One of my favorite cartoons showed Moses on the mountain with the Ten Commandments. The caption said, “A great idea, who is going to fund it?” The point, when applied to almost anything including politics, is that the ultimate control is financial control. Distribution of taxing powers determines who ultimately controls. In Canada, the result over time is power and control of individual citizens lives steadily moved from the municipal government to the federal government. It is time to reverse this trend.
When people marry, each person sacrifices certain degrees of freedom. The determination is do the benefits outweigh the costs? Individual costs increase and benefits decrease as a person or a group commit to more agreements. The same is true of political regions, as each smaller region commits to joining a larger region it loses more and more control.
Although agreements are made to ensure political consideration, these are overtaken and subsumed by the greater taxing powers of the largest region. A simple example of loss of citizen input and control occurred in Winnipeg as the City decided to amalgamate individual municipalities into an overarching Metro government. To offset the problem, they set up Resident Advisory Groups (RAG) who had input to anything that impacted their area. It rarely worked and had little to no impact.
In most Federal systems, the only role for the national government is defense, but like all Federal systems the types of activities gradually expand. Canada’s Federal government does not fulfill its primary role because it is unable to defend its border. Someone said the US/Canada border is undefended because the US doesn’t need to and Canada is unable to. Many Canadians don’t realize that we have extensive coastline on three oceans and are unable to defend any one of them. But those are subjects for other articles.
While the Federal government fails in its primary role of defending the border, it expands in a multitude of areas because of its expanding taxing power. This led to Lewis Lapham’s comment that “The supply of government exceeds the demand.” It is natural that the number of government employees expands with population growth. A ratio is required for adequate service. However, the problem is the increase in areas of control and regulations as government expands its political and taxing powers.
The public is partly responsible for the growth of regulations and the failure to decrease the cost of government. How often do you hear a person say “There is too much government and taxes are too high,” then, within a short period say, “Why doesn’t the government do something about a particular problem?” The problem is the government is the only mechanism for reducing government.
In 1938 Mackenzie King said, “If some countries have too much history, we have too much geography.” The truth is we have lots of both. Two major problems are few Canadians know much about either and both expanded over time. As recently as 1999 Canada carved out Nunavut, a new political entity so large it is 14th on the list of world nations by area. Canada is not the same political and geographic entity as when they wrote the BNA Act. As it expanded, the geography changed but the history also changed.
For example, regardless of the need for an unelected Senate, it currently has 30 Senators representing the four Atlantic Provinces with 7 percent of the population, while there are only 24 Senators for the 30 percent of the population in the four Western provinces. At the same time that regional differences and needs increased and changed, the Federal government adopted a totally inappropriate one-size-fits-all policy called universality.
To pay for universal systems, it expanded its taxation power until it now controls almost everything and Canadians have virtually no control. An example of the inappropriateness of universality was Quebec’s opposition to the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA). This was a federal agency set up to deal with the unique damage done on the Prairies during the drought of the 1930s. Quebec said it was illegal to have a federal agency for only one part of the country.
Several years ago, in a workshop on the impact snow and cold on the City organized by Susan Thompson, then Mayor of Winnipeg, the issue of snow removal cost arose. It became part of a wider discussion about which level of government provides most for individual citizens. The comptroller of the city explained that citizens rarely look at how their taxes are apportioned because it is deducted in various discrete ways. The best way to understand is, to assume you sit down once a year and write a check for taxes for each level of government.
On average you send approximately 34 percent to the Federal government, approximately 19 percent to the Provincial government and approximately 9 percent to the Municipal government. The comptroller then asked us to consider who provides most services for most of your needs. He argued that it was time to reorder and restructure Canada, starting with the tax structure. We should pay 34 percent to Municipal, 19 percent to Provincial and 9 percent to the Federal.
Stephen Harper realized the dangers in the growing powers of the Federal government when he said, “If Ottawa giveth, then Ottawa can taketh away.” This parallels Barry Goldwater’s comment that, “A government big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away.”
Everything starts with an idea, including the creation of a country. The challenge is to implement and promote the idea, which requires organization and structures. Unfortunately, the structures are rigid and become more rigid over time. The idea, and the environment in which it exists are dynamic, so disconnects are inevitable. A constant re-evaluation is required, but this rarely happens.
Freedoms gradually erode as a political system grows. The system gradually devolves to the belief that bigger is better. Unfortunately, it is always at the expense of the freedom and needs of the individual. A majority are lured by the freedom from responsibility, but as Edith Hamilton said, “When the freedom they wished for most was the freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and never was free again. “
It is said the only tough decision in a marriage break-up is whether it takes more fortitude to go or more to stay? Usually this situation is reached because the dynamics, the individuals, and the environment changed. Ideally, the best is a renegotiation of the costs and benefits. It is also true of political unions.
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