It's come to this

Belgian editorialist recommends Canadian model for fixing what ails a federation.

Luc Delfosse at Le Soir has been busy lately, bemoaning his lovely country’s latest national-unity crisis.

It’s complex. (It’s Belgium. You didn’t think it would be complex?) Yves Leterme, the hard-nosed Flemish guy who has resigned three times from the prime minister’s job, has been returned a fourth time by the head of state, King Albert the Not Very Flexible. But Albert has, at a minimum, clipped Leterme’s wings: His mandate now is to govern only on economic matters — to give Belgium the simple administrative government it has lacked during more than a year of excruciating attempts to square assorted communitarian circles. To handle that headache, Albert has appointed a three-person wise persons’ committee to contemplate (yet another) constitutional reform.

That’s where Delfosse comes in with his advice. “We cannot too strongly recommend that they come back on the 31st with a Canadian-type scenario,” he writes. “In that other divided country, the future of entities is discussed within a national Conference bringing together all the actors of the society.”

I confess I’m not entirely clear on what Delfosse is describing. I suspect he is referring to first ministers’ meetings from the late, decadent phase of Mulroney-era federalism, when not only provincial and federal governments but territories, the Assembly of First Nations, assorted other aboriginal groups, the Business Council on National Issues and just about everyone else with a nameplate and a sleeping bag would gather at the Conference Centre across from the Château Laurier for days stretching into weeks.

It has been a few years since “all the actors of the society” met to discuss the future of Canada’s entities. And indeed, Canada is noticeably less divided than it used to be. One wants to tell the Belgians, gently, that the (relatively!) healthy state of our federation has less to do with Trudeau-Mulroney-era constitutional grands-messes than with the fact that we don’t do that any more.