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Alberta: Who needs it?  by Lawrence Solomon
The provinces ruined our resource sectors and stymied free-market reforms. For the good of Canada, they should be weakened or abolished. National Post  May 23/2003


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Contrary views Canadian premiers who seek a Triple-E Senate other provincial powers, contrary the views cod fishermen others whose livelihoods have been extinguished federal government mismanagement, and contrary views conservative theorists who want political power devolve provincial level, Canada needs weaker, not stronger, provinces.

Of levels government, provincial level least legitimate. Local governments serve citizens delivering local services could not efficiently delivered from afar. National governments serve necessary function of national defence negotiation international treaties. But provincial governments, an era when 80% of the populace lives cities, have lost necessary functions, now serve mainly redistribution agencies.

Canada's eight have-not provinces little more than collect grants federal government taxes from the wealth generated almost exclusively within their cities. After extracting cost maintaining provincial bureaucracy, provincial politicians then reassign the balance booty those favour. Precious little that most provinces contributes wealth because most provinces have squandered most wealth within their grasp.

The provincial record economic mismanagement the resource sectors control – agriculture, energy, mining and forestry – every b abysmal federal government's. Where federal government short-sightedly ensures fisheries are fished out, provinces short-sightedly force plunder old-growth forests – most logging B.C.'s magnificent coastal forest occurs loss. Mining, which long ago ceased be profitable, now extracts more taxpayers than ore bodies. And provincial farm economy runs prof – for every dollar Canadian farmer earns, society provides $3.50 subsidies.

Even energy, sole resource industry remains a net contributor Canada's economy, most provinces have dissipated their great wealth. same Newfoundland politicians who rage federal government's mismanagement fisheries forget their predecessors' giveaway lucrative Churchill Falls project Quebec. Hydro-Quebec's great power system? Apart that Churchill Falls windfall, Hydro-Quebec has operated the red last two decades. Ontario Hydro? squandered the immense wealth Niagara Falls other dams on dim-bulb bets on nuclear reactors. With few exceptions, other provinces fared little better.

Giving provinces measure control over fisheries would accomplish nothing laudable: Even without formal power, the provinces almost always pressured federal government to allow over-fishing. Only one course action can return our fisheries sustainability: federal government will need fully privatize fisheries transferring strong ownership rights local communities private sector, Iceland, Australia New Zealand have so successfully done. Provincial governments would not help in this: Provinces have never shown courage pursuing free-market reforms.

It federal government brought us the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement NAFTA, the federal government tried enshrine property rights in our constitution. Provincial governments, contrast, vetoed property rights Canadians and, despite numerous federal efforts, day provinces refuse allow Canadians trade freely among ourselves across provincial boundaries.

Unlike federal government, which summoned up courage to privatize PetroCanada, CN, Air Canada host of lesser operations, provinces have mostly resisted reform: Even Ontario's Mike Harris, who elected with a mandate privatize, became cowed prospect of competitive markets soon after assuming power. premiers of provincial backwaters would never even flirt with free-market reforms.

Unlike risk-taking, free-trade-oriented governments try to expand economic pie, provincial-minded governments play safe remain big fish small ponds. Their fear of competing big pond leads them play zero-sum games in which demand ever-larger subsidies claiming ever-greater grievances.

For reason, Albertans their premier, Ralph Klein, are mad argue Triple-E senate. Yes, Alberta would become marginally more powerful relative federal government. But have-not provinces territories such as Saskatchewan, Newfoundland Nunavut would, too, enabling them hobble federal free-market reforms would benef Albertans. More point, because Alberta's Triple-E senate plan would give have-nots 54 66 senate votes, would become political powerhouses relative Alberta, one only two have provinces. The have-not jurisdictions would thus get upper hand in their continual quest more subsidies which, disproportionately, would come Albertans.

Premier Klein would best serve citizens – among Canada's most energetic entrepreneurial – arguing for policies would weaken Alberta other provinces. As I will explain next week, weaker provinces would enrich the nation expose myth regional alienation – in the western provinces, eastern Provinces in Quebec – many wrongly think afflicts country.

Lawrence Solomon executive director Urban Renaissance Institute, division Energy Probe Research Foundation. www.Urban-Renaissance.org, LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com; Part series.

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Readers respond

Lawrence Solomon's article right on. really quite incredible Canada does well does, with the dysfunctional federal system now have. I have lived and worked three provinces have never considered myself a British Columbian, an Albertan an Ontarian, but always a Canadian. Instead working improve lot their provincial (and let's not forget territorial) residents, those governments delight encouraging regional alienation and jealousy restricting movements labour goods and services amongst them their unremitting whining about how hard done deprived are national government – government Canadians. current federal government, course, far perfect, but the extra layer tin pot "leaders" bureaucrats currently have not balance, but willfully destabilize the functioning Canada. I look forward Mr. Solomon's next article on subject.

As [the editorial "This why need Senate reform"] . . . let's not tinker with half measures like Triple E idea. For one thing, will not happen in any lifetimes (see above). By means, let Leo Kolber resign early. But why stop there? All other senators could resign early and, course, never be replaced.

A Canada without borders government without Senate – sounds good me!

Greig Birchfield, Ottawa.

Re: "Alberta: Who needs it?"

Who need's Alberta? Canada, but especially Ontario, needs Alberta. Alberta already foots lion's share massive federal fiscal transfers, official unofficial, the Trudeau-Mulroney-Chretien (read: Quebec, Inc.) governments have foisted upon country. Without Alberta, Ontario, the only other remaining "have province" would become Ottawa's cheque book. (A decade NDP governments and court-driven native land claims have pushed B.C. into receivership status.) Between 1961 1997, Alberta saw a net $167 billion dollars leave province be redistributed Ottawa. comparable figure Ontario was net loss $85 billion dollars. big winner was Quebec, which acquired an additional $202 billion dollars. (Now there's "fiscal imbalance" Mr. Charest!) Alberta's per capita contributions ($2,100) over 26 year period dwarf's Ontario's ($244). per capita terms, Atlantic provinces ($3,023 $4,109 per capita) replace Quebec ($814) biggest beneficiaries. Does Mr. Solomon really think Ontario taxpayers want pick up Alberta's share tab?

Mr. Solomon right about one thing: Triple E Senate based on provincial equality would entrench this productivity killing status quo giving seven "have not" provinces (B.C. will recover) 70 percent Senate seats. why many Canadian Alliance members (including myself) support model Triple E Senate reform based on the principle five equal REGIONS (not provinces). Under this model, Ontario Quebec together would retain 40 percent Senate seats, balanced 40 percent the two Western regions (B.C. Prairies). Atlantic Canada would reduced 40 20 percent, but retain the potential play role tie-breaker event of regional gridlock. With less populous provinces now being given effective representation Senate, the House Commons could reconstituted on pure "rep by pop" principle, eliminating 27 "bonus" MPs currently assigned seven "have not" provinces. Ontario would be far biggest gainer reconstituted House of Commons.

All this, course, completely academic, Quebec would never allow any it.

Ted Morton, Professor University Calgary.

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