Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Quebec and the Federal Spending Power

Not surprisingly now that Quebec has been formally recognized as a nation inside of Canada (see the resolution supported by all of our current leaders and leaders to be) the debate in Quebec now turns to setting out the details of what that means.

From a legal point of view, my inclination is to say, please refer to s. 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and review the extensive list of powers reserved to the Provincial government. Stepping back and looking at that list it is hard to see anything, except the power to enter into international treaties and to wage war, that distinguishes any of the Provinces from a nation. The only flaw is the fact that there is another level of government that has overarching powers to make laws for the 'Peace, Order and Good Government' of Canada whose laws are paramount in the event of a conflict. As the Supreme Court of Canada recently held this actually means that there are very extensive areas of co-existence between the Federal government and the Provincial governments and most issues in this regard will be resolved by political give and take rather than legal fiat.

Reading deeper into the article and seeing its references to limiting the Federal spending power, one sees that what is really at issue therefore is not defining Quebec's national powers (except possibly their desire for their own cock-of-the-diplomats) but instead the gutting of the Federal government. But it we all recognize that this is not on as a part of a larger national discussion -- there are just too many areas where most Canadians do expect the Federal government to act and none of us will be content to see those powers definitively removed as a matter of law rather than a matter of evolving politics.

In fact though, this is all a tempest in a teapot that will get the Trudeau/Mulroney/Harper (take your pick) haters worked up into a lather (see the comments in the Globe online edition). This is really theatre for the Quebec audience only as the various parties try to position themselves on the Plains of Abraham to best re-enact the version where Wolfe if killed and Montcalm triumphs. Quebeckers recognize this for what it is and given their increasingly sophisticated view of the world will watch the politicians go through their paces on this issue but judge them on things like the economy, labour peace and public services.


Quebec wants to define 'nation' status
Canadian Press
August 7, 2007 at 4:23 AM EDT
QUEBEC — The provincial government plans to force the federal government's hand on how it views the division of powers with the provinces and spending, Quebec Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Benoît Pelletier says.
Premier Jean Charest's government also wants to finally see Quebec's distinctiveness recognized in the Constitution in a charter of open federalism.
Quebec wants the federal government to address the division of jurisdictions between Ottawa and the provinces and intends to press Ottawa on the matter, Mr. Pelletier said in an interview yesterday.
He also wants the federal government to spell out precisely how it sees the federation operating and wants Ottawa to limit spending in provincial jurisdictions.
The provincial government is wading into constitutional waters again to short-circuit any resurgence in sovereigntist support for the Parti Québécois under new Leader Pauline Marois and curtail any flirtation with the autonomist platform of Mario Dumont's Action Démocratique du Québec.
"We will be very insistent," Mr. Pelletier said.
However, a source in the federal government said Quebec will have to get the support of the opposition parties before embarking on any new constitutional adventures.
Mr. Pelletier said he wants the federal government to be specific in its recognition of Quebec on its national characteristics as well as the limits of federal spending powers.
The federal government has already recognized the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada but has never really been clear about what that means.
Mr. Pelletier said that instead of being a vague document, he wants the charter to be a blueprint for future dealings with the provinces.
He said a charter of open federalism could be a significant contribution to modern Canada and signal the advent of a "much healthier federalism."
"If Ottawa is not ready to define the contents of this charter, I am," Mr. Pelletier said.

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