Friday 10 August 2012

What Harper really thinks about federalism

British Columbia “firewall” anyone?

Elizabeth May
The Island Tides
August 9, 2012

For anyone familiar with Stephen Harper’s role as a provincial rights advocate, the federal posturing on the Enbridge risky tanker and pipeline scheme is more than ironic. It is a 180 degree about face.

Back in January 2001, our future Prime Minister sent a letter to Premier Ralph Klein in which he called for Alberta to exercise its Constitutional provincial powers to “build firewalls around Alberta.” The letter was co-signed by Harper’s mentor from the University of Alberta Tom Flanagan, Ted Morton (at the time described as Alberta Senator-elect), the head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and other Alberta luminaries, including Ken Boessenkool, (described in the letter as former advisor to “Stockwell Day, Treasurer of Alberta,” who is currently none other than Premier Christy Clark’s Chief of Staff.) Stephen Harper, who claimed top spot in the list of signatories, was at the time President of the National Citizens’ Coalition.

The letter set out what the signatories believed to be Constitutionally allowed steps Alberta should take, including: withdrawal from the Canada Pension Plan, ending the provincial contract with the RCMP, a provincial take-over of health care decision-making, and collecting revenue for the province from income tax. The aim of this bullish use of provincial powers was “to limit the extent to which an aggressive and hostile federal government can encroach on legitimate provincial jurisdiction.”

What a difference a decade makes. Now Stephen Harper is so confident of the right of the federal government to insist on an over-land pipeline to a tanker route through the most treacherous waters on earth that he committed to the project’s approval and completion before the provincial government had so much as uttered a word on the project’s acceptability. (I leave it to Patrick Brown to set out the nature of Christy Clark’s rather belated demands, but at least she has asserted that British Columbia has something to say in the matter. I leave for another day that other Constitutional objection to the Enbridge project – the constitutionally protected inherent rights of First Nations.)