Constitution: It's back, some assembly required
Since 1992, there has only been one way for Canadian politicians to talk about the Constitution -- and that's to say "we're not talking about the Constitution."
Lately, though, it's occurred to me that we are talking about the Constitution in Canada -- including many of the debates that occurred around the Charlottetown accord talks in 1992. We're just not calling it a constitutional discussion.
Exhibit A: Whether we like it or not, we have to reallocate seats in the House of Commons and that's a discussion that has major constitutional principles attached to it. See the Mowat Centre report issued yesterday or the little story I wrote about it.
Exhibit B: We're also talking about Senate reform and that's a discussion headed to the Supreme Court. If the federal Conservatives want to head off challenges that they're letting the courts decide our constitutional issues, they might want to open up their Senate-reform plans for a full, open debate. Back-door Senate reform, or incremental change, might not just cut it.
Exhibit C: The proposal for a national securities regulator touches on some of the very same issues that drove the debate over economic union in the Charlottetown accord. And that's also a matter before the courts. Again, no national debate means that the courts will have to be activist.
Exhibit D: The necessary and looming debate over health-care financing is going to force the federal government and provinces to confront their constitutional responsibilities and the place of the Canada Health Act in a modern Canada. The recent Insite decision by the Supreme Court also put that federal-provincial tension on the table.
Exhibit E: Equalization. Several provinces in Canada have been making noises about fundamental reform required in the constitutionally proscribed program that is aimed at evening the economic playing field between the provinces. If we start talking about changing it, sorry folks, but we're talking then about the Constitution too.
I'd argue that all this evidence points to the fact that while we've been sleeping, lulled by political assurances that we're not reopening the Constitution, we actually are having a constitutional debate.
It's just not happening at the first ministers' table. In fact, there's no table at all. This is more like a constitutional debate you'd buy at Ikea -- some assembly required. Anyone have an Allen wrench?