By: Clement Nocos
Last Sunday’s Quebec all-leaders’ debate saw all party leaders, of both sovereigntist and federalist stripes, list their grievances against Ottawa. PQ leader Pauline Marois touted more fights with the federal government for their ignorance of attention towards Quebec. Federalist CAQ party leader Francois Legault sold himself as a strong, nationalist leader that could stand up to the Harper Government. Premier Charest, though he provoked the sovereignty issue several times during the debate to establish the LPQ as the strong federalist option, can’t be seen to be “on his knees for Ottawa” if he is to win re-election.
Quebec party leaders at last Sunday’s televised debate. None wanted to appear too friendly with Ottawa, even the federalists.
Pundits from the Rest of Canada are quick to jump and accuse Quebec’s unanimous disenchantment with the federal government as clamouring to further unbalance an asymmetrical federal arrangement in La Belle province’s favour. But it’s not just the Quebec leadership in the midst of an election frenzy that have been caught up crying for attention or condemning foul from the federal government.
Last month’s Council of the Federation meeting between Canada’s premiers saw the provinces unanimously lament the Prime Minister’s absence from the intergovernmental summit. Premiers from BC’s Christy Clark to Nova Scotia’s Darrell Dexter have all called for more interaction with the federal government.
Alberta Premier Allison Redford would benefit from federal support in her ongoing dispute with Christy Clark over Northern Gateway Pipeline royalties, yet the federal government has appeared somewhat distant from the interprovincial spat, citing constitutional boundaries that haven’t stopped the federal government from overstepping in the past.
I can’t say that Ontario Premier McGuinty was too thrilled when he was snubbed by the PM in last month’s meeting with Rob Ford over Toronto’s recent spate of gun violence. For what was supposed to be a summit to coordinate crime and public safety policy between the three levels of government that preside over the city of Toronto, there was little in the way of cooperation or talk for that matter.
It’s not just the Government of Quebec that is howling about Ottawa’s inattention, it’s every provincial government. With the federal government’s current offloading of responsibilities to the provinces, without consultation with provincial counterparts, the premiers (and anyone vying for the premiership job) are using their distance from Ottawa not as a weakness but as a strength. ‘Standing up to Ottawa’ has displaced any promise to work with the feds. I would not be surprised to see the same anti-Harper Government language and rhetoric played out in next year’s provincial election in British Columbia. Threatening sovereignty in Quebec has become a rather blunt solution to addressing current problems in intergovernmental relations.
Thomas Mulcair’s announcement last week that the NDP would seek to run a provincial wing of the party in Quebec’s next election is not just a federalist solution for the province’s left-wing, but also a means to address intergovernmental inadequacies. The NDP at both provincial and federal levels is the only Canadian political party to coordinate communications and policy between the two upper tiers of government. Were the NDP to become the next federal government, there would be more channels for intergovernmental discourse wherever the party was in power or in opposition at the provincial level. Though this may lead to an accelerated centralization of Canadian federalism, provinces would be able to bring their grievances directly to the federal government rather than the current shouting at Ottawa from a distance.
If the federal government wanted to get on the provinces’ good side, it would need to allow intergovernmental conversations, even if it didn’t agree with much of what they had to say. For now, bashing the federal government (and the state of the federation) has become a regular past time for provincial governments, as long as they are ignored by Ottawa. In the case of Quebec, the sheer lack of intergovernmental discourse endangers the federation by only sharpening sovereigntist sentiments.