Insights September 2011

Meech Lake foes won the battle, lost the war (or how to negotiate with the Federal Government)

Chantal Hebert

Published On Wed Jun 29 2011 in Governance Policy Context – news/canada/politics

Source: Toronto Star — Authors: Chantal Hebert, National Columnist – Ottawa

Meech Lake foes won the battle, lost the war (or how to negotiate with the Federal Government)

Posted on June 29, 2011 in Governance Policy Context

Source: Toronto Star— Authors: Chantal Hebert – news/canada/politics
Published On Wed Jun 29 2011.   By Chantal Hébert, National Columnist – Ottawa

When he stood up in the National Assembly to comment on the demise of the Meech Lake Accord in June 1990, then-Quebec premier Robert Bourassa could not have imagined that two decades later, one of his successors would be negotiating the social transfer for health care one-on-one with the prime minister of the day.

Nor could Bourassa have predicted that Quebec would spread its international wings to stake out positions independent and, sometimes, different from the federal government on issues as wide ranging as trade and climate change . . . and that the other premiers would follow suit.

The risk that the accord negotiated by Brian Mulroney at Meech Lake would neuter future federal governments was uppermost in the arguments of its vocal opponents, with the defence of provincial equality coming a close second.

Two decades later, it seems that in winning the battle, the Meech detractors lost the war.

Not only did the demise of the accord not prevent power from shifting from Ottawa to the provinces but the notion of provincial equality accelerated the movement.

The irony is that it was under the rule of the federal party that most viscerally opposed Meech that the current devolution was set in motion.

Over the second half of Jean Chrétien’s tenure, billions of federal surplus revenues were transferred to the provinces and/or spent on tax cuts. With that money went the federal capacity of initiate a top-down expansion of Canada’s social infrastructure.

In Chrétien’s wake, Paul Martin negotiated separate child-care funding agreements with each province. In the name of asymmetrical federalism, he offered Quebec different modalities in the 2004 Health Accord.

Martin did not invent that concept. It had enjoyed a golden age in the 1960s. But he gave it new life at a time of rising interest among the provinces in pursuing it for themselves.

Today, Stephen Harper is poised to rush through the door that Martin pried open in 2004. Read the entire article here


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