What, No Provinces!?

on | Filed under Constitutional Reform

Imagine A Canada Without Provincial Governments

At the top of the wish list of any Canadian government would have to be that all the rabidly quarrelsome, obstructionist, robber-baron provincial governments could somehow be made to magically disappear overnight.

And the majority of the people of Canada have, for years, been clearly stating they are Canadians first, not Provincials, and that they want all Canadians to be treated equally in a strong, united nation. (Most notably, the Spicer Commission Report.)

It might be instructive to recall what the great King Henry II of England did in the latter part of the 12th century.

Britain had been racked for a hundred years following the Norman Conquest by belligerent barons, earls, dukes and counts warring with each other and the royal authority. Anarchy prevailed as lords, both clerical and secular, trampled the people with their inconsistent, arbitrary and often cruel rule.

Previous kings of England had fought the lords directly. Henry II went around them to the leading men in the shires and boroughs – the commoners in the municipalities. He began to swing their support to him by offering “the King’s Justice” throughout the land. His courts for criminal and civil cases quickly came to be recognized as far more fair, learned and consistent than the crazy quilt of lordly courts.

And so began the transition of Britain into the fountainhead of justice for the individual and the triumph of the commons over the lords. It took centuries, but Henry II began it as a project to empower the crown by engaging the support of the municipal leaders thereby empowering the people at the expense of the lords. Today, the United Kingdom has over 4700 municipal governments and a single national government for c. 60 million people. There are no provincial governments gumming up the works.

The Canadian colonial provinces were supposed to have been united “… with a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom:” [The British North America Act, 1867]

Churchill borrowed the phrase ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend” to justify rendering aid to a hitherto unlikely ally – the Soviet Union. With a lot less angst, the 1428-member Federation of Canadian Municipalities could ally itself, and thus all the people of Canada, with the Dominion government in a truly dramatic nation-renovation project.

Rather than banging heads with two governments, wouldn’t it be more sensible for Canada’s 1428 municipalities to become the ally of the Dominion government and lead this country to a new level of greatness by getting rid of provincial governments?

In Canada, provincial governments can only be eliminated by a new constitution, written by a constituent assembly of citizens chosen by lot, and confirmed by a binding national referendum.

The establishment of a Citizens Assembly should be the cardinal imperative for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

What Happened?

The BNA Act was supposed to unite formerly separate colonies into a single new nation – the Dominion of Canada. It was an amazingly bold and daring idea – a truly grand and glorious vision. And the operative concept was “Union”. In the BNA Act, the terms Union”, “Dominion” and “Canada” describe the new nation. The term “federal” appears only once, as an adjective in “…federally united…”.

The intention and language of the BNA Act was for Canada to be a Confederation. A Confederation is a union of entities. A Federation is a system of government wherein power is divided between central and regional governments.

The BNA Act was written with the just-ended U.S. Civil War as a vivid demonstration of the slaughter and destruction caused by the emphasis on States’ Rights in their Articles of Confederation. Canada’s governance structure was intended to be the opposite of that in the U.S. In Canada, the Dominion government was to be the paramount authority with the power to disallow provincial legislation that harmed any Canadians, to act in any and all matters affecting peace, order and good government for all Canadians, and to act on any matter not already specified in the BNA Act as a Dominion or provincial government responsibility. (The Dominion had the “residual power.”)

However, to get the deal done, the Fathers of Confederation had to pander to small-minded “little provincials”. Provincial governments were granted responsibility for 17 specified “local” matters and were basically intended to be limited to supervising municipal governments.

Significant numbers of people in every colonial/provincial governing establishment resented losing powers of positional authority to people in the Dominion governing establishment. New Brunswick’s establishment nearly scuttled the whole Union process before 1867. The establishments in P.E.I. and Newfoundland kept their citizens out of Canada until 1873 and 1949 respectively. Nova Scotia’s Joseph Howe led a group to England in 1867 that vigorously tried to haul Nova Scotia out of the Union almost before the ink on the BNA Act was dry. Some British Columbians were threatening secession at least a century before the FLQ terrorists and the PQ separatists showed up, and W.S. Fielding became premier of Nova Scotia in 1886 when his party swept into office on the one-word campaign slogan – “Secession”. Ontario’s premier Oliver Mowatt was unquestionably the worst of them all for ripping powers away from the fledgling Dominion and greatly weakening the original Union concept.

While the newborn Dominion was struggling mightily to knit together a new nation – in the face of aggressively negative actions by U.S. imperialists and little or negative support from U.K. imperialists – petty provincials were scurrying off to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Great Britain seeking more provincial rights and powers for themselves at the expense of the Dominion.

With a sense of timing so cosmically unfair as to make the gods weep, the main influencer on North American matters brought before the Judicial Committee during these critical early years was a man named Lord Watson. Watson developed his attitudes toward North America from a man named Judah P. Benjamin. Benjamin had been the Attorney General of the failed Confederate States of America and was an ardent proponent of the doctrine of States’ Rights. When the U.S.A. prevailed over the C.S.A., Benjamin moved to England where he continued to preach his doctrine of disintegration. For some unknown reason he was accepted by Lord Watson as the ultimate authority on North American issues.

It was Lord Watson who, in judgment after judgment, influenced the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council to reverse the intention of the founders of the BNA Act and transfer Dominion rights and powers to the provinces. By 1896, the Judicial Committee had even gone so far as to declare that the Dominion’s residual powers should be confined to strictly all-Canadian matters and should not interfere with provincial interference in matters that had been specifically reserved to the Dominion in the BNA Act. That judgment haunts us to this day. Canada was turned into a Federation and became far and away the most broken-up, Balkanized country in the world.

Power-hungry provincial governing establishments have been promoting territorial segregation and separation, and preventing Canadians from enjoying the full benefits of the national Union, since the Dominion was created. The cost has been horrendous and has kept us poorer than we could have/should have been.

All the provincial-power advocates claim that provincial governments are better for the people because they are closer to the people. Rubbish! Municipal governments are closer to the people – everywhere in Canada! “Little-Canada” provincials are only trying to hang onto, nay enlarge, the positional powers, perqs and privileges they’ve abused since colonial days.

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