Tuesday, October 19, 2004
POLITICS AS USUAL: BELGIUM WHA?
So, I might post reviews of "The Apprentice" on this site, but I'd still like to think I'm capable of comprehending public policies that go beyond "I'd like to make the world a better place". I also think Canada is sorely lacking any kind of bold new ideas or direction and the leadership to back it up. So I read with substantial interest Stephen Harper's newest policy idea, which he outlined in a speech he gave in Montreal. Here's the gist of it, from the National Post:
"Mr. Harper said a future Conservative government would give some federal power to new community institutions set up by English- and French-speaking Canadians. Instead of the provinces getting more power, the linguistic groups could have some jurisdiction over communications, broadcasting and international relations, he said.
"In Belgium, for example, federal authority has been divided not just with geographically based regions, but also with linguistic communities as well. I want my party to consider how this model could be adapted to Canada," Mr. Harper said in a prepared text to a gathering of Conservative supporters in the province.
"Rather than devolving more authority to provinces in areas like cultural affairs and international relations, perhaps the federal government, working with the provinces and particularly with Quebec, could establish francophone and anglophone community institutions for jurisdictions in areas like the CRTC and the CBC, or the Francophonie, the Commonwealth and UNESCO."
In defending his plan yesterday, Mr. Harper said he is merely trying to "adopt federalism to Canadian reality in ways that make all Canadians more comfortable."
Comfortable? I don't even know what the hell you just said. Now, to be fair, the only thing I know about Belgium is they make one hell of a waffle, but not so good on the sprouts. However, I know a lot less about other countries but can understand, in the abstract, how their system of government works.
John Ivison asks this question:
"As if the constitutional picture wasn't complicated enough. Does this mean that if the Canadian Heritage Minister couldn't make it to a UNESCO meeting, and Quebec's Minister of Culture was double-booked, that a representative from a francophone town such as Kapuskasing or Hawksbury might be drafted in to speak for Canada? Nearly one-third of the 200,000 people in Markham, Ont., are Chinese -- do they represent a linguistic ''community'' that deserves some devolution of power to address their special concerns?"
Indeed. Here's Andrew Coyne's take on it:
"I have no idea what this means as yet, but I don't like the sound of it one bit. The federal government already represents the "linguistic communities," in the same way that it represents the racial communities, the sexual communities, etc. We do not divide Canada into two founding genders (though Judy Rebick once seriously proposed it), and there is no strong case for pursuing this strategy with respect to language. It may be slightly different from the old Deux Nations model, inasmuch as it does not propose to equate Quebec with French Canada. But it's still a prescription for trouble."
To some, this might be another policy eyeglazer being lauded by a politician looking for headlines. I think this serves a s a useful litmus test for Canandian political discourse. You might not want to follow this issue on its policy merits, but you might want to watch to see how its received. Some questions to ask yourself:
- Canadians have repeatedly said they are tired of the "soundbite approach" to politics (all sizzle, no substance). How will they react to this proposal?
- Since columnists (who get paid to analyze and offer opinions) are having trouble with this concept, is it just "too complex" for Canadians?
- If so, can a proposal of this nature be boiled down into manageable concepts or ideas that can quickly/efficiently be explained to Canadian voters?
I think it will be interesting to see if this proposal can overcome these hurdles. My guess? It's dead on arrival.
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