Can Saskatchewan be nationalist?


It’s not often I find myself agreeing with Lawrence Martin, but I think he raises a few good points in his column in today’s Globe about the Tories’ decision to grant more economic autonomy to the provinces:

There’s plenty of room for cynicism. It’s well known that the PM will do anything to woo Quebec politically. Letting the province negotiate a unilateral labour-mobility agreement with France can be seen as some rather timely toadying. Shouldn’t he be doing more for labour mobility between Ontario and Quebec?

Extending his autonomy push to other regions smacks of smart politics as well. Headwaiter to the provinces? How about head cashier at the polling booths. Westerners will lovingly see it as a kick at the Toronto-Ottawa dictatorship. It’s gravy for la belle province and down East, loud guys like Danny Williams won’t be complaining.

Every time the federal government does something that carries even the faintest whiff of decentralization, it’s always denounced as “pandering” to Quebec nationalists. To wit, John McCallum called it a “cynical attempt to play to the nationalists in Quebec” and Elizabeth May said “in the guise of accommodation to Quebec,” the Conservatives are prepared to weaken Canada as a whole. (Pandering to federalists, it appears, is a much more noble pursuit.) Even the Globe’s headline describes reaction to the deal as “mixed,” even though, as Martin points out, the provinces who don’t like it seem few and far between.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach:

“We’ve always advocated, as the province of Alberta, to be involved in those negotiations that have an impact on our province, and the Prime Minister has heard us very clearly and reflected that position in this latest policy change.”

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan:

“Strengthening partnerships between governments is absolutely essential to maximizing our economic advantage.”

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall:

“I think recognizing that flexibility and supporting and using the strengths of the provinces, who understand their economies perhaps better than any federal government could … that’s just wise. It’s good policy and it’s good for the country.”

Sure Manitoba’s Gary Doer said everything “works the way it is right now.” But assuming Williams and Charest are on board—and it’s probably safe a safe assumption—there appears to be as close to a consensus as you can get when it comes to federal-provincial affairs in Canada.

I’m not hopeful this will finally silence the “What does Quebec want?” braying that always seems to pop up when this stuff gets discussed. But it should at least show that, sometimes, the answer is “pretty much what every other province wants.”


Can Saskatchewan be nationalist?

  1. But, of course, Mr. Harper will only go so far — provinces can’t open supervised injection sites unless they conduct their business in la langue de moliere.

  2. It’s reassuring to know that if I ever need to remember what Elizabeth May thinks about granting more economic autonomy to the provinces, I am not limited to searching the G&M archives.

  3. Danny Williams talks autonomy (that’s a new word he learned in Quebec) while at the same time demanding less of it. Almost everything he wants to do is also something that he demands federal money for.

  4. Concise, insightful, and a pretty damn near perfect summary of things, PW. Thanks for this.

  5. I think the real problem is that the media can't remember their narrative from one week to the next. Not so long ago the agreed upon narrative and reality was that the Conservatives had a defacto majority because the Liberals had no stomach for an election. Absolutely nothing has changed to invalidate that narrative so the idea that ministers have to be constantly worried about whether or not they`ll still be there six months from now and can`t plan because of the media fabricated threats of an imminent election is nothing less than absurd.

  6. The goal of the LIB/NDP/Greens should be the immediate defeat of Stephen Harper. If that means "non-competes" amongst them, so be it. If the Left fails to oust Harper now, he'll chip away at them with a minority, or god forbid he gets his majority, he'll but his boots to their throats and choke them one by one. A united Left is required (in the short term) to eliminate the Harper threat now. They may not have this chance, in the future!

    • your problem is the Liberals aren't a left-wing party.

  7. "The Liberals, for their part, are trapped in an endless loop of shock and indignation."

    They need to find a single coherent narrative which says why the Conservatives should be turfed and why the Liberals offer a better alternative, and then keep hammering away at the government with variations on this same theme over and over again until it penetrates public consciousness. It's been hard to do with Harper because he is such a moving target – he keeps throwing every dearly held belief he ever had under the bus for the sake of maintaining power. But the people around Iggy absolutely do know how to do this. It's just a matter of finding the right narrative.

