Would you like some freedom fries with that?

Maxime Bernier addresses the faithful in Quebec City

Maxime Bernier addresses the faithful in Quebec City.

Supporters of big government have been in power for fifty years. They have brought us to a constitutional and economic dead end. Every day they endanger our prosperity and freedom a little more. It is high time for supporters of freedom to get together and propose a new realistic vision of Quebec’s future.

Let’s state it loudly and forcefully: we need a smaller, less interventionist and less centralized government in Ottawa; but also a smaller, less interventionist and less controlling government in Quebec City. A new chapter in Quebec’s history is being written beginning today. And together, through the strength of our convictions, we are the ones who shall be its main characters!

As to the question of federal spending power, there is plenty to be read. For the sake of argument, a paper written for the Library of Parliament in 1991 concludes as follows.

By funding national programs, even those within provincial jurisdiction, the federal government has some ability to equalize national standards. With EPF programs, even although there is no federal control over actual expenditures, the amount transferred is on a per capita basis. If, however, the federal government removed its funding and turned over tax room or tax points, the result could easily be inequitable from one province to another. Poorer provinces would receive less per capita than richer provinces, though they would be applying the same percentage increase in provincial taxation. If actual funds were transferred on a per capita basis, the results would be fairer but national standards might still suffer.

Overall, it seems that little has changed since La Forest wrote his landmark text; the issue remains one of standards, funding and co-ordinating mechanisms, rather than of constitutional change:

What the foregoing reflects is that in Canadian federalism, the real battleground in the constitutional distribution of fiscal powers is not the taxing power. … Rather, it is in connection with the federal spending power that the most incisive thinking must be directed to determine how the legitimate claims of the federal government (regarding, for example, the control of the economy, mobility of Canadians, equalization and the alleviation of disparities) can be accommodated to the equally legitimate claims of the provinces in seeing to the maintenance of the character of provincial society. But whatever changes may be made at the constitutional level, these will not displace the need for ongoing practical arrangements to meet the evolving needs of society.

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