Thursday, October 1, 2009

Devolution or Dysfuntion?

I saw this article today and I found it profoundly troubling on several fronts.

Provincial governments are elected based on an avowedly narrow and exclusive mandate - their job is to advance the interests of their population without any requirement for regarding the interests of others. The Alberta government's entire electorate resides in Alberta, after all. Parochialism is also a risk - one has only to look at the Alberta government's ludicris speculation about a provincial cap-and-trade system in years past. It is unrealistic to expect provincial governments, which lack the information, the inclination or the mandate, to develop good national policy.

The dysfunction in Ottawa is the result of Stephen Harper's style of politics, not the minority government system as Roger Gibbons proposes. No compliment should be taken there by the opposition parties, who have also done themselves no credit, but the responsibility lies with the power - on the Harper conservatives. Harper has not proven willing to work with Canada's moderate majority, or with the restrictions and subtlties of Wesminster democracy.

More troublingly Harper does not appear to appreciate the importance of a strong federal government. The actions taken by provincial leaders that Gibbons is lauding are taken to fill a gap left by Harper's weak and divisive leadership. Historically the Premiers' provincial protectionism has been an impediment to progress. The fact that premiers from the former "regions" are beginning to recognize the importance of national standards is a progressive move toward better governance, but certainly not one that indicates a declining role for the national government.

In my view the increasing complexity and scale of the challenges facing Canadians requires increased leadership and engagement from the Federal government. That even the provinces see it and are acting collectively simply damns the absence of leadership from the top, it doesn't point the way to a better future.

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