Why Not Unite All Nine Provinces?
One central government—that was Sir John A’s original idea, says this writer
JUDGE TURGEON'S article, “I’d Unite the Prairie Provinces,” affords interesting reading. It is interesting because the author, as a former public man, knows his prairies, and as a present-day jurist views their problems with a measure of judicial detachment. It is still more interesting because recent pronouncements of public men indicate that a prairie union has almost become a live political issue.
Prairie union, and union of the Maritime Provinces, are discussed—why? Because of economic conditions and the high cost of too many governments. Governmental burdens that in prosperous times were difficult are now becoming unbearable. Canadians are beginning to realize that among their least desirable assets is a tremendous overburden of government.
Government—self-government, if you like to call it that— is. in fact, Canada’s great national industry.
We have one Federal Government, with a Parliament of 245 commoners, plus ninety-six senators. We have nine provincial governments, with nine separate cabinets and something like 550 legislators. We have an uncounted number of municipal governments. All these governments are money-spending and tax-raising organizations, and each has its entourage of salaried officials.
If government were the keystone of prosjxirity, we ought to be the most prosperous people on the face of the earth. Instead, the question suggests itself:
"If the money we pay to maintain these governments were left in our possession to spend for things we really need far more, would our condition as individual Canadians and as a Dominion be worse? Or would it be better?”
It is primarily to reduce the overburden of government costs that union of the three prairie provinces is being seriously discussed. It is for the same reason that union of the three Maritime Provinces is urged.
Concede that these projects are still in a nebulous state; concede that today they are ideas and nothing more. It is well to remember that, given sufficient pressure of external peril or internal economic difficulty, the mere idea of today may become the accomplished fact of tomorrow.
'Hie accomplished fact in this instance would mean, for six of the nine Canadian provinces, reduced cost of government. The taxpayers of the prairies and of the Maritimes would benefit through tax reduction resulting from the
merging of six existing provinces to form two.
But are there no taxpayers in British Columbia? None in Quebec? None in Ontario?
Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia may well ask:
“Where do we come in? Why can’t we share in these tax reductions? Why should we be singled out to continue staggering under the Atlas burden of too much government?”
In other words, while we are at this job of uniting provinces to reduce the cost of government, why not unite all nine provinces?
An Old Idea
A GOOD many Canadians, accustomed to regard our existing system as the ultimate of perfection even while they groan beneath the incidental burdens, will promptly exclaim :
“Preposterous ! Unthinkable !”
But before condemning the idea as unthinkable, let us enquire: “Was this idea ever thought of before?"
Nearly seventy years ago, a gathering of mature and serious-minded statesmen assembled at Charlottetown to discuss—what? A union, under one government, of the four British colonies—Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. A delegation from the government of the two Canadas crashed the gate, so to speak, and invited the Maritime delegates to discuss the still larger proposition of a union that would bring all six colonies under one government. It was to discuss just such a union, under one government, that the Fathers of Confederation met at Quebec.
Therefore, what the Fathers of Confederation originally set out to do was precisely the same thing that present-day Canadians—perhaps not all of them—exclaim against as unthinkable !
Such a union was the obvious objective. The two Canadas had since 1841 been under a legislative union with a single government. The United Kingdom itself was a legislative union with one strong central government.
The idea of Maritime union, and the suggestion of a larger union embracing all British North America, were lifted from the realm of mere ideas intotherealmofpractical facts by two considerations. One, the threat of war. made vivid by the Trent affair and the Fenian Raids, which made strong central government and united action desirable; the other, the difficult economic conditions of the period, which demanded more efficient and less expensive government.
Sir John A. Macdonald himself makes all this dear. After the Quebec Conference had agreed on the outlines of the present scheme of confederation. Sir John addressed the House of Commons on February 3, 1865, in part as follows:
“Now, as regards the comparative advantages of a Legislative and a Federal Union, I have never hesitated to state my own opinion. I have again and again stated in the House that, if practicable, I thought a Legislative Union would be preferable. I have always contended that if we could agree to have one Government and one Parliament legislating for the whole of these peoples, it would be the best, the cheapest, the most vigorous and the strongest system of government we could adopt.”
The system Sir John preferred, already in vogue in Canada and the Motherland, was the system the Quebec Conference met to discuss. The system actually adopted, a modification of the American federal system, was an afterthought. Brought face to face with the actual consummation, a number of the delegates balked at the sacrifice of local identities. Out of this largely sentimental regard for history and tradition was bom that expensive appendage to the original union idea—our system of provincial governments.
Economic pressure was not sufficiently strong to combat sentiment and tradition. Economic pressure, however, in recent years has become immeasurably stronger. And nothing has contributed more to that economic pressure than the Federal system itself. It has made government in Canada unduly expensive, it has made taxation unduly high, and it has driven thinking men to look for some remedy, however drastic.
In other words, a union of all nine provinces would be merely completing the job which the Fathers of Confederation originally set out to do. It would at last realize the statesmanlike concept of Sir John A. Macdonald—“the best, the cheapest, the most vigorous and the strongest” system of government.
Is Our Federal System Perfect?
CANADIANS are prone to criticize the bombastic selfassurance of their American cousins. Yet sixty years and more of self-congratulation have caused something of that same quality to enter into our attitude toward our complicated Federal system. Many of us regard our federal pact as the last word in government; the most perfect thing of its kind that human brain can devise.
It comes, therefore, as a distinct shock to find that our vaunted whistle sounds many a defective note, and that anyway we are paying too much for it.
How has our system actually worked out?
