pharmacare. And Alberta led the way to increased social spending.
As it happens, those two provinces have traditionally guarded their constitutional sovereignty over social policy most jealously.
More so than anything else — including the sponsorship scandal and the National Energy Program — that top-down Liberal view of federalism accounts for the estrangement of the West and francophone Quebec from Canada’s former natural governing party.
It is no accident that support for sovereignty has gone steadily down in Quebec over the past six Conservative years. Stephen Harper leads the least interventionist federal government in decades.
At their weekend convention, the Liberals will be asked to endorse a slew of back-to-the-future resolutions promoting so-called national strategies to deal with almost every issue under the sun.
Outside the convention hall, such resolutions will predictably be greeted with a collective yawn.