  8. I agreee with Ken that the best thing the Lib/NDP/Greens can do is unite into one party. This will obviously take a lot of work and compromises. But the alternative is for each of them to disappear in the "war of attrition" that Tom Flanagan has written about.

    TVO had a show about uniting the left a couple of months ago. Dr. Flanagan suggested it is up to the strongest party, the Libs, to take the initiative and make most of the concessions to get the left united. Similar to how Harper gave the Progressive Conservatives most of what they wanted prior to the CA/PC merger. One (possibly insurmountable) stumbling block is what to CALL the merged party. Maybe "Labour" ?

    • You make a good argument CJ, but one stumbling block you didn't mention is the NDP membership– they would rather stick needles filled with liquified CO2 in their eyes than merge with the Liberals. Most of the people I've known who're Dippers (and no, I am not nor have ever been a member of the NDP!) have a far more contemptuous disdain for Liberals than for Conservatives. At least that's the case here in Ont, not sure about other places.

      • I agree it's a huge challenge for Layton to convince his membership to go along with a merger. I recall the PC convention, where they passed a resolution to have "no truck or trade" with the Canadian Alliance. There was a lot of animisoty towards the CA then. But a change of leadership (Joe Clark to Peter MacKay), plus pressure from financial backers, plus Harper's legwork got the job done in uniting the right.

        So maybe it's a matter of leadership and (lack of) money that will spur the Dippers. It just seems to me that the upsides for the left are huge. Including having a big leadership race, with some heavy hitters stepping forward to lead the united Party, big media attention, and so on. What else does the Left have to do in the meantime? Just more nitpicking and criticizing everything Harper does won't get them anywhere.

        • Don't forget MacKay's complete betrayal of his promise to the PC party.. it took that too.

    • Dude, Where's My Party?

      They would have to call it the Grey Party.

      Grey would be the appropriate name not just because when you mix all those colours together you get a disgusting grey sludge, but also because each of those parties would have to compromise away the few existing differences between them to the point where all that is remaining is a mushy grey mass of kindas and sort ofs.

      Besides, Canadians already have a team of indistinguishable like-minded automatons… It's called Parliament.

      James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, said recently that it is "the role of the government to support the creation of Canadian content".

      If this is the opinion of the "right" in Canada, then there is no "right" in Canada.

      But of course, we already knew that. Every election we are confronted with the choice between left-centre-left and left-left-centre.

      Perhaps Canadians should be going to the Governor General and asking her to prorogue parliament indefinitely.

  9. Oh yeah, one other thing :

    "There is no reason to expect the winner of the next election to have a majority either."

    When you were slagging Iggy in yesterday's post, you didn't mention this, I thought a bit unfairly. Being the Prime Minister in a minority Parliament with the Conservatives as the Official Opposition wouldn't exactly be much of a prize. Better to wait until conditions are right (or should I say, ripe) for at least a decent shot at a majority. The Liberals are not there yet. The longer the polls show the Liberals in the lead, the weaker Harper's grip on his fractious party becomes, the more their discipline breaks down, the more unforced errors occur. If this analysis holds true, time is on the Liberals' side.

    • Yeah, that should happen before the year 3000.

  10. It's definitely correct that the Liberals need to find a concise narrative. Scandals tend to just be a pretext for getting rid of a government when enough swing voters have gotten bored with them or decided that they're "arrogant." Mulroney survived an endless string of scandals before finally getting turfed. The Liberals sailed through a bunch too, until people decided to latch on to sponsorship after people tired of the endless leadership wrangling. One thing that baffles me is how the media are obsessed with the fact that the opposition keeps hammering away at scandals, and how this is so unprecedented. All the opposition ever talked about during the Chretien era was an endless parade of scandals–some real, some fake. Fundamentally, and I'm clearly not the only one saying this, the main problem is with the media. They are positively allergic to covering any kind of policy or fundamental issue. Regardless of whether you approve of the policy or not, it's absolutely disgraceful that on the day of Dion's carbon tax announcement, you had to wade through line after line of inane analysis of every detail of the spin and rollout until the last three paragraphs, which provided some vague information about what the policy actually entailed. Harper was able to completely get away with having, by their own admission, absolutely no platform. How can we possibly have an informed electorate when regular readers of the newspaper of record can't even hope to understand the most important issues of an election.

