April 2, 2007


Harper, Dumont share desire to gut federal government (JOAN BRYDEN, April 01, 2007, Canadian Press)

Stephen Harper and Mario Dumont are undoubted soulmates when it comes to decentralizing Canada's federation.

But with Dumont now on the ascendant in Quebec, will the two join forces to reduce the federal government to little more than a glorified automated banking machine?

The jury is still out on that question.

Between them, the prime minister and Quebec's new official opposition leader have certainly left the impression in the past that they'd love nothing more than to strip the federal government down to the bare essentials, ceding powers wholesale to the provinces. [...]

Constitutional expert Michael Behiels predicts that neither man is going to be in a hurry to clarify where he stands.

"(Harper's) going to be very, very cagey. He's not going to play his cards on this question of devolution until he has a majority."

Moreover, the University of Ottawa historian thinks Harper is unlikely to pursue the matter until Dumont, who will play a pivotal role in determining the fate of Quebec's new minority Liberal government, is actually in the driver's seat.

Even then, Behiels doubts Harper would ever be able to meet the ADQ demands, at least as spelled out in the Allaire report, without setting off a furor in the rest of the country and risking his own political demise.

"The alarm bells would go off, especially in Ontario," Behiels says.

"People would say, 'Wow, this really is the hidden agenda . . . which is the total kind of gutting of the national state, reducing it to really a shell or a banker for asymmetrical federalism, with every province going its own way."

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion contends that Harper hasn't changed his views on radical decentralization and has only refrained from acting on them so far because he doesn't have a majority.

"I think the prime minister did not change. What he wrote some years ago, he still believes in it," Dion said in a recent interview.

But even if Harper remains true to his past views on the subject, Patrick Monahan, dean of Osgoode Hall law school, doubts that Dumont does. He suggests Dumont's talk of autonomy is strictly a "nod" to old-style Quebec politics, allowing him "to parade appropriate nationalist credentials."

But should Dumont become premier, Monahan predicts he would forget decentralization, focusing instead on his centrepiece promise to modernize the Quebec economy and dramatically scale back the role of the state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 2, 2007 8:02 PM
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