Partition die likely cast in Ontario

by Margret Kopala

Letter to the editor published by The Ottawa Citizen, January 22, 1998

Professor Thomas Courchene’s contributions to the national debate are always welcome because of the depth and scope of knowledge he commands on social, economic and other issues affecting Canada ("Ontario ripe for ‘separatism’", Jan 17). In this light, his thesis that "Ontario is now a region state," would be compelling, were it not for the fact that another of his theses, namely the need for "subsidiarity" in government restructuring, seems to be under way here in Ontario - and with all the attendant consequences.

At an event sponsored by Carleton University’s Centre for Liberal Education & Public Affairs and the federal Progressive Conservative Eastern Ontario Speakers’ Forum, Prof.Courchene explained the concept of subsidiarity as one allowing authority be held and choices made at the lowest possible level of organization.

As at this event, subsidiarity is routinely invoked in discussions of federal-provincial relations. Perhaps characteristically, however, it is the Ontario government that has shot ahead and applied it by devolving responsibilities in social and other policy areas to municipal and regional governments.

Sounds good, and no doubt the Ontario brand of subsidiarity will bring greater efficiencies and lower costs. But these governments will soon notice that, without the powers to discharge their new responsibilities, those responsibilities will become onerous.

In some cases they will even become nonsensical because no meaningful discussion or consultation has taken place on the role or function of government and levels most appropriate for assuming those roles and functions. (The Harris government should have defined the "what" before it struck its "Who Does What" Commission.)

Just as the provinces demand powers be devolved from the federal government, so too will local governments want the autonomy - the "sovereignty" perhaps - to conduct their own affairs.

Partition is discussed in threatening terms in a separate Quebec. With or without separating, the partition die may already be cast in Ontario with its government, via subsidiarity, the unwitting author of its own deconstruction.

This hardly constitutes the strongest foundation for a region state, even if one were desirable.

Margret Kopala

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