I would like to interrupt all the political convention coverage to draw attention to an essay William Gairdner has written on the whole "nation" debate.
Gairdner, who was the former chairman of the National Citizens Coalition, examines the whole question of what federalism is supposed to mean.
He begins with an fascinating recounting of how Americans and Canadians tried to deal with the seeming paradoxical notion of "two sovereign authorities in the same state".
The Americans tried to check the power of the central government through a series of balances while Canadians opted to strictly outline the provincial powers in the BNA Act.
Neither approach worked.
As Gairdner writes: "the trend over time is always that the superior power will find ways, however devious, to slowly gobble up the subordinate ones."
And in both the U.S. and Canada the central power has, in fact, gobbled up the state/provincial powers.
Gairdner says this must change:
There must be a rebalancing, devolution, and restoration of assigned constitutional powers; a restoring of states rights, so to speak. Canada must be returned to something resembling its original constitutional framework by withdrawing federal powers from all places where they have never by right or by law belonged.
This is where the "nation" issue comes into play.
Gairdner argues Prime Minister Harper is taking the first step in restoring true federalism in Canada:
Harper is keenly aware that no one will now dare to deny Quebec its new “nation” status. He is also aware that Quebec will now likely support him for a majority government in the next election. And he knows that Quebec will continue to push for the powers appropriate for a nation. But he will hold them to what he said: Quebec will be considered a nation “within a united Canada.” And he will then slowly apply that condition to all other provinces that want it, because under our Constitution provinces were intended to have provincial sovereignty over their own list, and the feds were to meant to keep their hands off. To respect provincial sovereignty in a united Canada. Of course, the other provinces not so dominated by a single ethnic and linguistic group will not care if they are called a “nation,” but it will have to be by some label just as chummy. What they will insist upon is “equal” provincial rights and sovereignty. Thus, through a long process of reversing the workings of the monster – to include reducing taxes wherever possible, eliminating the national debt, removing nanny-state federal tentacles from all places in which they have never by right belonged, and of course by removing transfer payments – he will undertake to restore provincial constitutional rights. Harper has just commenced the deconstruction of our rusty welfare state.
I hope he is right.
This was an argument I made much less articulately a few days ago.
If Harper is in fact, using the "nation" strategy to give more power to all the provinces, then Canadians should support it.