Two Solitudes is the title of a highly regarded 1945 novel by Hugh MacLennan that examined the often strained relations between English and French Canadians. It could, however, apply equally well to the situation today in America. With just a week until the voting for the next President, the United States of America has become the Divided State of America.
I’ve had this blog drafted for several days, waiting for this story to wind down, but it shows no signs of doing so yet. At issue is the Liberal Party of Canada’s cash for access activities. There has been extensive coverage and controversy about Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s attendance at a recent Liberal Party fundraiser in Halifax. The event was held at the home of a wealthy land developer and the admission charge was $1,500 per person. The Finance Minister is also to be the star attraction at a November 7th $500 per ticket fundraiser, again being held in a private home. Prime Minister Trudeau was to have been the guest of honour at a $1,500 a ticket event at a private club in Toronto last month, cancelled when the PM left to attend the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Peres. Why all the fuss about these activities when, we are assured, they are within the law and open to all?
The line in the title of this blog is an explanation sometimes offered by students when they don’t submit work on schedule. Over the years mayors have also demonstrated creativity when having to justify their actions. Allan Lamport, mayor of Toronto in the early 1950s, was famous for his malapropisms. He apparently once repudiated a charge by responding “I deny the allegations and I defy the alligators” – although that quote has also been attributed to others. A very recent mayor of Toronto had a highly unusual explanation when evidence was presented of something that he had denied doing. It must have happened when he was in a drunken stupor, he responded.
It now appears that the imminent approval of the EU-Canada Comprehensive Trade Agreement (CETA) has been thwarted as a result of the deal being rejected by the parliament of the Federation of Wallonia-Brussels, a region within Belgium that contains less than 1% of the population of the EU. As a result of this vote, Belgium cannot consent to CETA and the support of all EU member states is required for its approval. Predictably, this unexpected development has prompted both celebrations and gloomy reports of a return to protectionism and consequent economic decline.
As I have posted previously, one can be in favour of free trade and still be opposed to particular free trade agreements – because of the extent to which such agreements contain provisions that restrict government actions that allegedly have an adverse impact on company profits or anticipated profits. An example of this very issue has been in the news at the same time as the CETA setback.
It was with approval and a sense of of déjà vu that I read about a recent paper by Spicer and Found published by the C. D. Howe Institute. It advocates intermunicipal cooperation and joint servicing agreements for more efficient and effective service delivery rather than amalgamations which have consistently failed to yield promised cost reductions.
Many of us in the academic world have debunked the myth about amalgamations saving money for decades – in my case through the last five editions of Local Government in Canada and in various articles including a February 1997 Municipal World item entitled “Sex, Lies, and Amalgamations.” Andrew Sanction, Robert Bish, Harry Kitchen, Wendell Cox, and Michael Keating – among others – have all explained why amalgamations don’t save money. None of this evidence made any difference to the Conservative government of Mike Harris, which remained faithful to its ideology while forcing amalgamations that reduced the number of municipalities in Ontario to some 100 fewer units than existed at the time of Confederation in 1867.
Governing isn’t easy and the new Liberal regime, elected only a year ago, has had a steep learning curve and a number of challenging issues to address. It has done well in some respects, but in other instances the behaviour of the government seems quite out of line with the expectations of those who supported its election.
C. Richard Tindal, Ph.D is a retired Professor of Government. He taught for 30 years at St. Lawrence College, Kingston and was an occasional Visiting Professor at Queen's University. He has also written and consulted extensively about government.