West needs clout on Constitution

17. Actualité archives 2007

For once, Alberta may have the jump on Ottawa. It's in an area of dispute which Ottawa would very much prefer to ignore, but which it may be forced to face up to anyway.
It's the notorious "C" word - the constitution -- which all but one party in Ottawa favours forgetting about, and which the national media apparently regard as a non-issue.
Who does not regard it as a non-issue is the Parti Quebecois, which has quietly risen to majority status in the Quebec polls and, unless things change dramatically, will win the next Quebec election.
First item on their agenda: Another referendum -- the third -- on separation.
Likely result, according to current polls: 49% will vote yes, 41% no.
This is the reason Michael Ignatieff, foremost contender for the Liberal leadership, has proposed recognizing Quebec as a "nation within a nation," by conferring upon Canada a new constitution.
He would likewise recognize aboriginal "nations."
The Toronto media razzed Ignatieff's proposal as unnecessary at this time and virulently "divisive."
They cited what one called the "bitterness" of the debates over the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords. They don't want to go through that again.
It's easy to understand the 'bitterness" over the Charlottetown Accord in particular.
It was one of the few times Canada allowed the citizenry to actually decide a specific issue. Charlottetown went to a referendum, and all the powers that be in this country -- the media (almost unanimously), all the political parties except the Reform Party, big labour, big business, the big names in the big universities -- all pleaded with Canadians to vote "yes."
The country will disintegrate if we don't, they said. So we voted "no," and the country failed to disintegrate.
But a "bitter" conclusion was drawn from this: Never trust Canadians to vote directly on anything that matters.
They may "vote wrong."
In any event, the editor of Montreal's major daily replied last week that the Toronto media have no idea what's now going on in Quebec.
Since a new PQ government looks certain, and a "yes" vote on the ensuing referendum altogether likely, constitutional discussions will be required on how Canada will be governed without Quebec.
Better move soon on Ignatieff's idea, he advised. Perhaps the "nation within a nation" concept will sufficiently cool the new separatist ardor.
So, as usual, Alberta's role in the whole affair will consist of mere response. Ottawa and Quebec will propose and the provinces will respond. Same as always, right?
Wrong. Wrong, at any rate, if what's calling itself "the Calgary Congress," which will take place in the Calgary Westin Hotel, Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, gets anywhere.
About 300 to 400 people are slated to attend, and the whole point is to determine what the West wants in a new constitution.
The Congress is the fruition of one and a half years' preparatory work by the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, an Edmonton think tank organized --yes, I admit the prejudice -- by my son, Link.
Some dozen leading western Canadians will be addressing it. (See www.CalgaryCongress.ca)
The chief proposal will be restoration of the Canadian Constitution to the original concept of the "Fathers of Confederation" who created it in 1867.
This would entail Ottawa's restoring the powers it has usurped from the provinces during the 20th century. Strange as it may sound today, for example, health, welfare and human rights were all designated in the original plan as falling under provincial jurisdiction.
It would also mean an end to tax equalization, the Ottawa-designed formula that annually sends billions from Ontario and Alberta to Quebec.
So the implication is clear: If Quebec wants to become a "nation within a nation," then presumably it will be paying its own way. Surely nations that cannot exist without welfare payments from other nations can scarcely be considered nations at all. And wouldn't the same apply to any Indian "nations" also?
Therefore, the aim of the Calgary Congress is to ensure this time Alberta will not be a merely "responsive" player in constitutional discussions.
We will not be taken off guard.
We will not go there to discover what Quebec does and doesn't want. We will have the major issues figured out in advance, and our own agenda ready.

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