Provinces, feds must work together to make Canada work

Discussions surrounding Canada’s recent first ministers conference suggest the country is headed down a rocky road in its Confederation. With furor over equalization payments and a growing list of provinces at odds with one another and the federal government on policy, it’s hard to see the continuance of a Canadian identity — at least politically — not becoming a major question as a federal  election looms next fall.

There’s been much bluster on social media and in the press, particularly as Alberta and Saskatchewan, both regularly considered “have” provinces in the equalization debate have seen their oil-based economy slow down, yet they still see billions of dollars in transfer payments going to Quebec.  At the same time, Quebec’s premier, Francois Legault, has said he doesn’t see it as socially acceptable to support Energy East pipelines through his province. Calls for product boycotts have been lobbied back and forth.

The rhetoric is building on the Prairie provinces about alienation and the idea of an unfair deal and it’s hard to see how the federal government’s purchase of a pipeline it likely knew it couldn’t get through British Columbia to the Pacific coastline without legal challenges isn’t making it any easier for those provinces to take. Sure, one could argue the Alberta economy should have been diversified more to avoid impacts of a downswing, but at the same time, it could be argued there’s a cash cow there that could benefit Canadians coast-to-coast who still take on environmental risks to import barrels of foreign oil. Surely, there’s a path to innovate and safely process Canadian fuel — a concept that has received support in opinion polls.

Then, there’s the case of Ontario. Despite the financial mess at Queen’s Park and soaring energy bills that have hampered its residents and manufacturing sector, the economy has grown and it is now a “have’ province that isn’t eligible for transfer payments. Surely, it must be cold comfort for Canada’s most populated province be in a better situation, but look to the east and see the country’s second most-populated province boasting its second largest city on a major shipping channel and an abundance of natural resources still taking in billons. Where does that show incentive for economic development?

The federal government’s move to renew equalization until 2024 with little consultation isn’t going to sit well with those provinces and one can expect they’ll raise a lot of noise, likely alongside Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives that it’s time to broker a new deal. The disconnect is a recipe for a populist surge going into the next vote.

Every jurisdiction in Canada is competing for jobs and prosperity in a global marketplace, so it can be easy for one to understand the rise of provincial identity politics. That said, the idea of Confederation is to be one that benefits its parties mutually. It’s time for the provinces to sit together, negotiate, and remove barriers to interprovincial trade to develop stronger domestic markets for a wide range of goods and to help one another thrive.Ottawa also has a role in that process, acting as a facilitator and mediator.

Canada, like most collaborations, is most effective with everyone working together and feeling a part of prosperity. It’s time to unite this country, not divide it. Voters will soon have an important task of deciding who can do just that. There’s much at stake — the future cohesion of our home and native land.

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