Par Clark Campbell
TORONTO -- Quebec does not need any more powers and Ottawa should not damage its capacity to bind the nation together by handing over tax powers to the provinces, Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff said yesterday.
Although his new platform states that Quebec should be recognized as a "nation," as should aboriginal nations, in a Canada that is a "multinational state," Mr. Ignatieff made it clear that he believes Ottawa's power cannot be eroded.
"What you see is that Quebec has all the powers necessary to make its society flourish and grow," he said after a Toronto rally to mark the release of his platform, titled Agenda for Nation Building.
"I think we have to have an honest dialogue with Quebeckers. I think it's important to have a federalism of recognition and respect. Recognition of what is specific to the Quebec people. I speak for all of those who say that Quebec is my nation but Canada is my country."
Although his platform states that over the long term it is important for Quebec to sign on to Canada's Constitution, it also says Quebec does not need more powers and argues that Ottawa's taxing power cannot shrink any more.
Mr. Ignatieff does call for Ottawa to "recalibrate" its transfers of cash to provinces to advance "identified national goals," but opposes any shifting of tax powers to provinces, such as the transfer of the GST or tax points, as some Quebec politicians have proposed.
". . . If the federal government transfers further fiscal power to the provinces, the capacity of the national government to promote and sustain the equality of citizenship will be damaged," his platform states.
And it argues Tory tax cuts are gutting the federation, when Canadians want national spending on "education, social welfare and infrastructure."
"Liberals use revenues to strengthen what we hold in common, while Conservatives cut taxes and weaken the bonds that tie us together," the platform says.
In Quebec, Premier Jean Charest's Liberal government has not demanded major new jurisdictions, arguing the time is not ripe for constitutional changes, but many nationalists continue to call for decentralization.
Quebec has called for limits on the federal spending power so that Ottawa
cannot create new programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction.
It has also demanded a settlement for the so-called fiscal imbalance, initially calling on Ottawa to transfer tax powers, but Mr. Charest has expressed a willingness to negotiate larger cash transfers instead.
Aides said that the so-called "vision document" Mr. Ignatieff released yesterday was not intended to be a comprehensive platform, and that he will release further policy positions before the race is over.
It wraps together already-released planks on the environment and other issues, with policies proposed by Paul Martin's government, and some specific new measures.
The new proposals include restricting the $100-a-month benefit Mr. Harper's government now issues to parents of children under 6 so that it goes only to low-income families, and increasing EI benefits for extended maternity and paternity leaves.
It also proposes consolidating federal student loans and scholarships into one income-tested student-aid program, getting Ottawa directly involved in immigrant settlement services rather than farming them out to community organizations, and a tax credit for Canadians who work but earn less than $25,000 a year.
Mr. Ignatieff also defended his staunch support of Canada's mission in Afghanistan, an issue that has divided the party and leadership candidates. But he called for Canada to press for more reconstruction efforts and said the "tipping point" that would force Canada to withdraw is if its troops there lost the "hearts and minds" of Afghans.
"You have to get the security situation under control, so at any one given moment you may be investing more in the military than in reconstruction. But I've made it clear that this has to be a balanced mission.
"I think it is generally admitted that the international community has not invested enough in the reconstruction and humanitarian components.
There's no question this is a weakness of the mission that has to be addressed. And Canada has to step up and say let's get this done."
No new powers for Quebec, Ignatieff says
More tax authority for provinces would damage capacity to bind nation
La nation québécoise vue du Canada
Par Clark Campbell