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Inside Queen's Park

The constitutional division of powers in Canada is real. But you’d never know it from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s incredible eagerness to trespass on federal turf, where it costs him nothing financially.

And to duck the provincial constitutional responsibilities that are his - but which will cost him money.
McGuinty has launched a crusade against the increase of 10 seats being given to the province by a redistribution bill making its way through the House of Commons.

He’s also declared war on the idea of an elected Senate, preferring instead its abolition if there are to be changes.

This is despite the province having zero constitutional responsibilities for the makeup of the federal House and only questionable constitutional objections to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s preferred means of making the Senate more legitimate.

And, of course, despite his Ontario Liberal party having zero seats now and forever in either branch of the federal parliament.

Undaunted, McGuinty complains that the federal House redistribution bill “will weaken democratic representation” for Ontarians and “undermine some of our most cherished democratic rights,” such as “representation by population; one person, one vote; equality under the law; and effective representation.”
The gall of this approach is admirable; its content, hypocritical.

And not because the analysis is incorrect. Ontario really should get about 20 new seats rather than 10 if rep-by-pop were actually being followed in Ottawa - and which no federal government has ever done because it would upset Quebec too much.

What irritates about McGuinty is that he never once opposed the old (Liberal) formula for federal parliamentary seats that would have given Ontario four, rather than 10, additional seats under redistribution, and which will remain the standard if the Tory bill dies.

Most outrageous is that, in 2005, McGuinty added a seat to the Ontario legislature that totally contradicts his vaunted principles of “democratic representation” and “representation by population.”

That seat meant northern Ontario ridings, in which Liberals were the majority party, of course, were now down to an average of 76,000 people, while several Tory-competitive southern Ontario ridings were almost double that number.

In short, McGuinty wants to apply his “democratic principles” to the one jurisdiction where he has no authority - the federal - and prefers to ignore it in the arena he does control-the provincial.

Meanwhile, McGuinty allows and even welcomes federal meddling in provincial jurisdictions where he should be putting up stiff resistance.

As part of their law-and-order agenda, the federal Conservatives promised the hiring of 3,000 more police coast-to-coast for duties that fall almost entirely under provincial jurisdiction. That includes municipal policing, since municipalities are creatures of the provinces and subject to provincial rules and regulations.

The Ontario Liberals have rightly complained that the funding arrangements for these police are unknown and that all federal governments have a tendency to one-time fund a promise and then opt out of the long-term operations costs.

But McGuinty should go further and reject the whole concept. Ottawa has no business fooling around with hiring street cops.

Yet here he is quiet, for if the money doesn’t come from Ottawa, Ontario would then have to pick up the tab.
Logic over jurisdiction is also very missing in the ongoing Ontario municipal (and Toronto Star) campaigns to extract money from the federal government on behalf of the operational budgets of cities.

The constitution says cities are creatures of the province, so if the cities of Ontario feel they are being shortchanged financially, why don’t they go to Queen’s Park for more money?

To complain that Ottawa has all the money and therefore should pay is a cop-out of massive proportion. There is only one taxpayer, and if the federal government reduces the GST by two per cent, as it has done, the province can take up that (so-called) slack any time it wants by raising the provincial sales or income tax.
Or it could allow the cities to levy their own taxes, as U.S. cities do, and as Toronto alone is permitted to do in certain areas.

But that would be a logical and intelligible provincial response to the municipal desire to spend more money than the property tax base allows.

For financial reasons, McGuinty finds it better and easier to ignore the Constitution and have the federal government give operational money without strings to a level of government where it has no say.

(Capital funding is another matter, where outcomes can be measured and all three levels of government have traditionally shared the costs.)

Still, “who does what” and “who pays for what” and “who ducks what” exercises have been around as long as there has been a Canada, so nothing is likely to change in the constant politicking and cross-jurisdiction tampering that goes on.

But people should be aware that when politicians dabble in fields that are not their constitutional responsibility, they are usually doing it for the crassest of reasons.

Derek Nelson is a freelance writer who spent 19 years at Queen’s Park. His e-mail is jugurtha@rogers.com

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