Are we in a confederation or not?

con·fed·er·a·tion:

noun
  1. an organization that consists of a number of parties or groups united in an alliance or league.

Canada is referred to as a confederation. As regions and provinces, we agreed to and came together under a common constitution under the understanding that membership in this confederation was to be of benefit to all of us as a whole.

One of the most important aspects of our confederation is the ability to move our people and goods unfettered from coast to coast. If we allow municipal or provincial jurisdictions to hinder the movement of goods and people, we will then become a loose collection of nation states. What benefit is there for a province to remain in confederation if inter-provincial barriers are as onerous or worse than international ones?

Our founding fathers knew this. That is why they entrenched the authority to govern interprovincial trade within our constitution. It is pretty straightforward and doesn’t take a constitutional lawyer to translate and interpret things.

Section 91 of the constitution lays out what lands under federal authority and part two of that section reads:

2.
The Regulation of Trade and Commerce

I quoted it to show just how clear this constitutional authority is. There is utterly no question that the regulation trade and commerce is under federal authority. No ambiguity.

Next is section 121 of the constitution which is also very clear:

121. All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces

The constitution makes it clear that the federal government has both the authority and the obligation to ensure the free trade and movement of goods between the provinces.

In looking at recent and current issues with inter-provincial pipeline projects, it is clear that perhaps Trudeau understands that he has the authority to ensure the free trade of goods but he apparently doesn’t understand the obligation to enforce that authority when required.

The National Energy Board is a federal creation. While we would not want to see constant federal intervention in NEB activities, the NEB gets its mandate from and ultimately answers to the feds. In caving to activists supported by provincial and municipal politicians, the NEB has essentially neutered itself as an authority on pipeline approvals. In tossing out an entire committee due to what really were some weak activist complaints and in entrenching the absurd requirement to take upstream & downstream emissions into account with pipeline approvals, the NEB killed the Energy East line through unreasonable regulation. This will have a chilling effect on future and current pipeline applications unless we see something drastically change. The Transmountain pipeline has been delayed yet again and it is looking very likely that it will be killed by the application process soon. This is where the federal government needs to take control and assert their authority.

The inaction from Ottawa on these pipelines is purely political. Trudeau is terrified of antagonizing Quebec politicians such as Denis Coderre and Philippe Couillard for fear of losing seats in la belle province. The same can be said in BC where the mayors of Burnaby, Vancouver and the Premier of the province are all lined up in opposition to the Transmountain expansion. None of these municipal or provincial politicians have any authority to hinder these projects but unless Trudeau begins to exercise his federal authority in these affairs, local opposition will continue to delay or halt these essential Canadian projects.

We can rest assured that provincial politicians in favor of pipelines will become more bold as frustration with Trudeau’s impotence on the issue grows. We can look forward to trade wars as Premiers use regulation to punish neighboring provinces for hindering development. While turning off the oil taps to Vancouver for a week could be effective in gaining support for infrastructure expansion, the support would be grudging and consumers as always would ultimately pay the price. Nobody would come out happy from such a trade war.

If provinces are forced to go toe to toe all the time on trade issues such as this, it is inevitable that people will start asking themselves what the point is in being within a confederation? As the price of consumer goods rise and unemployment skyrockets due to cancelled projects, those voices will gain strength.

Nostalgia and emotion will only carry a person so far if they can’t get food on the tables. People need to see a real, tangible benefit in being within confederation and the free trade of goods provides that. That benefit is quickly vanishing due callow inaction from our federal government and the long term costs to our entire nation could be exceedingly high.

As long as our constitution is not being enforced, we are only a confederation in name only. If inaction continues, perhaps real movements will begin move provinces out from even that nominal presence within confederation. Lets hope it doesn’t come to that.

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