Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Other countries' federalism

So while we're all busy here whining about whether or not Quebec is a nation, Australia seems to have had a genuinely important Supreme Court decision handed down which some are predicting will fundamentally re-order the powers of the state/federal relationship, in favour of the Feds. Others disagree.

I can't say I've paid too much attention to John Howard's industrial relations law (I know, shameful of me) but this view, from one of the dissenters, seemed awfully familiar:
Most commentators assume that the States have been fiscal hostages of the Commonwealth ever since the First Uniform Tax Case during WWII effectively stripped then of their income taxing powers, a process exacerbated by the generous interpretation given by the High Court to the Commonwealth’s power to make tied grants to the States under Constitution section 96....

However, is this story of State fiscal dependence actually true?... There is nothing either in constitutional law or practical reality stopping the States from doing this other than the fact that they don’t want to collect their own income taxes. It’s both more expedient and more efficient to allow the Commonwealth to collect the taxes and then ritually whinge about being shortchanged.
Oh sweet Jesus, you could write the exact same paragraph about Canada. We really are all the same people, all over the world. (Or at least, in predominantly white, english-speaking countries, all over the world.) I find it important to restate, however, that there is nothing inevitable or inherently virtuous about decentralizing powers. Is it sometimes a good thing? Absolutely. But can it go too far? Equally true. As just one example, I've heard American law enforcement personnel - from both states and the feds - say that they would much prefer the Canadian system, where the Feds have a monopoly on criminal law.

It's important to say that I don't necessarily want more powerful government, as in the Feds taking new powers that no level of government had before. Rather, I'd like to see the provincial governments have some of their jurisdictions taken and given to the feds - hell, simply sharing jurisdiction would be an improvement. Recognizing municipal governments in the Constitution would be great, too, so that the Provinces stop crapping all over us. Ideally, dismember the provinces entirely, and have a federation of local governments... no, that's just fantasy.

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