Thursday, March 16, 2006

Whatever happened to grey?

Babble on.

Greg Bester's a good guy. Yes, he's an unrepentant lefty, but having shared many conversations and at least one pint with him, I can assure you he's not one of the dangerously hydrophobic ones.

That's why when he posts ridiculously black-and-white rhetoric like this, I get frustrated:

Harper rejects the need for a national visionary -- someone who will speak for and help coordinate the nation as we move forward on, all fronts. That is not compatible with Stephen Harper's provincialist agenda.


I've heard this line of argument before, and it always rankles.

First off, let's dispense with the fiction that our federal government can't "speak for and help coordinate the nation" without passing down stone tablets from Mount Rideau. Coordination is not coercion. And we don't elect only one set of representatives to speak for us at one central level of government. We elect different representatives at different levels to speak for us on different issues - because we have differences.

Which leads to my second point: bitch and complain about the outdated division of powers between federal and provincial legislatures all you like, but unless you want to abolish provincial distinctions entirely, please acknowledge that some division is necessary and useful. Trudeau's famous quip about decentralization was that the federal government would become nothing more than "headwaiter to the provinces." Unfortunately, those opposing Trudeau's vision have never had an equally charismatic leader to point out that the provinces under his plan have crept ever-closer to being nothing more disgruntled clerks and fall-guys for the federal bosses.

The truth is that neither absolute is accurate: provincial and federal governments share power, responsibility, and means in various proportions on various policy fronts in an ever-shifting balance. Harper's position is simply that it's time for the pendulum to swing back the other way a little.

William Thorsell's characterization of this longstanding debate seems far more accurate than Greg's:

[After Meech Lake]...we fell back into the cartoon version of Confederation, in which war rages between trust in ourselves as a federation of varied provinces, and bitter rivalries between two levels of government that hold each other in mortal contempt.


It absolutely baffles me that otherwise reasonable people can't bring themselves to admit that a federal government focused more on its own exclusive areas of responsibility and a little less on those delegated to the provinces might actually be more effective in strengthening our union than one which is jack-of-all-trades but master of none.

Greg likens a rebalancing of federal and provincial responsibility and authority to "strip-mining the federal government." A bit of deliberately ugly imagery, that. I'd argue that Trudeau clear-cut old-growth forests of provincial bailiwicks, and that Harper just wants to plant a few seedlings.

Babble off.

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