Friday, October 10, 2008

Federalism, parties, and institutional support for decentralization

I've had occasion to argue that federalism provides an institutional weight to decentralization in a polity, and that Canadian federalism in particular is well-anchored by the dynamic of Quebec seeking greater decentralization, then other provinces seeking to keep up with Quebec. This helps prevent the dynamic of one or another party of the ethnocultural majority being unrelentingly centralist-- even anti-Quebec animus gets channeled into the protection of other provinces rather than into support for a stronger center. The entrenched character of federalism, the way in which it creates provincial-level sites for politics and parties, gives decentralization an institutional weight that helps to stabilize a constitutional order.

From today's Globe & Mail:


Globe and Mail Update

October 7, 2008 at 11:27 PM EDT

Miles' Law states that "where you stand depends on where you sit."

Nothing could be truer for Canada's premiers. Each is grappling with the federal election based on their local political dynamic, rather than partisan labels. And those individual political calculations will have a profound impact on the next federal government, regardless of who wins.

Let's start in the West.

Facing the voters in eight months and tied in the polls, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell has kept his powder dry.

While the Liberal label of his party might make one think he should support Stephane Dion automatically, the B.C. Liberals in fact draw support from both the federal Tories and Grits. Getting into a scuffle with either federal party's leader would divide Mr. Campbell's own house.[...]

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach has been playing defence. He feels a re-elected Conservative government is best for his jurisdiction, but also wants to avoid a Ralph Klein-style interjection that helps the Liberals with their "hidden agenda" attacks on Mr. Harper.

Mr. Stelmach took a swing at NDP leader Jack Layton when the tar sands came under direct attack, but mostly he is leaving it to others to do the heavy lifting. [...]

Ontario's Dalton McGuinty is playing a careful game. Despite his own brother running for re-election as a federal Liberal MP, Mr. McGuinty has avoided any endorsement of the Mr. Dion's Liberals.[...]

Despite the brand name, Jean Charest's Quebec Liberal Party is made up of supporters of every federalist party: Conservative, Liberal, NDP, Green. Attacking one at the expense of another only divides his coalition and diminishes his chances in an election that could be held on a moment's notice. Instead, he has played a more traditional role for a Quebec premier, attacking policy elements that threaten to intrude on the province's jurisdiction.[...]

Then there is Danny Williams of Newfoundland and Labrador - a Conservative who legally registered his "Anyone But Conservative" campaign with Elections Canada, calls the Conservative Prime Minister "intolerant" and predicts a "dark age" if the Conservatives get a majority.

Degenerate federalism happens when the provinces are captured by the center and become local sites for patronage and corruption-- pillars of the majority at the center rather than potential bulwarks against it. (Mexico for most of the 20the century or Moscow under Putin, for example.) Canada is about as far from that outcome as it's plausible to be.