A Call for Collaborative Federalism

Article excerpt

Greater Federal-provincial collaboration is called for to replace competition and conflict between Ottawa and the provinces, and a claimed growth of growing "unilateral federalism." More financial resources for the provinces to play a more effective role in national building are urged, for the benefit of all Canadians. Speech as co-host of the Public Policy Forum 16th annual testimonial dinner, Toronto, April 10, 2003.

I gather it is a tradition to ask a premier to co-host this dinner. My colleagues, past and present, have each brought their own unique perspective to current events and public policy issues. It is a perspective born more out of place -- or province -- than politics.

As premiers, we are chosen by the voters of our province to represent the people of our province.

Yet, despite the coast to coast to coast geographic span and the complete spectrum of political parties we represent, we have also come to represent a remarkable consensus of opinion on many challenges facing our country.

This is notable. In fact, these consensus view are all the more important precisely because it crosses the boundaries of party, province, and region. Together we have achieved consensus on improving Canada's health care system, equalization and fiscal transfers, skills and training, trade and open borders, innovation and infrastructure.

When I travel throughout New Brunswick, I tell people in every part of our province that New Brunswick will be strong when every region of New Brunswick is strong.

The same is true of Canada. Our nation will be strong when every region of Canada is strong.

I would argue further that the responsibility of building Canada is equally a responsibility for provinces, as it is for the federal government. It is a shared responsibility. It does not belong to only one level of government. In fact, it belongs to all Canadians. We believe in balance because it's what works best for a country of our size and diversity.

It should be no surprise, therefore, that we chose a federation as our governing structure. We chose a federation because it is flexible and dynamic to accommodate differing approaches to provincial priorities. It was necessary in 1867 to create Canada in the first place. Today, in an era of globalization, it is even more necessary to move us forward. For the challenges we face in the 21st century demand a more intense co-ordination and collaboration of efforts between the federal and provincial governments, and between the private and public sectors, than ever before.

From free trade to skills training, from productivity to innovation and competitiveness, the issues we face as a leading industrialized and knowledge-based economy do not lend themselves to easy definitions of constitutional responsibility or, for that matter, to traditional ways of public/private collaboration.

You will not be surprised, therefore, that I believe that a critical issue of national public policy today, is the governance processes of federalism so essential to achieving our shared national goals as Canadians.

We must as a nation move away from competitive federalism and embrace collaborative federalism.

Some will say that strains and stresses within our federation are not just inevitable, but natural. Well, as any doctor will say, you can still die from natural causes.

While not dead, collaborative federalism seems more and more to be in the ICU.

Just a few weeks ago, in Ottawa, we experienced a contentious First Ministers Meeting on health care with a walkout by our northern premiers. In Newfoundland, a Royal Commission is underway raising questions about Newfoundland's place in Canada. In Quebec, a report on Canada's fiscal imbalance has been released with strong public and political reaction. And, in Alberta, the Premier is forced to stare down separatist elements in his own party. …