Sir John A. Macdonald wanted a strong central government. The copyists of the loose American federal system conceded a trifle to this demand. Under the United States constitution, rights not specifically allotted to the central government were reserved to the states. Under the Confederation pact, rights not specifically reserved to the provinces belonged to the central government. But public business has been hampered and delayed by endless expensive disputes as to these rights.
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Sir John A, Macdonald furthermore wished to reduce the overburden of government. This objective, the federal scheme instantly negatived.
Of the six original negotiators, four entered Confederation in 1867. Before July 1. 1867, these four original provinces were ruled by three parliaments and three cabinets.
Under Sir John’s scheme, there would have been one parliament and one government a reduction of two. Instead, after July 1, 1867, there were five parliaments and five governments—an immediate increase of two.
Had Legislative Union been consummated, Canada today would be paying for merely one parliament and one governmental organization. Instead, Canada has a total of ten parliaments and ten governmental organizations an increase of nine.
The one parliament would have more work to do. With modernization of its archaic procedure, the work could be done in less time than it now takes. The one government would have more matters to administer, and would possibly require a lyger staff to administer them. But it would not approach in numbers or cost the combined staffs now required by ten governments to do the selfsame work. The parliament itself need be no larger and might be smaller than it is. The Uunited Kingdom, with four times our population, handles its business with one parliament little more than twice the size of ours.
There has been much duplication by provincial authorities of Federal activities, and vice versa. Ontario, say, establishes a department of agriculture. Other provincial governments regard the idea as a vote getter and follow suit. The Federal Government does likewise. So, too, with mines, where there are mines; with fisheries, where there are fisheries. Occasional efforts to co-ordinate provincial and Federal activities have eliminated only a small portion of this
needless duplication of effort and expense.
It would be tedious to enumerate the political and legal battles of province against dominion or of province against province. Such battles are costly. They delay development. Worse still, they array Canadians against Canadians; so that the federal bond, far from drawing us closer in spirit, drives us farther apart.
Yet to what end?
Several decades ago we had strenuous political agitation and expensive litigation to determine whether certain Northern lands constituted the district of Varennes in Manitoba or the district of Algoma in Ontario. And after it was all done—what then? The same capitalists leased the same timber limits and smelted the same ores. The same Canadians worked at the same jobs for the same wages. The same pioneers hewed down the same trees and sought to wrest a living from the same soil.
To the individual Canadian, it is not important in what province he lives. It is important, though, to the provincial taxgatherers. Each individual brought under the jurisdiction of the provincial government is one more source of revenue one more toiler to be tithed and. perhaps, considerably more than tithed for the upkeep of a vast and increasing spending organization.
If, however, there were no provincial lines or provincial governments, if one central government attended promptly to business at a minimum of cost instead of one central government and nine provincial governments endlessly taxing and expensively disputing, then the individual Canadian would experience a rapturous relief from needless tax burdens. Such relief would more than compensate him for the slight sacrifice of merging sentimental associations of the past in a better and stronger Canadianism of the present and future.
Is the Federal system essential to a British self-governing Dominion? Australia
has it, a system perhaps looser than ours; and Australia’s economic condition is even worse than ours.
New Zealand years ago merged its two provinces in a legislative union under one central government. It has never thought of reverting to the old system.
In 1910 the South African colonies united. Less than a decade earlier, Briton and Afrikander were arrayed in arms against one another. The racial antagonism there was stronger than it was with us. Yet in the South African Union, the lines were drawn more tightly by far than with us. The one parliament and government were made practically supreme; only a few purely provincial affairs were entrusted to small provincial executives helped by provincial councils. Now, the provincial councils being unable to balance their budgets, Premier Hertzog is moving to abolish them entirely.
A legislative union in Canada would not reduce local self-government. It would increase local self-government. The individual would have a larger measure of control over his own affairs than he has now. Under such a measure, while many matters of administration could be handled advantageously by the central government, a great many matters of purely local import would logically revert to the municipal authorities. Many of these matters in the older provinces at least, are matters which, originally purely municipal, have been dragged within the provincial orbit.
The Outstanding Historical Analogy
nPHE tremendous influence of economic pressure in modifying time honored institutions can be determined by a study of history. One instance only need suffice.
In France before 1789 the various large principalities bickered with one another, even levied imposts on one another, and at times threatened the central government. Their people were Gascons, Burgundians,
Normans, rather than Frenchmen; just as today, after more than sixty years of Federal union, many of us are Nova Scotians, Ontarians or Québécois first and Canadians long after.
The beginnings of those historic French provinces were lost in the mists of a preRoman antiquity. To the men who gathered in the States General in 1789, the break-up of these time honored institutions must have seemed preposterous. Yes, and unthinkable. Yet, under intense economic pressure, what happened in a few short years?
The French revolution—whatever misconceptions posterity may cherish—was primarily an economic upheaval. A people taxed to death, a country reduced to complete and hopeless bankruptcy, struck out desperately. Much of the revolution was bloody froth and foam, on which the retrospective eyes of posterity have been rivetted for nearly fourteen decades. But out of the Revolution emerged a new France, in which the local racial distinctions were forgotten and Frenchmen were French first, last, and all the time. A quarter century of war under revolutionary tricolor or imperial eagles helped achieve this. But the first step toward real nationality was the breaking up of the historic provinces.
The French department is a unit of territory or population too small to ape the national government in administrative expense, too poor in men and money to levy war against it. With the departments, administration of local affairs is decentralized; while at the same time the way is opened for a strong central government. No European nation in the past century has been so pitilessly harassed as France and yet come through so well.
Yet the inception of this drastic yet enduring and beneficial change—a change that within a few short years upset the traditional arrangements of centuries—was purely economic.