Monday, November 19, 2007

Ontario is Harper's whipping boy.

This is from James Laxer's blog. I think that Harper realizes he needs to target the cities. After all he appointed Michael Fortier from Montreal to cabinet even though he does not even have a seat in the legislature! I guess this is Harper's view of accountability!
Laxer's argument re Ontario being shortchanged in seat redistribution seems reasonable. If the lack of space in Parliament is actually the reason for not giving more seats to Ontario to be fair they could have reduced other province's seats rather than taking them all from Ontario.
Laxer is also correct that with the decline of manufacturing we will more and more depend upon exporting raw goods. We will be hewers of wood and drawers of water but mostly pumpers of oil and natural gas. Under NAFTA we are to help ensure that US energy needs are met and at relatively low prices. It is not only Ontario cities that are in trouble and neglected, northern Ontario that is resource based also has problems because of decline in forestry products export due to the housing slump in the US and protectionism.

Ontario is Harper’s Whipping Boy

The evidence mounts that the Harper government’s political strategy is to turn Ontario into the whipping boy of Confederation.

On a host of issues, the government is steering a course that blatantly negates the interests of Ontario. The most obvious case in point is the government’s bill to add twenty-two additional seats to the House of Commons after the 2011 census. The Harperites would give Alberta five extra seats, B.C. would get seven more and Ontario would have an additional ten. The change, to reflect population growth, sounds fine except that if the goal is rep by pop Ontario should get twenty additional seats, not ten.

Once the change is made, the Western Provinces, Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces will not be under-represented in the Commons, but Ontario will be. Why not give Ontario the twenty extra seats the province is due according to population? Government House Leader Peter Van Loan explained on CBC television that there would be a problem squeezing that many more seats onto the floor of the House. (Even my three-year-old granddaughter could come up with a better one that that.) His solution: just give Ontario ten fewer seats. His rationale: ten seats are a lot. Thanks Peter, but for people whose early education included arithmetic, it’s transparently unfair.

With the government’s bill, Canada is back to old-time election rigging. Alberta and B.C. are more likely to vote Conservative than Ontario, so give them the seats they are due while short changing Ontario.

The government’s anti-Ontario stance does not stop there.

It extends with a vengeance to manufacturing and the cities.

Without serious attention behind paid to this crucial matter, because of our strong commodity exports, Canada’s industrial sector is being ripped to shreds. Disproportionately, that affects Ontario where the majority of industrial jobs are located. Tens of thousands of jobs are being lost in manufacturing. The crisis, which is of historic proportions, could lead to the permanent destruction of the country’s industrial base. At risk are operations in the auto, steel, chemical, rubber, and other industrial categories.

The long-term consequence of NAFTA, high petroleum prices and the mad dash to develop the oil sands in Alberta (green house gases be damned) has been to return Canada’s economic strategy to the export of resources, resources and more resources. In recent times, economists and political scientists have regarded the staples theory of Harold Innis---the idea that Canada’s economy turns on the exploitation of resources for export---as outmoded.

Look again. The staples economy is back with a vengeance, with all its attendant risks of boom and bust.

The hyper-exploitation of the oil sands is chiefly responsible for the soaring Canadian dollar. When the American economy slows appreciably over the next year, the Canadian dollar will fall, but by then the damage to the battered manufacturing sector may be irreversible. Expecting the sector to rebound in a recessionary environment nourished by a lower dollar alone is too much to ask.

Closely linked to the manufacturing crisis is the nation’s urban malaise. That too, while not limited to Ontario, is centred in the Greater Toronto Area with its six million inhabitants.

Perhaps it should not be surprising that with their 19th century classical liberal (aka neo-conservative) ideology, the Harperites don’t think it matters that our cities are shackled to a 19th century constitutional order. More cynically, since the nation’s major cities, with the exception of Calgary and Edmonton, don’t figure in the Conservatives’ target ridings, their plight is of no consequence.

The GTA and other major Canadian metropolises are being allowed to lapse into shabbiness and inefficiency as infrastructure is not renewed. Public transit---essential in larger cities and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions---is surviving on crumbs.

Canada desperately needs a constitutional order in which municipalities are brought out from under the shadow of provincial jurisdiction and are outfitted with the fiscal means to thrive. In the absence of constitutional change, the federal government, with its surpluses, needs to transfer GST and other tax revenues to the cities, from which those taxes were generated in the first place.

With his forty per cent strategy---aimed at winning enough votes in the right places to win a majority of seats in the next election---Stephen Harper couldn’t care less about the fact that vibrant cities are the key to the nation’s development in the 21st century.

The Conservative government’s guiding principle is that what’s good for the oil patch is good for Canada. That view of things alone is enough to foster an outlook that is systematically anti-Ontario.

Long used to being the cream-fed pet of Confederation, and resented for it, it’s difficult for Ontarians to wake up to the urgent fact that with Stephen Harper at the helm, they’re getting their asses kicked.

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