Some readers of this blog will have noticed that the Globe’s front page story yesterday concerned the yet-to-be announced plans of the federal government to add roughly 30 seats to the House of Commons, taking it to approximately 340 seats from the current 308. Those same readers may have also noticed that this was immediately followed by nationalist sabre-rattling in Quebec and craven commentary by so-called “experts” to the effect that Canada might well not survive an attempt to guarantee that the votes of all Canadians might have roughly equal weight in the election of the Commons and therefore the government of Canada. Check this out from the Montreal Gazette:
Bloc House leader Pierre Paquette noted that Quebec’s National Assembly had adopted a motion unanimously denouncing the federal government’s previous attempt to redraw the electoral map. He said the issue would give Quebecers an additional reason to turn away from the Conservatives in the next election.
“I’m convinced there will be a public outcry in Quebec over the Conservative proposal,” said Paquette. “For us this is a major issue, and I think it shows once again that the Conservatives have crossed out (appealing to voters in) Quebec.”
Even Michael Ignatieff succumbed to this shameful pandering, trying to make an attempt by the government to level the electoral playing field appear to be a Tory plan to do down Quebec, a province that, like 6 others, will receive no new MPs.
Only the growing provinces that have remained closest to Canada’s founding values, BC, Alberta, and Ontario, will get new seats. And they’ll do so not as a result of some mean-spirited political plot, but because those are the successful dynamic parts of the country where more and more Canadians live. That’s what believing in lower taxes, smaller government, a strong work ethic, well designed social programmes, economic growth, openness to immigration and so on will do for you.
For my take in this issue, have a look at the op-ed I wrote in today’s Globe (26/9/09), in which I draw on research in Fearful Symmetry to show that Quebec’s loss of demographic, economic and political weight is the direct outcome of the bidding war for the loyalty of Quebeckers, and that this loss of power and influence cannot be ignored in our political institutions. Indeed I point out that this is just the beginning of the coming shift in political power. By 2031, on current trends, Quebec should expect to have only 75 seats out of 375, with virtually all of the oncrease going to the new power coalition of BC, Alberta and Ontario. They have the people — they get the votes.
The nerve and hypocrisy of the extreme elements of the nationalist movement in Quebec never ceases to amaze me. Here are Gilles Duceppe and his colleagues saying that Quebec’s weight in parliament must not fall; they promise to do everything they can to frustrate the new seat distribution. These are the same people who, in the name of sacred and inviolable democracy, say that any vote by Quebeckers to leave Confederation is final and unquestionable. Apparently, however, they have no problem with waving democracy (in the form of one person, one vote) aside when its application may be inconvenient to them. Have they no shame?
In a stimulating post on her excellent blog, Janet Ajzenstat wrote recently about her opposityion to Ottawa’s use of its spending power. Citing Barry Cooper’s new book, It’s the Regime, Stupid, she offers some thoughts about why we should think the spending power is both a bad idea and constitutionally illegitimate. I know, I know, only a nerd would care about the federal spending power (as opposed to our personal spending power, which *everybody* cares about!) , but I am a nerd, so what can I say? Here’s what I said in response to Janet’s post:
I agree with much that you have to say about the harmful effects of the spending power. On the other hand, saying something is harmful is not the same thing as saying that it is illegal or unconstitutional. In particular, I note that a lot of people seem to think that federal spending under the spending power is by definition excluded by the constitutional division of powers. But if we actually read the language of the constitution, we quickly see that it is very very precise as to what it says: the power distributed by the constitution to the provinces and to Ottawa is the power to *legislate*. Ottawa may not *legislate* in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.
But spending is not legislating. Ottawa does not use the spending power to legislate in areas of provincial jurisdiction. It uses the spending power to make gifts (with or without conditions attached) to people or organisations or provinces, something one can reasonable argue is not excluded by a distribution of legislative powers. Gifts may be refused, and indeed Duplessis famously refused federal money for many years.
The provinces moan continuously about the spending power, but they have the means to get rid of it: their exclusive right to legislate in their areas of jurisdiction. They may legislate out of existence the federal spending power intrusions into their jurisdiction by passing a law saying that no person or organisation or institution on their territory shall take money from Ottawa for e.g. educational purposes. But they donÃ¢â¬â¢t do this. Why? Because they want the money.
The alternative, of course, would be to appeal to the courts to have the spending power ruled unconstitutional. But they donÃ¢â¬â¢t. Why? because they know the courts almost certainly will not agree Ã¢â¬â otherwise the provinces would have had this shut down years ago.
Finally, why does everyone only moan about the federal spending power? By what constitutional head of power do Quebec and other provinces maintain what are clearly foreign representative offices abroad? Why can Quebec give grants to other provinces for e.g. French-language education purposes without anyone saying a word, when this is surely just as offensive as Ottawa spending in provincial areas of jurisdiction? Provinces are happy to use their spending power for their purposes when it suits them.
For what it is worth, I think people getting all exercised about the spending power is a mistake. I think it is constitutionally legitimate, and the courts have never disagreed. If the provinces thought they had a case, they would have had it ruled out years ago. They donÃ¢â¬â¢t try because they know they wonÃ¢â¬â¢t win. The issue is that it is misused, like many other federal powers. But if we think the feds spend wastefully and stupidly on e.g. defence, we donÃ¢â¬â¢t clamour to have their defence power taken away. We clamour for them to smarten up and fly right. IMHO it should be the same for the spending power.