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A Better Recipe for Canada, Part Two

Posted: 04/12/2012 11:08 am

This is part two of a three part series that began here.

The insult would only work on Ontario.

When Conservative MP Peter Van Loan accused Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty of being the "small man of confederation" for demanding that Ontario get more seats in the federal redistribution process, the words stung precisely because they cut against history.

Ontario's role in Canada's crumbling "Laurentian Consensus" has been the self-effacing responsible big sibling to the younger, smaller other provinces. Where others reach quickly for the "bash Ottawa" tactic to gain votes at home, Ontario is Canada, and so Ontario is Ottawa.

McGuinty felt this again recently when he raised the very legitimate point that our high petro dollar is costing hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs in his province. "How dare he be so divisive!" screamed Premiers from Alberta and Saskatchewan, serial addicts of division themselves. As egocentric little siblings, they are allowed, but not responsible Ontario. No, Ontario must suffer silently, even if it is the siblings inflicting the pain.

But now that the consensus is crumbling and that oil is driving Ottawa, Ontario's role has become less clear. On the one hand, the Mowatt Centre has found a growing feeling of unfairness felt by Ontarians in Canada's federation. Ontario is showing the biggest jump in the number of people feeling that their province is not respected.

On the other hand, it is Ontario that handed Harper his majority, one that is dancing on the ruins of everything that the Ontario of old helped to build. In his analysis of the collapse of the Laurentian Consensus, John Ibbitson points out that it has not been replaced by another consensus driven by Calgary, but rather by a Conservative "coalition," cobbled together piecemeal by Harper, and for now running through Ontario's 905 area code region where stressed suburbanites and immigrants have been heavily courted.

The key question for the coming decades of Canadian politics is whether this Conservative coalition turns into a new enduring consensus, or whether a new progressive and sustainable story of Canada emerges that speaks to people in Ontario's 905 belt, championed by at least one political party willing to invest in the ground work to make it real.

And here is the dilemma for Canada's opposition parties: The future of Canadian government depends on Ontario's suburbs where the Liberal brand is by far the most credible alternative to the Conservatives, at a time when the NDP is in ascendance everywhere else. The political tribalism standing in the way of cooperation between these two parties is perhaps the main thing that Harper is relying on to grant him time to change the country in his image, which is precisely why he goes nuclear whenever a "coalition" is discussed.

So, despite the westward shift in Canada, Ontario is still the pivot point when it comes to who runs things in Ottawa. The flashpoint, though, is BC. More on that in the next and final part of a better recipe for Canada.