PODIUM

Troubled view from the sidelines

‘Government policies are being shaped by bureaucratic megalomania ’

David Lewis February 23 1981
PODIUM

Troubled view from the sidelines

‘Government policies are being shaped by bureaucratic megalomania ’

David Lewis February 23 1981

Troubled view from the sidelines

‘Government policies are being shaped by bureaucratic megalomania ’

PODIUM

David Lewis

My belief that Canada is one of the greatest countries on earth is a sentiment I have expressed on hundreds of platforms across this land. And indeed Canada is. But a very troublesome trend is unfolding in Canada these days: centralism has become totally insensitive and regionalism has gone wild. I consider it nothing less than sinister for a provincial premier to feel free to cut the amount of oil he makes available to the rest of Canada as a pressure tactic to force the central government to change its policies. When a member of OPEC used or threatened to use oil to force a consumer country to change its stance on an international issue, we did not hesitate to condemn it as blackmail.

It is equally intolerable for the same premier to hold up the development of the tar sands as part of the same pressure tactic, knowing full well that his action is bound to hurt the country’s future. Peter Lougheed’s actions seem to be based on the premise that not only does Alberta have rights that derive from its ownership of the resource, but that other Canadians have no right to treat it as part of their country’s wealth, thereby giving them a legitimate interest in it. According to this assumption, the resource might as well be located in one of the emirates, as far as Canadians outside Alberta are concerned.

However, my criticism of Lougheed’s actions is not for a moment to be taken as support for the Trudeau government’s behavior, or its budget. Indeed, as I have watched the federal government’s authoritarian behavior with regard to the constitution and to the energy question, it has seemed that its policies were being shaped by bureaucratic megalomania rather than by political wisdom—at a time when humility and wisdom were urgently demanded by the delicacy of the relationships.

Yet politics and policies aside, the question remains: what are the rights and interests of Canada as a whole with respect to resources located in, and owned by, the provinces? Although I accept as desirable the growing power of the provinces and their increasingly important role in the decision-making process, I reject the notion that ownership of a resource gives the province exclusive control over every aspect of it. The resource is also part of the country’s wealth, and when the national interests of all Canadians are involved it is not only the right, but the duty of the federal Parliament and government to protect those interests. This may involve the pace and direction of development; it certainly involves the price to Canadian consumers, which has a direct effect on the cost of living and on the entire economy.

Nor is it possible for me to accept the notion that federal taxes on corporations should be confined to the income tax

on profits or that they should be limited in any other way. The major purpose and duty of the federal authorities is to remove regional disparities and to promote equality across the country. Unfortunately, until now governments have failed in this duty, but this merely makes tax reform more urgent as well as more burdensome. The provision of the BN A Act that states that the Parliament of Canada has the authority to raise money “by any Mode or System of Taxation” must not be watered down. Indeed, this area will become more important if, as seems likely, the constitution is amended to give the provinces the right to impose indirect taxes on natural resources—a right they have not had hitherto.

To insist that the areas mentioned above be retained for the Parliament and government of Canada is not to interfere with the powers of the provinces in the ownership and

the development of their resources and their economies. It is merely to assert that all Canadians should share in their country’s wealth wherever it may be found.

Western Canadians smart whenever they hear this assertion about sharing. And who can blame them? For more than a century their legitimate grievances and pleas have been ignored. They have suffered from tariffs, freight rates and from the concentration of economic strength which bene^fited Central Canada at their I expense. Now that their natural resources may enable them to build stronger, viable econoumies, they are asked, or even forced, to make sacrifices for the rest of Canada to a degree that had not been extended to them.

I think I understand their anger and frustration, but they should punish the system, governments and parties, responsible for the past, not all Canadians. Nor will the future welfare of Canadians be protected if the federal institutions are rendered weak and ineffective.

History has taught us that no matter how carefully rights and powers are codified, there is often disagreement about the precise line dividing jurisdiction. We have also learned that it is not uncommon for declared federal interests to collide with provincial objectives. These crucial areas of possible disagreement and conflict demand a genuine co-operative federalism of negotiation, accommodation and compromise. Unfortunately, it is precisely these imperatives that have been lacking in recent negotiations.

What worries me is the likelihood that any prolongation of insensitive centralism and narrow provincialism will render impossible co-operative federalism in the future. I therefore appeal to Trudeau and Lougheed to stop acting like fighting cocks and begin acting like responsible statesmen. I hope it is not too late.

David Lewis is the former leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada.