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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Here we go again...

As I sat at my kitchen table eating my cereal this morning, I came across this while perusing the Toronto Star's online edition. It seems as though our Prime Minister is looking to reopen the constitutional debate. To use Martha Hall Findlay's line, it's a bold move; audacious even. But how serious is Harper, really?

He says we need to make constitutional changes, "not just to accommodate Quebec but also to accommodate the demands we have from the West and from other parts of the country -- and from the population of Canada." Fair enough. I guess all we have to do now is make a list of "demands" to be accommodated, and we're all set. Is Harper prepared to accommodate the demands of the 40-50% of Quebecers who consistently support the Bloc Quebecois and the Parti Quebecois? These people want their own country; is Harper prepared to yield? What about conflicting demands? The Alberta and Ontario governments are dissatisfied with the equalization formula. They figure they're paying too much. The governments of provinces in Atlantic Canada are dissatisfied with the equalization formula. They figure they're not getting enough. Who's right? Is there a middle ground to be achieved?

Harper also says Canadians are demanding "that our constitution be renewed and that it be updated and that it be modernized and that it be democratic; that we have, for example, a Parliament where everyone's elected." This one really made me laugh. Our constitution is, what, maybe 24 years old? I wasn't aware it needed to be "updated and modernized." I've always found it to be a very modern, progressive and, dare I say, democratic document. Be that as it may, the Prime Minister seems to be referring to the "demands" of Canadians who say they want an elected Senate. Yes, you heard it here first. Forget about health care, or education, or environmental policy, or taxes! Canadians are marching in the streets as we speak, clamouring for an elected Senate! Don't believe me? Check this out. Oops. Wrong Chamber. My advice to Harper: Perhaps you should work on making sure the House is elected first before you start worrying about the Senate.

All in all, I'm concerned about Harper's enthusiasm for reopening the Constitutional debate. It worries me because he seems to be approaching the issue with no parameters on the part of the federal government. He offers no standards to be met. He demands no guarantees. In other words, his bargaining position is weak. But perhaps this is exactly what he wants. Having never been a fan of the federal government's historical, if not constitutional role in setting comprehensive national goals and standards, perhaps Stephen Harper is willing to give the provinces whatever they want. Perhaps he really is serious about implementing a new vision for Canada, one in which Canada really isn't the Canada we have come to know. Maybe all the commentators were right. Maybe he really does want to wipe away the nation-building achievements of MacDonald, Laurier, Trudeau and others. Is Harper serious? For the sake of Canada, I certainly hope not.