    • Give Wells credit, he did attempt to raise substantive questions about the Conservative enviro plan last election and got 20 seconds of mumbled nothings out of Haprer for it. Apparently Harper also arranged for him to get the seat nearest the john in the reporters section of Air Tory.

      Ask a substantive question and you tend to get nothing but unusable sludge. Ask about your opponent's hair and you may get a soundbyte. The media is trained away from substance, which of course exacerbates their natural tendencies.

  11. Ah! Yes – the advice to wait … all sounds very reasonable of course and all very good advice – but it doesn't work as against my boy Stevie it misses the point entirely as every day Harper sits in the PM's chair is another day to put another nail in the box where the Liberals hide. If Harper were worried about his unpopularity numbers he would have retired a long time ago. There seem to be alot of people who underestimate him and allow thier passion to immediately judge him according to the latest spin from the oppostion and he rarely does anything to counter only when absolutely necessary – have you ever wondered why? – Some times it can pay to go back and study history and a strange pattern starts to emerge with the leaders canadians choose – often they are not the brightest bulbs in the box except for an innate ability to be underestimated, drive their opponents crazy and have very thick skin. If the Igster waits too long and lets Harper claim success on the economy, the reason for so many gold medals at the winter olympics and wrap himself in the flag while he brings the troops home .. well let's just say I doubt that triple play would help the Lib's future plans.

  12. Your boy Stevie is never going to get a majority. He should think about other career options. I'm sure that there are lots of job opportunities for Vulcans these days.

    • you missed the point – he doesn't care about a majority as he governs as if he had one anyways which is precisley the point why the Lib's are eternal frustration mode and he also doesn't need to worry about career moves as a 2 term PM what else would a person want except to kepp going on as an elder statesman and watch his opponents fall by the wayside – it's a very old story!

  13. Yes, the vast majority of Liberals feel exactly the same way.

    • Hmmm, I'm not so sure. Liberals tend to be more pragmatic about making compromises to obtain power. (Yes yes folks, pile on about how the Libs are unprincipled etc. etc. etc. I'm just sayin'.) NDP supporters would see it as more of a "sellout" to merge with the Liberals than Liberals would see it the other way around.

      Also, yes, there is animosity felt by Liberals toward the NDP, but it tends to not be as fanatical/visceral as that felt by Dippers toward Libs.

  14. I heard an excellet report on CBC Radio when the first problem hit. It said:

    1. No other country in the world allows politicians to over rule Nuclar Expert's decisions.
    2. Canada restarted the reactor without repairs because it wasn't willing to pay the prices for isotopes demanded by other countries.
    3. Now we will beg other countries to supply us. But the truth is that those that product will look after themselves first, and prices of product will increase significantly. Don't expect miracles here – we will be constrained for quite some time. R

  15. A well written article – many thanks!

  16. I think this has a lot to do with the constant turnover in the Liberal leader's office, from Martin to Bill Graham to Stéphane Dion to Ignatieff. The Liberals have fallen into stale habits because nobody has been around long enough to remember that there was ever another way to operate.

    Interesting insight. How many veteran Liberals with more than 20 years of experience are sitting at the big table when important LPC decisions are made?

    • Keep believing this, it's good.

      • Believing what?

  17. Chretien was a good PM but he left a crappy political legacy. Adscam and his political financing laws both tainted the liberal brand and gave small parties far more power – hence the resurgence of the Bloc and the rise of the useless Green party (unlike its eco-capitalist brethren, the federal Green Party is just another generic vaguely left wing party). The result: a Liberal majority has become impossible.

