MONTREAL—Prime Minister Stephen Harper is discreetly sounding out some provincial premiers about setting formal limits on Ottawa's powers, even if it means possibly reopening the Constitution, sources say.There's no major national leader in this country, it seems, who actually thinks a) our constitution works as is, and b) the provinces have enough money and power for now, or even too much. You've got the Liberals, whose leading candidate for leader thinks the separatists can be appeased short of their stated goal, and you've got the Conservatives, who so wish to see the end of a "big government" in Canada (that never existed anyway) that they're willing to permanently cripple the government to do so. I should say that here I part ways with the NDP's view on national unity, which concedes far, far too much rhetorical ground to the separatists in Quebec in my view. The Bloc Quebecois is at least honest about wanting to upend this country.
While discussions are at a preliminary stage, officials in Ottawa and several provinces suggested constraints on the federal spending power could eventually take the form of a constitutional amendment explicitly restricting Ottawa to its own areas of exclusive jurisdiction — a move that would reshape federal-provincial relations.
Under the Constitution, provinces have jurisdiction over areas such as education, social programs, municipalities and health, whereas federal responsibilities include foreign affairs, fisheries, defence and employment insurance, for instance.
Not a single party in our national Parliament actually seems to believe, deep in their hearts, that they represent a nation worth defending.
The upsetting thing about this particular instance is that, despite being a minority government, the Conservatives could easily pass this kind of measure with the Bloc's support, and then it's up to the Provinces to beat it. With a decent interval, I can see the east coast provinces eventually voting against this, and maybe - maybe! - Ontario. But I'm frankly not that sure of anything.
In Japan, the Constitution can only be amended with a national referendum. Something we might want to consider here - keep the provincial quotas, but take it out of the hands of the provincial legislatures. Trudeau originally threatened to go past the Provinces and take the Charter straight to a referendum. He almost certainly would have won, including in Quebec. Instead - and this is the only time I'll say this about Trudeau - he chickened out and kept the Provinces on his side.
Historians hate counterfactuals, but I think it's a fair bet we'd have a much, much less acrimonious history of the last quarter-century if the Charter and Constitution had the imprimatur of a referendum victory - across the country, and in Quebec especially - for popular legitimacy.