Maybe it’s the lingering national glow of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Or perhaps the fact that it was a blazing hot summer in 2011. Whatever the reason, has anyone noticed how nicely our provincial and federal politicians are getting along these days? Growing up as a young adult in the 1980s and 1990s, I just assumed political rancour and bitter regional battles were what made us Canadians. East against West, French against English, Ottawa against everybody — the bickering was nonstop. How many countless Constitutional crises did we endure through those decades?
One of my first jobs post-university was with a nonpartisan research think tank. The incessant political and regional fighting was, admittedly, very good for business. We were kept busy through those years organizing national round tables, hosting conferences and playing referee to the ongoing national pillow fight that was Canadian politics.
But now, the fighting has stopped. Quebec — the rebel-rouser of Constitutional debates since the 1976 election of the Parti Québécois — has toned it down. Perhaps because the separatist forces are so hopelessly disorganized and largely leaderless, there doesn’t appear to be another referendum on the horizon. Quebecers may be no happier about their role in Confederation, but at least they aren’t grumbling quite as loudly. (Either that or no one else is listening.)
Alberta — a runner-up for troublemaker of Confederation — has also lost interest in bashing Ottawa. The fact that the prime minister is from Calgary helps considerably, but past grievances such as Senate reform and rebalancing the equalization program have been mostly ignored. The “hands-off-our-oil-money” bravado has fallen mercifully silent. These days, Alberta politicians are more concerned about James Cameron saying unkind things about the oil sands than they are about Ottawa.
True, British Columbia did just recently give the proverbial finger to Ottawa by rejecting a harmonized sales tax, but that snub was really aimed at the provincial Liberal government. Ontario plods along, consumed with solar panels and a Ferris wheel in Toronto. Newfoundland and Labrador has lost Danny Williams, who was always ready to dust it up with Ottawa. The rest of the crew of The Good Ship Confederation — like Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island — are happy to be along for the ride.
Premiers still gather at nice resorts for some golf and a few meetings, but these summits lack their former drama. Topics include infrastructure, reducing trade barriers and securities regulation. Yawn. Some premiers even leave early.
There may be some legitimate reasons for this strange period of détente in Canada’s political corridors. One is simply confidence in our country. We’ve finally shaken off much of the cultural and economic inferiority complex we suffered vis-à-vis the United States for the last 50 years. The brain drain is about to turn into a brain gain. We have no Michele Bachmann. In just about every way you can compare the two countries, Canada stacks up favourably at the moment — and we know it. All of this leaves us feeling less threatened by Ottawa or the other regions, and more thankful for what we have.
Secondly, we are lacking (if that’s the right word) any really feisty political leaders. Alberta’s Ed Stelmach was no Ralph Klein. Stephen Harper is no Pierre Trudeau, or even Brian Mulroney. And as for feistiness, no one comes close to René Lévesque. For better or worse, we are governed by a bunch of good managers, not visionaries. That may be dull and lacking inspiration, but at least things get done. A trade mission to Brazil trumps one more conference on national unity. Who has time to pick pointless fights with Ottawa when there are opportunities to sell your province to the world?
Third, maybe voters are just tired of all the acrimony, and elected officials sense it. That’s a bit generous to both voters and politicians. But could it be that we are just maturing as a country? Even teenage siblings stop fighting eventually.
On the other hand, this might simply be the calm before the storm. Quebec may be one charismatic leader away from really stirring the pot. Alberta — along with sidekicks BC and Saskatchewan — may have a word or two yet to say about equalization. Health care transfers are coming up for renegotiation. A cynic could find plenty of reasons yet to worry about national discord.
But for now, we enjoy the relative calm. Europe is in tatters largely because its leaders can’t figure out how to solve the problem, or even if they can be bothered to solve it. The Middle East is in a very dangerous political no-man’s-land. And Americans — poorest souls of them all — have the Tea Party.
Canadians? We’re cool, we’re calm. We’ve got kick-ass banks and Cirque du Soleil. Peace, order, good government. Let’s enjoy it while we can.