Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Trudeau And The Regions


Canada has six distinct regions. And each region has its own distinct economy. Any prime minister has to balance regional interests and pay attention to each regional economy. Justin Trudeau will have to remember that reality if he is to govern wisely. Donald Sovoie writes:

Canada does not have an effective upper house in Parliament to give voice to regional perspectives. It is no exaggeration to say our Senate has been a dismal failure in what ought to be its most important role – speaking for the regions. All policy issues, all the premiers and all MPs go to the prime minister for answers. There is nowhere else to go. Even once powerful regional ministers have become a relic of Canadian history.

Our national political institutions have little capacity to give life to regional perspectives, so he will have to invent an in-house capacity. The point is that national policies can never work in all regions unless they are put through regional lenses.

That's why regional interests must be strongly represented in  Trudeau's cabinet. And the new prime minister's capacity to listen -- something Stephen Harper didn't do very well -- will be tested:

A case in point is Mr. Trudeau’s commitment to invest some $125-billion in infrastructure over the next decade. There is a need for such investments, particularly in mass transit in the largest cities, notably Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Atlantic Canada, too, needs investment, but of a different kind; we do not lack for roads and bridges, and Atlantic Canadians rarely have to deal with long commuting times.

Infrastructure spending holds a great deal of appeal. It provides tangible evidence that the federal government is active in the region (not to mention many photo opportunities for politicians). However, what Atlantic Canada needs for economic development is vastly different from what Southern Ontario requires.

And, just as the West wanted in thirty years ago, Atlantic Canada now wants a seat at the table. Maritimers felt as alienated from  the Harper government as Westerners felt from Pierre Trudeau's government.

Justin Trudeau learned much at his father's knee. One hopes he has also learned from his father's mistakes.


Anonymous said...

Tangentially: manufacturing in Ontario used to be a huge part of the Canadian economy before 2006. Under the Harperman regime of hampering any competition to the Oil economy manufacturing was left to wither and die in the east.

Support for a revived producer economy in parallel to infrastructure renewal would be most helpful.

Owen Gray said...

Absolutely true, Anon. Developing a manufacturing economy meant avoiding the classic resources trap which has hampered the Canadian economy from the very beginning. Focusing on the oil industry was one of many ways the Harperites sought to turn back the clock.