Canada Is a Country, Not a Set of Provincial Fiefdoms

Article excerpt

CALGARY -- Christy Clark's recent assertion British Columbia didn't need the federal government or Alberta reveals why Canada's founding fathers were concerned about provincial politicians: Thinking in isolation harms the interests of all Canadians.

The context of her remark, made during the election, was how B.C. could become an energy superpower if more natural gas was developed and delivered through pipelines, as opposed to "allowing" oil pipelines to criss-cross British Columbia more than they already do.

In particular, Clark's position on the Northern Gateway pipeline, articulated last year, is based on extracting compensation from Alberta or the federal government. (She also demanded deals with aboriginals and environmental protection but those are de rigeur these days and, thus, superfluous demands.)

Clark's pay-to-play ultimatum is silly and I say this as a temporarily exiled British Columbian. The constitution is clear resource revenues belong to the provinces. And should Ottawa begin paying off premiers to "allow" national resource development, there will be no end to diverted federal tax revenues or the impairment of national prosperity.

Then there's the risk of retaliation -- B.C.'s government might need a friendly Alberta government one day.

As Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid noted recently, courtesy of the Alberta premier's office, "50 per cent of B.C.'s growing natural gas production crosses Alberta to get to market."

Alberta's politicians could just as easily demand a cut of revenues from that interprovincial flow as B.C.'s politicians do from any proposed new oil pipeline.

What is good for the B.C. "goose" is just as easily extracted from the B.C. "gander."

When provincial politicians protect their own constitutional turf, or object to federal transfers that rob taxpayers in policy-smart provinces to subsidize policy-challenged governments in others, they are on solid ground.

But protectionist politicking undermines greater Canadian prosperity, which is why so many founding fathers opposed such provincialism.

In 1865, George Brown, the Upper Canada parliamentarian, complained a trip to Nova Scotia or New Brunswick was like visiting a foreign country, where a "customs officer meets you at the frontier, arrests your progress, and levies his imposts on your effects."

This led Brown to argue "heartily for the union, because it will throw down the barriers of trade, and give us control of a market of four million people. …