Open Federalism

The businessman puts the cash in an envelope. He leaves it on the agreed upon restaurant table. Another man, a government bureaucrat, walks over and takes the money. Now it’s his turn to deliver the goods: government contracts to the businessman’s advertising firm.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />

No, this is not the Jack Abramoff scandal. Nor is it a Hollywood depiction of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Washington, D.C. corruption. In fact, this is the Canadian scandal colloquially dubbed “Adscam.” And it was the key issue responsible for toppling the government of Paul Martin and his Liberal Party in yesterday’s election, bringing the opposition Conservative Party to power for the first time in over twelve years.

Adscam began—as many scandals do—with a legitimate purpose. Following the close results of the Quebec referendum on separation from Canada in 1995, former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien launched a public relations campaign to “increase the visibility of the Government of Canada”. Chrétien hoped that such a campaign would help foster a sense of Canadian unity, especially in Quebec.

But as a federal inquiry revealed, the program was corrupt from top to bottom: Phony employees, fake invoices, illegal kickbacks to the Liberal party and outright bribery, such as the aforementioned cash-in-an-envelope. Incredibly, even though Chrétien ran this program out of the Prime Minister’s Office (the Canadian equivalent of the West Wing of the White House), only a few minor players have been held accountable. One corrupt businessman, who pled guilty to 15 counts of fraud, avoided jail by agreeing to give lectures on business ethics.

Adscam took place when outgoing Prime Minister Paul Martin served as Jean Chrétien’s Finance Minister, the cabinet member responsible for all things money-related. Yet, rather than describing this incredible tale of corruption from the top, the American media mostly focused on the anti-American sound bites of Martin and the Liberals. But while such ugly nationalism deserved a response—and got many—the Liberals used the controversy to their advantage. One Liberal party ad featured “ordinary Canadians” (actually, Liberal Party activists) claiming they would support Martin because he will “stand up to Mr. Bush” while other ads claimed that the Conservatives would turn Canada into…America.

What implications might a Conservative government have for the United States?

First, with Harper as Prime Minister, Americans will soon notice the absence of the shrill tone and holier-than-though attitude toward the United States that has characterized the Chrétien/Martin Liberals.

Second, under Harper, the Foreign Affairs Minister would most likely be Stockwell Day, a good friend of the U.S. and a passionate supporter of Israel. After 9/11, Day consistently pressured a hesitant Liberal government to proscribe terrorist groups operating in Canada, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and to ban all forms of fundraising for terrorist organizations. More recently, Day has criticized the Liberals for failing to seriously deal with the Iranian threat, even after the murder of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi by Iranian intelligence officers in 2003 in Tehran.

Third, a Conservative government will take American concerns with energy security more seriously by limiting the federal government’s interference in areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as natural resources. Canada is already the United States’ primary supplier of petroleum products, including crude oil. But most of Canada’s oil is located in the Western province of Alberta, which has proven reserves of 174 billion barrels of crude oil (recoverable with today’s technology), second only to Saudi Arabia. Western Canadians have never forgiven the Liberals for their 1980 ‘National Energy Program’, an attempt to wrest control of energy resources from the provinces by nationalizing the industry.

Harper calls his policy of limited federal interference “open federalism”. It is an assurance to Albertans and Quebecers alike that they will be allowed the full freedom and autonomy guaranteed by the constitution to administer provincial responsibilities. It represents a coherent alternative to the Liberal vision of an expansive, paternalistic, central government.

Democrats and Republicans, alike, would be wise to consider the merits of such an alternative vision.