They can’t help themselves

One of Canada’s perennial problems is jurisdictional creep and the fact that all levels of government are tempted to invade another’s turf. Pictured: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo Credit: Justin Trudeau/X.

It seems it would be a good thing to give all of our Canadian politicians a refresher course on the Canadian Constitution as so few of them appear to understand their areas of jurisdiction as compared to other levels of government. This has worsened over the past few years as our social and economic problems have increased in Canada and partisanship is worse than ever. When things aren’t going very well, the pressure increases on politicians to fix the problems and some respond to that by taking action on issues that are high in visibility but none of their business. 

Some of the worst offenders in not being able to stay in their lane are municipal politicians. Since the Hamas atrocities of October 7, many municipal politicians have felt the urge to introduce motions to their Councils on various aspects of that conflict. British Columbia appears to be the province most likely to wade into that quagmire, with a number of municipal councillors in several municipalities proposing motions to demand a cease-fire, an imposed peace or other similar outcomes. 

At Niagara Regional Council this past February, a motion was proposed by St. Catharines Councillor Haley Bateman requesting a ceasefire in the Middle East conflict and to facilitate immigration of some Gazans to Canada. The motion was fortunately struck down. Back in 2022, the same Council approved a motion denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – also a time and tax-dollar waster that was not in their purview. More recently, Niagara Councillor Diana Huson proposed a motion to side with the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) and against the Ford government over a dispute regarding the extension of the natural gas grid into new housing developments and how it was to be financed. This motion was narrowly defeated but, once again, not under the jurisdiction of the local government.

It’s also striking that few if any of the politicians wading into areas in which they have no business being possess any particular related expertise that might be useful. For instance, many of the efforts by municipal politicians to ask for ceasefires or other measures related to the Hamas-Israel war have no expertise on the complex and centuries-old history in that region, so are merely making proposals based on emotion not facts. Opinions on the Hamas-Israel war have also been dictated by partisanship, where leftists tend to support Gazans and sometimes even the terrorist Hamas and have antisemitic views whereas conservatives are more likely to favour Israel and their right to defend themselves. The same goes for the climate-related issues on which municipal politicians seem keen to become involved.

Our most senior level of government in Ottawa is hardly setting a good example of late. As the Trudeau Liberals fall further in the polls, they seem more motivated to encroach on provincial jurisdiction. This could be because the areas they are actually responsible for – immigration, foreign policy, the national economy, defence, criminal law, monetary and fiscal policy – are all currently unmitigated disasters they have created with poor policy choices. It’s understandable they don’t want to talk about those fiascos, so have moved into dental care, pharmaceutical policy, children’s lunch programs, housing and daycare, among others – all areas of provincial responsibility. 

Canadian courts have already decided against two federal incursions into the provincial realm when they rejected the federal Liberals’ attempt to ban plastics and impose the Impact Assessment Act (also known as the No More Pipelines legislation), although the Liberals have said they plan to appeal the plastics decision.  The courts’ decisions have clearly not deterred the Liberals’ moves into provincial territory given their recent activities. From a political standpoint, the Trudeau government could find it attractive for them to take credit for grandiose plans such as the recent one on a national school lunch program and, if the program ultimately fails, blame it on the provinces. That has worked for them before, but one can hope Canadians have wised up to that ploy and won’t fall for it again. 

Canadian governments at all levels have become larger in recent years as the pandemic expanded government size. Despite the end of the pandemic, governments have continued to grow and these unnecessary resources can be used to invade areas that are none of their business. It would be one thing if all of our governments were doing a great job in their actual areas of responsibility, yet no government can currently make that claim. Instead, our municipalities permit the ongoing deterioration of municipal infrastructure, provincial governments seem incapable of dealing with major problems in health care and education despite throwing billions of our tax dollars at these issues, and pretty much all areas of federal responsibility are disasters. 

One of Canada’s perennial problems is jurisdictional creep and the fact that all levels of government are tempted to invade another’s turf. A number of commentators have noted that Canada has an awful lot of government for a relatively small population. Recent years have seen a worsening of cross-jurisdiction interference to the detriment of our tax burden, debt load, public service quality, economy and society. The best solution is to shrink government by about 25 per cent or more at all levels, and have our courts involved in regularly ruling against government efforts to veer out of their lane. That won’t happen quickly, but our current path is not sustainable.


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