There is an old adage in politics that you complain up. Anyone who has watched a Niagara municipal council meeting understands that. And when a senior level politician complains down it is often seen as petty almost oafish.
Then there we were Wednesday. Justin Trudeau used Doug Ford’s name nine times in a single announcement. It wasn’t the most he has invoked the Premier of Ontario, that was on this writer’s birthday, Sept. 23, when he said “Doug Ford” 13 times.
No wonder Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer invoked laughter during the Federal Leaders’ Debate Monday night with:
“Mr. Trudeau, you seem oddly obsessed with provincial politics. There is a vacancy for the Ontario Liberal leadership and if you are so focused on provincial politics, go and run for the leadership of that party.”
The Liberal strategy is clear in this election. Invoke the idea of a conservative boogeyman by running against Doug Ford in Ontario and pointing to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney everywhere else. Will it be an effective strategy? Who knows? But it is certainly garbage politics.
Mr. Ford and Mr. Kenney were elected on fiscal restraint and a better deal with Ottawa as key parts of their platforms. They won massive majorities.
Both provinces are dealing with significant challenges, many of which stem from the state of affairs left by previous governments. In the midst of the provincial governments trying to do things like, negotiate public sector contracts, the federal government is using the opportunity to gain political points.
For example, the news came out Sunday that Mr. Trudeau would be door-knocking with Ontario schoolteachers to show solidarity against Doug Ford. The hope from the Liberal war room was that Ontario schools would be closed, kids would be home missing out on their education and parents left scrambling with day-care and having to take time off work.
This would have been election gold to the Federal Liberals. Showing how bad Doug Ford is and how Canada doesn’t need that.
There is one huge problem however. The federal government has nothing to do with education.
Canada’s constitution is divided up between federal and provincial powers. Education is the responsibility of the provincial government. All taxes to teach children and run the education system are collected provincially and locally.
School acts are provincial and the federal government doesn’t even have an education minister. In fact, standards from province to province are not even fully harmonized. Try going to university or college in a different province than where you went to high school and see how many hoops you jump through for accreditation.
This is all to say it is wrong for one level of government to try and tell another how to operate. Especially when you have nothing to do with the issue they are dealing with.
Yes the Ford detractors will point to the City of Toronto and how the premier cut the number on city council from 47 seats to 26 seats. Well, the City of Toronto Act is provincial legislation and therefore an entity of the province. That means the Government of Ontario establishes cities and towns through the Municipal Act with Toronto having its own act.
It also means the province can amend the acts and require entities created within them to live by the amendments. That’s how laws work folks.
So if things go wrong with these decisions then the civic leaders can criticise. If there isn’t enough money in the budgets then they can – and often do – criticise. Sometimes this criticism comes with its own peril, sometimes the criticism is done properly and it is jumping off point for cooperation between the two levels.
Regardless, the adage stays the same that you complain up in politics and keep it about things you are responsible for. If Mr. Trudeau wants to talk about education and what is happening on the ground then he should develop education policy, how it intervenes with the provinces and how the federal government is going to pay for it.
That has not happened. I am sure given the challenges in education systems from coast-to-coast-to-coast premiers would be saying “here take it” to the feds if the option to upload schools was given to them.
Imagine an Ontario where teachers had to go to Ottawa to protest, where the provincial government’s second largest line item on its budget was removed, where the teachers unions were federal unions.
No, too much of a stretch? Then perhaps Mr. Trudeau needs to stay out of provincial affairs.
Simply put, no matter what level of politics or government you are in your duty is to your constituents. And if you are doing a perfect job, there are literally no issues in your backyard and all of your constituents are happy, then maybe, once in a while you might be able to comment on another jurisdiction. Even then you shouldn’t.
I am going out on a huge limb here in saying everything being done at a federal level in Canada is not perfect. So that’s where the federal government’s focus should be.
Because regardless what happens Oct. 21, whoever is in power will need to work with the provinces to keep our nation going in the right direction or fix the direction it’s headed.
That doesn’t happen by creating enemies with the provinces.
Kelly Harris is Principal of Harris Public Affairs and former Membership Chair of the Public Affairs Association of Canada (Ontario Chapter). He is a regular commentator on Global News Radio 640 and columnist for Queen’s Park Briefing. He has spent the last decade working with Canada’s credit unions and served as Director on the Board of the Canadian Credit Union Association. An internationally published journalist, he has held senior positions in the Gordon Campbell Government in British Columbia and Tim Hudak’s opposition at Queen’s Park. An avid traveller, cyclist and father to Busher, an orange tabby, named after Toronto Maple Leaf Great Harvey “Busher” Jackson.