Maybe I spoke too soon when I declared that the latest federal budget shows Stephen Harper is Mr. Not-So-Scary. After all, National Post columnist Adam Radwanski is frightened. He says so on his blog today.
What's he worried about? Well, in his NP column today, Radwanski explains that Harper has a plan to reduce the influence of the federal government, leaving the provinces to their own devices.
There are two aspects to this. One is money and the other is leadership & control.
In terms of money, Harper has been talking about the "fiscal imbalance". There are a few ways that he can go about moving money from Ottawa to the provinces to help them on this issue:
The third one is the one that some commentators were concerned about pre-election. The worry was that downloading of taxing responsibility to go with provincial spending needs would crush the have-not provinces and cripple the federation.
However, the Conservatives have political ambitions. And their strategy these days goes through Quebec. Whatever the separatists may claim about the fiscal relationship between Quebecois and Canada, the winning formula for Stephen Harper and Jean Charest is expanded equalization. That's the route Harper seems to be leaning towards today.
And that's the nature of the current battle between Dalton McGuinty and the federal Conservatives. A richer equalization payout would be a heavy demand on Ontario taxpayers (which, oddly, John Tory supports). But what it certainly would not be is the end of national equity, or the end of Canadian social programs in the poorer provinces.
The other aspect of what Radwanski is talking about is national leadership & control. Under Harper's strategy, the federal government would be reducing their role in directing, planning and creating national programs.
However, I wouldn't be concerned about that either, at least not in the short term. They don't show any signs of watering down the major programs that exist, and I never expected a Conservative government to introduce any new national programs. But there seems to be little Harper can do to prevent a future government from getting back in business. If we someday have a Prime Minister Ken Dryden, I'm sure we'll have a national daycare program, too.
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