Thursday, June 14, 2007

Let the bullies mock Calvert

Harper made a baffling statement in the House yesterday, mocking the Premier of Saskatchewan on his threat to take Ottawa to court. Nicely done there, Steve, by the way. Way to apply the cooler heads to the situation. Here's what he said to the Premier of Saskatchewan:
"I have to say that I think this debate is getting a bit to the level of the absurd," he said in the House of Commons. "We were being accused of breaking the contract with the Atlantic Accord. Now the Premier of Saskatchewan, who has no accord, was going to sue us for breaking his accord. I do not even understand what they are saying any more."
No, you clearly don't. Better check with some of them there lawyers you've got in your Department of Justice on this one. Because Calvert's making a constitutional argument, not a contractual one. And not having read the case law, if there is indeed any, on the equalization formula provision and the non-renewable natural resources provision of the Constitution Act and their interaction, I would off the top of my head not dismiss Calvert's possible suit against the federal government so cavalierly. Because he made no contract or "Accord" - and claims he wasn't offered to enter one, contrary to the Atlantic provinces at issue - he may in fact be in a better position to argue a straight out constitutional case that suggests discrimination against his province, that they're being unfairly singled out. And that as a result, the application of the budget equalization provisions causes a discriminatory result for his province. The equalization provisions in section 36 of the Constitution Act, 1982 are not supposed to take away from or infringe upon existing provincial powers, such as the non-renewable resource provisions in section 92A of the Constitution Act, 1867. Here's the way the Globe puts it:
Constitutional experts have said a province cannot sue the federal government for breaking the Atlantic Accord because the courts would interpret the dispute as a change in government policy rather than the breach of a contract.

But Mr. Calvert said he is not suggesting that a contract has been broken. Rather, he believes there is a constitutional argument to be made because the Constitution enshrines the principles of equity and fairness in the distribution of equalization payments and also says that non-renewable natural resources belong to the jurisdiction in which they are found.
So it appears that he's not arguing a flat out entitlement to Harper's promise on equalization, which might pose problems to argue legally, but somehow that there's interference in the province's ownership of its non-renewable natural resources. We shall see. But it looks interesting and should not be so readily dismissed.

In the meantime, I suppose we can expect more contempt from Harper given that Calvert's not playing nice in the backroom negotiation sessions like Rod MacDonald. And strange Conservative talking points on the need for contracts in order to pursue legal action.