Thursday, May 25, 2006

King Ralph? Not so much anymore

Matthew Shugart, always on the look-out for comparative federalism issues, takes note of Ralph Klein's hissy fit yesterday on the subject of including oil revenues in equalization formulae. Ralph claimed, incorrectly, that this would be unconstitutional. Matthew, more wisely, noted the similarity to issues in Nigeria and Iraq (all, with Canada, artificial creations of the British Empire, cursed with ill-distributed fossil fuels).

In a nutshell, in Canada, provincial governments have constitutional jurisdiction over, and to a large extent directly own, natural resources. The central government also has complicated formulae for equalization and transfers, designed in theory to ensure that all jurisdictions can have comparable public services at comparable levels of taxes. Oil and gas revenues are excluded from consideration.

There is no doubt that the system is broken, but much question of how to improve it. Not surprisingly, the debate tends towards zero-sum regionalist bickering. The most recent step in the dance has come from Klein, the Premier of Alberta, who threatens to leave the equalization system altogether.

Much to say on this subject, but for now, I'll just note that Matthew may be reading the politics wrong. In general, fed-bashing is a favourite sport of domestically weak politicians, and Klein is a lame duck. After being humiliated in a leadership review on March 31, 2006, he is going to leave when a new leader is chosen. It is quite possible that the new leader will be closer to Harper than Klein is. So this kind of rhetoric may be more of a sign of weakness than strength.

That's not to say that Alberta won't fight hard for its interests. But there are multiple dimensions to any deal, and Alberta would have a lot to gain if the federal government visits "tax room" on the provinces. There are bitter memories of the genuinely destructive policies of Trudeau a quarter century ago, but I think Alberta will ultimately compromise.


David Wozney said...

The “Government of the Province of Alberta” claims authority from the “Alberta Act” which was supposedly enacted by the Canadian Parliament in 1905.

The "Alberta Act", drafted in 1905, states: "Therefore His Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:-".

In 1905, Section 9 of the British North America Act, 1867, now called the Constitution Act, 1867, stated: "The Executive Government and Authority of and over Canada is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen".

In 1905, Section 17 stated: "There shall be One Parliament for Canada, consisting of the Queen, an Upper House styled the Senate, and the House of Commons".

In 1905, Section 91 stated: "It shall be lawful for the Queen, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate and House of Commons, to make Laws for the Peace, Order, and good Government of Canada, in relation to all Matters not coming within the Classes of Subjects assigned exclusively to the Legislatures of the Provinces; ...".

What was the name of Canada's constitutional Queen regnant who had executive government and authority of and over Canada when the "Alberta Act" was drafted in 1905?

PithLord said...


Well, by 1905, Queen Victoria had died, and Edward VII was on the throne. Executive authority was vested in him, as was the power to enact statutes with the advice and consent of the relative legislature.

In the original British North America Act, s. 2 provided that references to the "Queen" in that act applied to Queen Victoria and her successors to the throne of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, male or female. Section 2 was repealed by the Statute Law Revision Act, 1893, 56-67 Vict. c. 14 (U.K.), but that statute made clear that the general interpretive principle of British staute law that references to a queen included a king, and vice versa. The same principle exists in all the Interpretation Acts in Canada.

David Wozney said...

I could not find where it states that references to a queen included a king, and vice versa.

The Interpretation Act, 1985 states: "35. (1) In every enactment, ... “Her Majesty”, “His Majesty”, “the Queen”, “the King” or “the Crown” means the Sovereign of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories, and Head of the Commonwealth.".

In every enactment since 1867, Her Majesty is not the Sovereign. In every enactment since 1867, the Queen is not the Sovereign.

The first definition for the noun "sovereign" in my dictionary states "a person who possesses sovereign authority or power". The first definition for the adjective "sovereign" in my dictionary states "above or superior to all others; chief; greatest; supreme". The second definition for the adjective "sovereign" in my dictionary states "supreme in power, rank, or authority".

The supreme law of Canada, the Constitution of Canada, states that "...Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law...".

The Queen does not claim to be God.

Anne Cools stated in a speech to Canadian senators: "Queen Elizabeth II has lived, to the best of her ability, the high concepts of public service in Christ the King. She is a great woman, a great Queen and a great servant. God Bless the Queen!".

The King, not the Queen, is sovereign.

PithLord said...


The language about the "supremacy of God" goes back to 1982. Lawyers conventionally ignore it because it is in a preamble. Further, lawyers are notoriously unable to divine the will of God.

As you may know, Svend Robinson petitioned to have the reference to the "supremacy of God" removed, but was unsuccessful.

The "Sovereign" referred to in the Interpretation Acts is quite clearly the monarch from time to time: right now, Queen Elizabeth II. It is true that she is not absolutely sovereign, even in theory. But she is still "the Sovereign."

Originally, the theory was that the King was at the "height of our sovereignty" when acting with the advice and consent of the other estates of the realm, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Commons. See this post: Subsequently, the Imperial King-in-Parliament asserted its sovereignty over any colonial legislatures. This had rather dire results south of the border, but was accepted by the Loyalists and les canadiens. Since the Imperial Parliament was supremely sovereign, the statutes of our Parliament and legislatures were subject to the BNA Act, as an imperial statute. Gradually, that evolved into the sovereignty of the constitution. The Crown is a party to all of these things -- constitution, ordinary statute and simple executive act. God apparently isn't.

Matthew said...

Actually, I don't remember what I said about the politics (and I am too lazy to go back and look), but I tend to agree that "King Ralph's" statements indicate weakness. In fact, I meant to put into the post something about his lame-duckness.

Thanks for the discussions and links, as always!