Our last golden opportunity to rewrite Canada’s constitution was 33 years ago. It was a blustery April day when Queen Elizabeth and Pierre Trudeau signed the documents on Parliament Hill that brought the constitution home from England. Yet every year at this time, we are reminded about major deficiencies in the whole process.
When Trudeau and the Premiers hammered out that deal in 1982, it was missing some important parts. Quebec was not really part of it, and don’t hold your breath waiting for that to change. One ‘roll of the dice’ at Meech Lake is quite enough for this lifetime.
Of greater ongoing concern is the fact that Canada’s constitution says absolutely nothing about municipalities. It replaced the British North America Act that was written in 1867. Back then, most Canadians lived on farms or in small rural communities. Today, a majority of us live in large cities that are expensive to maintain.
The legislation that created Regina and Winnipeg and other cities is provincial, but even those pieces of paper offer very little help when it comes to paying the bills. For a generation now, the cities have pleaded with Ottawa and the provinces to do something about the growing infrastructure deficit.
Sewer and water systems, roads and bridges, and public transit require huge investments of taxpayer dollars. The main source of revenue for cities is the property tax which doesn’t go very far at all. As municipalities and school divisions finalize their budgets, the call is going out once again for ‘senior governments’ to play a greater role in paying those major bills.
With the exception of sensitive items like oil royalties, the taxes that are controlled by Ottawa and the provinces grow a lot faster than property tax. Sometimes, like this year when a federal election will be happening soon, politicians do like to back up the money truck. Most other times, they don’t, because they don’t have to.
If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, read the Constitution.
I’m Roger Currie