Election +6

According to Ian Urquhart "the phone lines are starting to burn up as premiers call each other and prime minister-designate Stephen Harper about striking a new deal that could dramatically alter Confederation by strengthening the provinces and reducing Ottawa's role."

At issue is the nation's "fiscal imbalance," which sees Ottawa awash in surpluses while the provinces struggle to make ends meet. Paul Martin, the outgoing prime minister, denied the very existence of a fiscal imbalance; Harper, on the other hand, has promised to fix it.

In his election platform, Harper said he would "work with the provinces in order to achieve a long-term agreement which would address the issue of a fiscal imbalance in a permanent fashion."

Seizing on those words, the premiers have begun talking to each other about what the new deal should contain.

The premiers' first goal "is to get a better understanding of what the Harper government has in mind," said McGuinty in an interview yesterday in his Queen's Park office.

"They (the Harper Conservatives) have not been definitive, and probably deliberately so. ... It's a bit of a black box for all of us right now."

There is, however, a sense of urgency among the premiers as the window of opportunity for an overarching fiscal deal may have a short timeframe. The window has been opened by the election of Harper, but it will be closed if Charest, who is trailing in the polls, loses the next Quebec election — expected in the spring of 2007 — to André Boisclair and the Parti Québécois.

As the other premiers see it, they aren't likely to be able to strike a deal with the separatists, whose objective is to leave Confederation, not fix it.

On the other hand, a new fiscal deal that is seen as beneficial to Quebec (as well as the other provinces) could help Charest remain in power.

"There's an opportunity before us," agreed McGuinty. "We have a willing prime minister and we certainly have willing premiers."

Stephen Harper would be well advised to take his time in reaching a deal with the provinces on this matter. Most Canadians don't want to see Canada end up as a collection of provinces with widely different levels of education, health and social programs. But this is the the way the train is headed to head off sovereignists in Quebec and "We can go it aloners" in Alberta.


Anonymous said...

We don't want to see our PM become a headwaiter to the provinces. Let's hope Stephen Harper shows more vision on this file than his predecessor.

Anonymous said...

I hope Harper doesn't give away the store to the premiers.