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Federation's future should be next election's ballot-box question
Prime Minister Harper is incrementally reducing the federal government's power.
Public Policy Forum president David Mitchell, who attended the Regina conference, said that in the past when the premiers would get together it would be more symbolic than substantive, but this time was different. He noted that some of the most exciting policy initiatives in Canada right now are happening at the provincial level, which he sees as indicative of a "lively" federation.
"I don't think it necessarily diminishes the importance of the federal government," said Mr. Mitchell.
But although he praised the provincial and territorial leaders for the conference's substantive agenda and for cooperating to reach consensus on certain issues, he acknowledged there was an appetite for the federal government to show more leadership in certain areas.
"The federal government does have a role to be a conciliator, a synthesizer, and to be an active participant in policy formulation nationally. And if you look at the Council of the Federation's communiqués coming out of Regina, most of those communiqués were actually calling for the federal government to play such a role. They weren't necessarily asking the federal government for more money, they weren't looking for handouts, they were calling on the federal government to play more of that national coordinating role that is needed now more than ever," Mr. Mitchell said.
Constitutional lawyer and former Liberal candidate Deborah Coyne, in a column in The Toronto Star last week, said there is concrete evidence that federal spending as a share of GDP is continuing to decline, from a high of 19.2 per cent before 1991, to a low of 11.2 per cent in 2007. Mr. Mitchell said that since confederation there has been a pendulum swinging on centralization versus decentralization of the federation, and right now it's swinging towards more autonomy for the provinces.
"We have currently a government in Canada that campaigned explicitly on being more sensitive to the provinces and to the regions of the country. So the Trudeau-esque vision that Deborah Coyne and other strong centralists aspire to has been out of fashion, if I can put it that way, for the last number of years," he said.