Canada’s constitutional deck – or at least the cards our Supreme Court justices keep drawing – seems increasingly loaded towards centralism, with established provincial jurisdiction and clear division of power becoming quaint habits of a bygone era. Last month’s carbon tax ruling threatens to supercharge that trend, cementing federal dominance and relegating provinces to the level of glorified municipalities carrying out Ottawa’s wishes. Constitutional scholar F.L. (Ted) Morton reminds us that previous provincial premiers overcame seemingly crushing legal defeats through imaginative policy ideas and determined inter-provincial cooperation.
Next year Canada’s 61-year-old Federal Equalization Program will be up for renewal, again. This will coincide with an election in Alberta, and current polls strongly suggest it will result in the election of a new United Conservative government. With Ottawa ratcheting up carbon taxes and regulation on the province’s besieged energy sector, UCP leader Jason Kenney is promising a referendum on Equalization, part of the Federal wealth redistribution system that hoovers tens of billions of dollars a year out of Alberta to subsidize “have-not” provinces, mainly Quebec and the Maritimes. As a primer for this looming battle, Ted Morton reviews a new book about Equalization and exposes its sordid history, political purposes and pernicious effects. These were effectively summarized by Senator Keith Davey, Chairman of the Liberals’ 1980 election campaign: “Screw the West, we’ll take the rest.”