Following last week's cabinet shuffle in Ottawa, La Presse's editorialist-in-chief François Cardinal complained that Stéphane Dion's departure was a big loss for Quebec. Not because Dion was good at his job as foreign affairs minister. Not because his renown reflected well on Quebec. Rather because, according to him, Dion was one of the few important ministers who could knock at the prime minister's door and pressure him to make a decision favourable to Quebec on various files.
From subsidies to Bombardier to increased health transfers and Ottawa's contribution to Montreal's transport infrastructure, there are several files where more federal money would be welcome in the province. As the editorialist noted, citing historical examples from previous governments, the presence of strong ministers often results in a province or a city being "showered with dollars."
To me, that's not a good reason to have strong ministers -- it's the worst!
Each region can point towards many examples to bolster claims that the way the pot is being divided is unfair.
This is based on the view that the federal government is essentially a big pile of cash and that every region and special interest group should try to grab as much of it as possible for its own benefit.
One of the arguments of those who defend this perspective or say it is inevitable is that we need our share of the loot because others got theirs and the money will be spent anyway. "Manitoba got such and such investment," "Toronto benefited for this program," or "Nova Scotia got that amount of money." If we don't lobby hard enough, the money will again go to them instead of to us.
Since Ottawa has been throwing money in all directions for decades, it is very difficult to argue with that view. Each region can point towards many examples to bolster claims that the way the pot is being divided is unfair.
So, to calm down frustrations and buy support in vote-rich regions, governments double down on the spending. Each passing decade, the federal government spends more and more on equalization, on health transfers, on large regional infrastructure projects, and other programs. They send hordes of ministers and MPs to cut ribbons and make sure local populations are aware of their "generosity."
This is the dynamic that has brought us to today's intolerable situation of having a huge government that spends money it doesn't have on everything. And the Trudeau government is making things even worse.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
It has to stop. We cannot continue to pass our children the bills for all the projects that we cannot afford to pay for ourselves. We cannot continue to distribute ever larger amounts of money to please everyone and buy social peace, while refusing to face the consequences. We cannot ask governments to manage our money in a responsible manner while at the same time constantly demanding more money for ourselves.
To get out of this dead-end, as Conservatives, we should be defending the principle of subsidiarity, which is inherent in our Constitution. This means that issues should be handled by the most local competent authority, the one closest to the people. This way, each province, each region, each community, develops according to its citizens' preferences and priorities, and is forced to act responsibly because it pays for what it wants.
Big government leads to unfairness and irresponsibility.
The federal government has important national functions to fulfill. It would be better able to fulfill them if it stopped trying to solve every problem in the country, especially by violating our Constitution and intruding on provincial jurisdictions.
This is why I have proposed to get Ottawa out of the business of funding health care through transfer payments. Freed from federal conditions and unable to shift the blame to another government, provinces would also be more inclined to experiment in finding better ways to deliver health care services.
For the same reason, Ottawa should stop funding local infrastructure, and leave cities and provinces responsible to deal with their own needs. Apart from infrastructure of national importance, there is no reason for the federal government to get involved.
As the great economist Frédéric Bastiat wrote in 1848, "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavours to live at the expense of everybody else." Big government leads to unfairness and irresponsibility. It's time to reverse that trend.
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