Will the Prime Minister take a walk in the snow? Will the Council of the Federation become what the Fathers of Confederation wanted?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

August 29, 2014

The Premiers of Ontario and Quebec have met and agreed to work together as never before, building their economies and reducing barriers to the movement of goods and services between them. Other parts of Canada, the west, through the New West Partnership, and the Atlantic provinces, are doing something similar. With a federal government mostly missing-in-action in so many ways, it is inevitable that provincial leaders would look to some kind of sub-national organization as a alternative.

Fathers of confederation

The Father`s of Confederation thought they got it right – but the Senate they wanted isn`t the Senate we have today.

Inadequate federal leadership was all too evident as the leaders of Canada’s provinces and territories got together for their annual summer meeting at the Council of the Federation in Charlottetown this week. The premiers hold two of these joint meetings a year in what is emerging as an evolving component of Canada’s political landscape. Though invited, this PM doesn’t attend, preferring to deal with the jurisdictions individually.

The agenda kicked off with discussion of the tragic systematic disappearance of aboriginal women. Stephen Harper’s misunderstanding and misrepresentation of that issue last week has been greeted with outrage and disgust. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, as well as the first nations organizations, have called him on his insensitivity and his resistance to getting at the root causes.

Harper has also isolated himself on pensions, even though the provinces had demanded enhancement to CPP at their last meeting. According to recent polls. only 15 per cent of Canadians are “very confident” they will have enough money to retire “comfortably” and 69 per cent believe the federal government should take the lead. In fact 63% of Canadians believe that existing premiums should be increased and 55% say the provinces should move on their own if the federal government doesn’t. So Ontario’s premier Wynne is receiving a lot of attention for her plans to introduce a provincial pension plan to supplement the CPP.

Provincial leaders are also addressing the need to eliminate the barriers to trade among themselves, something the Harper government has been pushing. And provincial regulations are problematic since they can restrict the free movement of goods and services and impair cross border labour mobility. Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall no sooner finished grandstanding on the need for Ontario to become more open than he realized his New West Partnership may also be a culprit. And the good news for those of us who want to see B.C.’s excellent wines in the LCBO is that Premier Wynne has agreed to… consider it.

The Council of the Federation is becoming a significant force on the Canadian political scene, a scene where an ideologically constipated federal government is putting real meaning to the term ‘conservative’. As the Council wraps up its meetings it is no surprise to see the perennial demand for renewed federal finding for health care and infrastructure. Of course these demands will fall on deaf ears. Mr. Harper’s government has given its last word and closed the taps.

As the Council meeting was drawing to a close in lovely Charlottetown, the leaders posed as if in an 1864 remake of the Fathers (and Mothers) of Confederation. This was another successful Council meeting, again demonstrating how to mobilize consensus among so many Canadian leaders representing such diverse provincial and regional political perspectives. One has to wonder whether the Council of the Federation doesn’t really capture what the real Fathers of Confederation had originally been contemplating when they invented the Canadian Senate. And wouldn’t this body or something like it be a perfect replacement for our current chamber of lost souls?

Harper - fists

Prime Minister Stephen Harper – can put up a really good fight.

Given how out-of-touch the PM is on so many issues of national significance, it is little wonder that his numbers are dropping and people beginning to ask whether he’ll even be around for the next election in 2015. It wasn’t that long ago that Harper was considered invincible and destined to win another majority government. But the polls are telling a different story as we get closer to the election.

Atlantic Canada seems ready to give the new Liberal leader the vast majority of its seats, as Trudeau’s popularity in that part of the country climbs to a new high. And Ontario is once again turning to Liberals in numbers that bode for a potential ‘majority’. But it is always a long time in politics until the next election. Then there is the west, which will follow Harper, as night follows day, except possibly for Vancouver Island where marijuana is the leading agricultural cash crop.

Recent gerrymandering, politely called re-distribution, will hand Harper more than 20 potential new seats compared to a mere 2 for the Liberals. Finally, nobody knows where Mr. Mulcair’s hold on the vast majority of Quebec seats will end up.

Trudeau Justin with big hair

Will the Trudeau mystique holdÉ

Despite what everyone concedes is a good performance by Mulcair as opposition leader, he and Harper are downright boring, compared to the energetic Trudeau. And after nearly a decade of the same old tired face in your face, Canadians are ready for a change. Harper’s vision of a nation converted from pot smoking Libs to little obedient red necks has failed to materialize, or perhaps this is just a new generation rejecting the past, as they always do.

As the Canadian economy starts to sputter from the fallout of the international crisis in Europe next year, some folks might wonder if Harper will take his own ‘walk in the snow’ and allow a fresh new leader to replace him. There are a good many potential candidates including Peter MacKay, Joe Oliver, James Moore, Lisa Raitt and John Baird. With the exception of Baird, who has demonstrated strength in his foreign affairs ministry, these candidates also carry enough baggage to keep them from breaking out of Harper’s musty closet.

And it is unlikely that Mr. Harper will let go of the reins just yet. He is a strong-willed and confident individual who will, no doubt, expect to be there for his party, winning again – just as his favourite anti-Christ, Chretien, used to do.

So expect him to be there for an autumn vote if his numbers continue to fall and it smells like at least a minority Conservative government. And if he can manage to arrest that ‘Mr. out-of-touch’ look, he might well call a spring election in the hope that Mr. Trudeau’s magnetism will have come down from its high.

Background links:
Ontario- Quebec   Council of the Federation    Aboriginal Women   Wall on Aboriginals    Atlantic Polling   Ontario Polls

Harper’s Decision    Harper’s Succession   Replacing Harper   Harper will Resign   Gerrymandering 

Ray Rivers writRivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300es weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate  for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province. 

Editor`s note.  When ever Ray Rivers has a chance he will get in his view that the Senate should be abolished and that marijuana should be made legal.  He just can`t help himself.

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2 comments to Will the Prime Minister take a walk in the snow? Will the Council of the Federation become what the Fathers of Confederation wanted?

  • Bob Zarichansky

    Harper’s legacy will be that of a mean, vindictive bully. His personal war against veterans, seniors, the unemployed, the Provinces, immigrants, science & research, civil servants and unions, the environment, farmers, Medicare, AIDS prevention, Canada Post, Aboriginal women, the CBC and seemingly everything else in this country that has some ethical enduring value except for Harper’s pet—the Alberta tar sands which is leaving a despicable and obscene legacy of its own. Canadians re-elected mistakes like Mulroney and Harris, and seem destined to do the same in Toronto with Ford. When will they ever learn?

  • Kurt

    Great perspective Ray! Thanks.