Tuesday, October 20, 2009

You get this, I get that. The division of powers...

The recent move by the federal government to seek the views of the Supreme Court on the whether the feds have the constitutional authority to establish a national securities regulator brought back memories.

Or were they nightmares? I am not sure, all I know is that the issue of the division of powers popped back into my consciousness.

You see, in another life I spent some time working on the unity file and the question of who has the power to do what was...sadly...a daily issue to consider. For those unfamiliar, a very brief overview.

The Constitution sets out the powers of the federal and the provincial governments. The intent at the time was to have a strong central government - the Fathers of Confederation had just witnessed what state power had led to in the U.S. and wanted to avoid that in Canada.

The juicy stuff (circa 1867) therefore went to the feds. The feds also got much more ability to tax and spend. The provinces' lot included things which meant less at that time, but which have grown in importance (and cost) since. Think health care and education.

So, in may instances one has the cash and the other the power.

Over the years some interesting (yes, I can be a geek) battles have been fought as to whether one is encroaching on the powers of the other. This has been amplified by two things.

First, the Constitution could not truly anticipate the world as it evolved so as new areas emerged it was not always clear who had responsibility (in fairness, the feds have the default but that is a world of grey).

Second, the Quebec issue. Understandably, no province has guarded its areas of responsibility quite like Quebec, regardless of which party was leading the province.

See, the feds have liked to initiate programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction. The provinces - often led by Quebec - have lobbied for the money to do their own thing.

Meech Lake was a notable effort to deal with this issue. Under the Accord, the federal government would allow a province to opt out of a federal program in an area of provincial jurisdiction with compensation if they introduced something comparable which met national standards.

What are national standards? Who knows. And that's why I brought this topic up tonight (along with a side conversation with one of my 3..count them 3 comment-providers on this site. Yes, we are growing here at politics.watcher!).

A federal system will naturally have a quilt-like approach to policy. At its best, this system can allow provinces to develop programs which fit the needs of their often unique populations.

If these work well, there is an opportunity for other provinces to follow suit and the result can be a national program.

The National Child Tax Benefit introduced by the Liberals in the late 1990s is an example. It was built off a Saskatchewan program. The Cullen-Couture agreement in Quebec dealing with immigration is another which has served as a model for other provinces.

Unfortunately, the other side of this coin is an inconsistent approach to the things people care most about. Things like, for example, health and education. At some point, the more centralist-minded person will ask why isn't there a national approach to health care in terms of coverage, service levels, etc. Why are children taught different things differently as you move through the country.

Since Meech, governments have tried things like tax point transfers to get the provinces greater financial autonomy. Success has been mixed.

For me, the watering down of a national standard is a greater concern than the potential over-stepping of a level of government's jurisdiction. A national securities regulator makes sense. A truly national approach to health care makes sense. At some point, we need to think of Canada as being more than the sum of its parts.


1 comment:

  1. It does make sense, it sounds great!

    You are right, it will so great to think of Canada as a whole!!

    But, will it be wise for the the federal goverment to get that authority? (I think yes!)

    I don't see some provinces to happy with this, they like they individuality, their own choices, they just want the cash...

    And now to fill you in a little bit about the cons in Alberta, it seems that Stelmach may pass a confidence vote, some predict it might even be as high as 80%, they are getting worried about Smith, they should! So for the best of the party they are willing to play nice...

    Not so, says Klein, but I believe is sour grapes becuase he had only 55% approval and that's why he had to leave, doesn't like Stelmach much!!

    And about Smith, she is very charming, personable and smart, reminds you of Sarah palin!
    Let's just hope doesn't turn in to one, will be interesting to see what their policies.

    But the first thing they need to do, is to change that horrible, I really mean horrible name "Wildrose alliance", it is so cartoonish, reminds me of a tatoo, not good, they need something that people will take them more seriously! Or maybe not, keep it like that because I do not like the party, too separatist!


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