I've watched a good many Premiers Conferences during my 26 years in Parliament. This year's get-together in Charlottetown has to rank among the best for both substance and tone.
On healthcare, services and facilities for the elderly, and retirement incomes for middle-class Canadians, the Premiers were right on-target with the insecurities that preoccupy a big portion of Canada's population all across the country. Provincial leaders were also in synch with decent Canadian values in their support for a Public Inquiry (or some reasonable facsimile) to get definitive answers and action with respect to 1,100 missing or murdered Aboriginal women.
On public infrastructure to help drive jobs, growth and productivity, on energy options to make Canada a clean and sustainable energy super-power, and on a coherent pan-Canadian marketing effort to overcome chronic trade deficits, the Premiers were touching on several elements of a sensible economic growth agenda for the country.
On all these topics, they sounded informed, reasonable and pro-active, but what they lack is a willing federal partner to work with.
In nearly nine years as Prime Minister, Mr. Harper has had only two brief meetings with all the Premiers in the same room at the same time. And on the issues raised in Charlottetown -- healthcare, elder-care, pensions, the missing and murdered women, infrastructure, sustainable energy, and a "Team Canada" approach to trade and marketing -- Mr. Harper has largely abandoned the field.
There is a void at the top. He shows no interest in cooperative federalism. His solitary, even belligerent style is not conducive to working with others. And clearly, Mr. Harper doesn't share many of the Premiers' values or priorities - even though they reflect the views of a big majority of ordinary Canadians.
Before the Premiers even had time to get home from PEI, Mr. Harper had his tightly-scripted Finance Minister deliver a federal "no" on virtually every issue. There will be no federal partnership and certainly no new financial commitment.
Mr. Harper has only one priority, and that is eviscerating the Government of Canada in every way he can. He simply doesn't believe any government is capable of anything good or valuable. So, he says, it's best to chop them to bits. His views are likely coloured by the failings of his own inept and ethically-discredited regime which has so bruised and limited Canada over the past nine years.
But our governance doesn't need to be that bad. The Premiers gave Canadians a glimpse of some greater potential last week in Charlottetown. Weary of ideological agendas, mediocre outcomes and the wedge politics of abuse and division, people are ready for big changes in how Ottawa works and who it works for.
Imagine a federal government ready and willing to be a constructive team player on healthcare, the elderly and pensions.
Imagine a federal government that really wants to understand and tackle the societal issues that contribute to the loss of 1,100 Aboriginal women.
Imagine a federal government determined to make infrastructure investments of a truly transformative magnitude, converting the temporary value of low interest rates into long-term capital assets.
Imagine a federal government ready to work with provinces on that crucial intersection between energy and the environment, thereby helping to win greater global access for undervalued Canadian resources.
Imagine a federal government that marshals the private sector and all levels of government in globally effective "Team Canada" branding and marketing, reversing Canada's chronic trade deficit and stimulating more jobs and better wages at home.
Only Stephen Harper stands in the way.
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