Negotiating Canada’s economic potential

I am convinced that Canada’s enormous potential, measured in terms of the general well being of all its citizens and the success of its economy, can be achieved if the right environment is created.
Creating such an environment would involve mobilizing the political will to achieve a combination of federal-provincial cooperation and inter-provincial cooperation.
That combination has not existed in our 150 years of history because of the nature of our constitution and the practically impossible option of making constitutional changes in the relationship between our federal and provincial governments.
So it is up to us to use our country’s existing circumstances and especially the priority needs of each of our provinces and federal territories to achieve a higher and more equitably shared standard of living for all of us, by negotiating voluntary economic compromises.
I stress the voluntary nature of that strategy. Instead of the metaphor of the carrot and stick, or even the concept of ‘give and take’, I prefer the softer option of ‘give and get’.
There is an opportunity to use that ‘give and get’ option in our present conjuncture and I suggest that we seize it with both hands and both feet. Here are three key features of that conjuncture.
Firstly, we now have a prime minister who is not showing any inclination that he wants to control every aspect of national life. He is not showing any abusive obsession with imposing his views and values on us.
The second feature of our reality is that we have a semi-paralyzed economy which does not offer any meaningful hope of reversing the obscene levels of under-employment and insecure employment, and the under-stated levels of unemployment and socio-economic marginalization.
This parlous state of undeclared poverty is heavily concentrated in our indigenous communities but is also widespread to differing degrees in almost all segments of our population, including specifically among our youth, our seniors and our middle-income earners.
The third feature of our current conjuncture is that we have the peculiar reality of an apparent conflict between the urgent need for economic development and the equally urgent need to protect and sustain our environment in the face of the disastrous effects of climate change. Some provinces and territories urgently need markets for their energy products and other provinces and territories have an equally urgent need of reasonably priced energy supplies.
The last two of those three features appear to be daunting and even insurmountable. Much as I am strongly opposed to the environmentally harmful and risky methods of producing and transporting energy products, much as I share many of the policy analyses and options presented by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, I have to find a viable way forward that is balanced and reasonably fair to all.
So, here is the deal, as I see it. Here are the arrangements that we need to negotiate at all three levels of government and with our indigenous peoples.
Let us share the costs, risks and benefits of each other’s energy production and of satisfying each other’s energy needs. This is a tall order but the conversation started among the provincial governments two years ago when the previous federal government refused to participate in federal-provincial policy discussions.
Let us combine our respective commitments to short-term energy and economic development needs with commitments to longer-term renewable energy production and consumption for industry, physical infrastructure and homes. Let us fix time-frames and time-lines for the duration and review of those commitments that we make.
Let our federal government serve as the mediator and promoter of compromises. Any coordinating role is welcome but no federal decision-making function should be allowed to over-rule the rights and areas of jurisdiction of the provinces. The provinces retain the main responsibility to initiate proposals for ‘give and get’ arrangements among them.
As a compliment to those different roles for the federal and provincial governments, both of them can have the option to propose ‘additional’ mechanisms for (i) facilitating the equitable sharing of the social and economic “costs” and for (ii) maintaining an equitable standard of living from coast to coast to coast.
Here is one more aspect of the negotiating structure I recommend for a host of political, legal, demographic, ethical, historic and practical reasons. Indigenous peoples of Canada and municipal governments throughout the country should enjoy the flexibility of engaging in all these negotiations, as special autonomous participants and as entities within the geographic territory of a province or federal territory.
In essence, I suggest we convert our competing interests into shared interests. This is a voluntary approach to formulating national policies in a number of areas. This is a meaningful way of consensually defining and implementing policies that truly serve the national interest.