Ottawa sees friendlier relations
By SHAWN McCARTHY
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Apr. 15, 2003
Ottawa Federal Liberals were looking forward yesterday to a new era of federal-provincial co-operation after provincial Liberal Leader Jean Charest ended the rule of the separatist Parti Québécois.
But Liberal strategists acknowledged that Mr. Charest would mount his own challenges to Ottawa, including demands for a rebalancing of federal-provincial taxing powers.
As Quebeckers went to the polls yesterday, federal Liberals were reading the entrails of the election to determine how a win by the provincial Liberals might affect intergovernmental relations and even the federal leadership race itself.
Few expect a new Charest government to launch a new round of constitutional demands or reopen the debate over the federal Clarity Act, the controversial legislation pushed through by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien that defines Quebec's responsibilities under any separation scenario.
"We're looking at the return to collaborative federalism under Charest, not the confrontational federalism practised by the PQ," a federal Liberal said.
But critics of former finance minister Paul Martin, in particular, suggest that Mr. Martin and Mr. Charest might work together to reduce the scope of federal powers in areas of provincial jurisdiction.
In the race for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, Mr. Martin's rivals, Finance Minister John Manley and Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, are campaigning on platforms that emphasize a strong federal government. Their strategists argue that Mr. Martin is more willing to give in to provincial demands.
However, Mr. Martin's spokesman, Brian Guest, said that the former finance minister has a long record of working together with the provinces for common ends, rather than battling them.
"People want the federal government and provincial government to work on problems that matter to them. They don't want to see them fighting," Mr. Guest said.
But he noted that Mr. Martin has rejected the provincial argument which is supported by all Quebec provincial parties, including the Liberals that there is a "fiscal imbalance" in the country.
Like other provincial leaders, Mr. Charest insists that there must be a rebalancing, that Ottawa has an inordinate amount of taxing power while the provinces face the heavy demands of health, education and social assistance.
Another senior Martin strategist said no one should expect the former finance minister would make common cause with Mr. Charest, should they both assume office.
He said there have always been tensions between federal Liberals and Quebec Liberals, and those would continue even with Mr. Charest in office.
"The checks and balances of the Canadian system over the years have always existed between the provinces and the federal government," the Martin insider said.