Federalism Simplified

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

  • Contest Winner, Brent Richter

    Contest Winner, Brent Richter

Written by Brent Richter (Contest Entry)


There’s always lots of talk and debate about politics on campus and too often arguments are made by people who don’t have a solid enough understanding of federalism. I wish to show that federalism, potentially a very complicated and detailed area of study, can be simplified quite easily by comparing it to a close-knit family structure. For those just joining us, federalism is the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments as written in the constitution.

Our nation’s decision making and spending power is not fully centralized in one spot – much like in a family; everyone has their own things to contribute and their own needs (some more than others). The three main branches of federal power (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) are best compared to Mom and Dad and the grandparents. They make the decisions, they bring most of the money, and they decide how most of it is spent. So as not to be sexist or promoting aged stereotypes the executive (the most powerful branch) can be either Mom or Dad. The legislative branch (the one that basically passes what the executive wants into law) shall be represented by the remaining parent. The judicial branch (Supreme Court) prefers not to be a decision maker in the family but is forced to step in at times and guide the executive and legislature to making a better decision for the family. This of course is represented by the grandparents.

The children in this family are the provinces. Each has certain responsibilities delegated to them by the federal government just like our parents expect us and our siblings to take care of ourselves to a certain extent. Kids rarely earn as much money as their parents in their part-time jobs so obviously there is a large degree of economic dependence on the federal government. The provinces are glad to get that funding but two things will always remain constant: They want more and they don’t want Mom and Dad telling them how to spend it. Sound familiar at all?

The provinces have all have their own unique personalities just like children do. B.C. is a forward-thinking, thriving hippyish type that is and among the favourite of the children in the family (despite always being high on the best drugs found anywhere). Alberta is the real money making entrepreneur. It has plenty of valuable resources and hates when Mom and Dad try to tell it how to spend its cash and gets really upset when asked to share its fortune with the have-not children in the family. Saskatchewan is a simple out-doorsy type, rather plain in terms of personality (notice the double entendre). It’s self sufficient but doesn’t have a reputation for fun or excitement. Next we have Manitoba – Canada’s “special” child. It can’t do much on its own. Hugely dependant on mom and dad and has little to offer. Still though, we love Manitoba just like our parents love us despite our short comings. Who could be next but Ontario? One of the oldest and most outspoken provinces who has a habit of being the squeakiest wheel (spoiled, self-important brat). Mom and Dad always seem to cater to Ontario’s needs the most (despite the fact Ontario can quite easily take care of itself). Ontario’s influence with Mom and Dad extends to fiscal policy, trade and deciding where the family goes on holidays. Then there is Quebec. Canada’s misunderstood (read: language barrier) problem child. Quebec is desperate for more decision making control and wants to move out on its own, though Mom and Dad (and even the grandparents) have put the kibosh on that for now. Quebec has a history of good ideas that don’t get listened to and as such Quebec is that “one in every family” who manages to ruin Thanksgiving, Christmas and Constitution signings. Among the Atlantic children is New Brunswick – the forgotten child. No one really listens to New Brunswick but that’s alright because New Brunswick is rarely saying or doing anything noticeable. New Brunswick is the child most likely to be forgotten at home when the family piles into the minivan to go to the cottage for the weekend. P.E.I. is small - so small the parents wonder why it ever became a province in the first place. Still though it is more popular than its Atlantic siblings due it its being quaint and cute. If that cuteness ever wears off though, this kid is in serious trouble. Then there is Nova Scotia – always on the cusp of being accepted by the western provinces but never quite making it. Perhaps one day it will be allowed to sit at the adult table at Christmas dinners but that time has not yet come. Then there is Newfoundland. Newfoundland was adopted. Newfoundland has no job. Newfoundland won’t move out no matter how bad Mom and Dad want it to. The other children and even Mom and Dad have a hard time relating to it (also a potential language barrier). Even Manitoba looks down on this sibling. For shame!

What’s that you say? I forgot the territories? Yeah they’re easy to forget aren’t they? The territories are Canada’s foster children. Precious little autonomy, minimal allowance and non-acceptance from the other kids in the family; not even Newfoundland.

So, I hope this simplification gives you a good understanding of what federalism is and what roles the provinces play. So be kind to your family and don’t forget to feed Manitoba.


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