    A Conservative majority was possible, but just barely, and like the Mulroney coalition, would have been unsustainable. Such an alliance would be based on common support for decentralization, but the thirst of soft nationalists for more power can never be slaked. Even that unstable majority is impossible today – not just under Harper, but under anybody. That Harper is polarizing is not really his fault. If he was less bloody-minded his minority would have fallen, and anyway, he has not at all governed as a hardline conservative, yet cannot shake the label.

    We need a Preston Manning to call for Refoooorms in the institutions of government so as to get a country that works.

  18. Majorities are virtually impossible so long as the Bloc Quebecois dominates francophone Quebec as it does. CPC can go low in the Quebec polls but this means nothing to the Liberals because to capitualize they have to go mano-a-mano with the Bloc and win big time. Duceppe is not distrusted in Quebec like Harper supposedly is. And Duceppe always has the advantage becuase he does not need to appeal to the Rest of Canada to win.

    In short, because the Liberals are still nowhere in Western Canada, and the magic of vote-splitting no longer delivers virtually all of Ontario to them, the only sure way back to power for Ignatieff's Liberals is to decisively beat Duceppe. He needs to win around 30 of the Bloc's current 49 seats to have any chance, however small, of overtaking Harper.

    I think Ignatieff is asking himself: what are my chances in Quebec against the Bloc? I personally don't see any sign of a massive collapse of the Bloc right now.

    Ignatieff has to wait.

    • In 2000, Chretien won 36 seats in Quebec with a popular vote of 44.2% against 38 seats for the Bloc with 39.9% of the popular vote. The last Nanos shows the Liberals at 38% in Quebec with the Bloc at 35%. More of the federalist vote is split amongst the NDP and 'les Cons' this time compared to 2000. I'd say by this measure, the Liberals have a shot. But I agree, I think it would be better for Iggy to wait.

      • I'm not sure Iggy would be able to replicate Chretien's results – even if polls show him there. Remember, the Tories were tied with or ahead of the Bloc at the start of the 2008 election. Quebec voters are also notoriously fickle about federal politics – many park their votes with a party but change once the election starts. Moreover, the Liberals have a crappy infrastructure in Quebec.

        If Iggy won a summer election it would be more of a 10-point swing in Ontario kind of deal (plus maybe a comeback to 2004 levels in the west and surely some modest improvement in Quebec). Of course those kind of numbers won't give him a majority – he would be lucky to get a Paul Martin-sized minority. I don't think he gave up his comfortable life before politics for such a dubious honour.

        Moreover, a quick minority win might cost Ignatieff a major asset: Harper. If Harper loses he will likely resign, and could be replaced with a less polarizing figure. Somebody like Bernard Lord could be a very frightening opponent. It would also cost him the ability to blame the recession on the Tories too.

        Ignatieff's best bet is to wait till just after the economic recovery starts. Unemployment tends to lag recoveries so he can still hit the Conservatives with the "Tory times are tough times" billy club. Once he wins, he can then take credit for the subsequent economic recovery. With that kind of wind in his sails he can likely win a majority even against a moderate Tory replacement for Harper – possibly driving internecine warfare within the Conservative party.

        • you had me until I read that Bernard Lord would be a frightening opponent. Is there evidence he has any attributes beyond being moderate and francophone?

  19. Of course that's what it's all about. Who will make it, who will win the next election, chances at the next leadership, alliances, backstabbing. It's politics and it's fabulous!!

  20. Um .. no. it took his betrayal of his promise to David Orchard. Not the PC party. I was a PC party member that participated in the vote on whether to merge. My riding's membership, Trinity Spadina, voted 80% plus to merge, as I recall. Deep down we all knew Mackay was taking one for the team doing what he did, and a merger was inevitable

  21. About a year ago, they fired the head of the Nuclear Safety Commission because she wanted shut down the Chalk River reactor for maintenance. I notice that no one mentions her lately.

  22. Lisa Raitt takes away the rights of free bargaining to Air canada staff.  and who”s company will be next….. Yours perhaps

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