Letter to Messrs. Harris and Manning

on | Filed under Constitutional Reform

I have just finished reading your A Canada Strong & Free series. It’s terrific! It ought to be required reading in every secondary school in the country.

There is only one area in which you might want to think about modifying your position.

Many studies (the Spicer Commission is a notable one) reveal that there is no market among Canadians for further increasing the power of provincial governments. Almost every day we read about some group or another crying for national standards to replace the balkanized ballsup that currently prevails.

Mr. Manning, in your book, The New Canada, p.130, you stated the truth – “Of the three levels of politicians in this country – municipal, provincial and federal – it is usually the municipal ones who are closest to ordinary citizens.”

Arguing that the Constitution assigns healthcare, social services and education to the provinces discounts the realities of the 1860’s.

Hospitals and charities were mostly wards of churches and/or private bodies. Doctors were still bleeding patients, arguing about the cause of sepsis and sawing off bones using booze as an anesthetic. Florence Nightingale’s concept of nursing was scarcely a decade old.

A few self-taught or home-schooled young men attended the few universities that were also church-sponsored.

The idea of community supported, universal health care, welfare and education – that has been delivered so badly by the provinces – was only a notion in the minds of a few advanced liberal thinkers. It took another half century for that notion to achieve widespread acceptance in public and government circles.

Those three – hospitals, charities and schools – were not considered important enough to be considered Dominion responsibilities in 1867. But times have long since changed! They now constitute most of the provincial and territorial spending.

Aren’t the healthcare workers in Edmonton and Edmundston dealing with the same kinds of situations? Aren’t they dealing with local situations? And couldn’t they be just as effective operating to national standards as provincial ones?

Who knows better than the local municipal/church/ SallyAnn/ KofC.’s, etc. workers the people who are in real need of support? When I ran in ’93, I got the biggest cheers when I asked, “Who would you rather have running things – Hazel McCallion or those toads in Queen’s Park?”

In Vol.II, you praise Alberta for its enlightened approach to education. But it wasn’t Alberta, it was Edmonton’s school superintendent Emery Dosdall who showed the way. Calgary followed somewhat and slowly and those two cities weight the Alberta results! It was a municipal initiative, not provincial. Why can’t all the rest of Canada’s K-12 students enjoy the same benefits of local school board initiatives?

There’s only one taxpayer. To swap dollars and/or tax points between jurisdictions just adds bureaucratic handling charges.

Instead of adding another level of governance (cost) – a Council of Federations manufacturing MOU’s – we need fewer levels of government.

And we will never eliminate interprovincial trade barriers until we eliminate provinces.

I earnestly ask you to read the attached and consider whether the need for better governance in our beloved Canada merits the major initiative of a Citizens Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution. Given a chance, Canadians would choose a constitution on the National/Municipal model. They would also choose all the democratic reforms you so eloquently propose.

Nothing will change until we the people control what our governments do and control the people in positions of authority in our governments.

Charles W. Conn, Mississauga. July 2008.

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