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The golden quadrangle discussion paper


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The rise of Alberta in West Canada is breaking the traditional Golden Triangle comprising Montreal, Ottowa and Toronto.

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The golden quadrangle discussion paper

  1. 1. The Golden QuadrangleAlberta’s Emergence in National Leadership By Satya Brata Das and K.J. (Ken) Chapman Cambridge Strategies Inc., December 2001
  2. 2. IS Alberta becoming the new Ontario?At the superficial level this is an absurd question. Despite its impressive economicperformance, its surging trade and its bright prospects Alberta has fewer people thanmetropolitan Toronto and could not hope to compete head-to-head with its much largerpartner in Confederation. Moreover, Ontario contains two of the three points in the“Golden Triangle” that lies at the heart of political and economic power and influence inCanada – the sometimes uneasy but always enduring interdependence between the powerelites of Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa.Yet at the deeper political level, Alberta’s emergence in national power is one of the mostgermane and intriguing speculations on the Canadian political landscape. It is entirelypossible that for the first time since Confederation, national power in Canada may betterbe described as a Golden Quadrangle, carrying Alberta to the sphere of nationalinfluence. The source of this transformation is found to some extent in the inadequaciesof larger and more powerful provinces. Ontario’s confrontational path with the federalgovernment in the years of Mike Harris’s premiership, the relative disarray of bothgovernment and governance in British Columbia, and the continuing animosity ofQuebec towards the federal government all contribute to a climate of discord. Indeed, thethree most populous provinces make it increasingly difficult for Ottawa to enjoy aconvivial relationship with any of them.At a Team Canada West media scrum in Dallas, Texas in November 2001, journalistsasked Prime Minister Jean Chrétien about the latest confrontation from Ontario: PremierHarris’s “challenge” to debate health care. The Prime Minister swatted it aside, notingthat as a premier who had announced his intention to leave political life, why debate?Scenting another “confrontation story”, journalists then asked whether Premier RalphKlein might stand in for the Harris challenge, and debate the Prime Minister. To whichthe PM replied: “No, my friend Ralph and I don’t debate, we discuss matters, and we willcontinue to do so in the future.” Premier Klein nodded, completely at ease, very much
  3. 3. the “natural” partner, with the comfortable demeanour of one who knows he is firstamong equals.As history and tradition show, Canadian governance functions best when the federalgovernment and one of the senior provinces enjoy a particularly cordial and co-operativerelationship. Ottawa and a senior provincial partner jointly broker solutions to anynumber of frictions in federal-provincial relationships, then use this as a model otherprovinces might usefully adopt. That role has belonged to Ontario or Quebec – andsometimes both – in keeping with both demographics and economic clout.Now, to the surprise and perhaps consternation of role-bound traditionalists mired in theirown adversarial ideas of federal-provincial relations, the balance is shifting. PremierKlein and Prime Minister Chrétien’s easy rapport is a symptom of an evolution thatrightly alarms partisans more accustomed to the politics of division and resentment inboth provincial and federal jurisdictions. Scant months after the cry of “Westernalienation” propelled the Canadian Alliance to a strong showing in the Westernprovinces, the leadership of Alberta has moved on. Rather than standing on the outside,demanding a share of power, Alberta is simply taking what is available, as Ontario andQuebec increasingly relinquish the role that was traditionally theirs. Since the last federalelection, Premier Klein is exploring the boundaries of what it means to be the country’smost experienced provincial leader. Confrontation is giving way to co-operation, andAlberta is assuming a significant share of national leadership by emerging as the partnerof choice for the federal government. This shift is evident in virtually every arena ofstatecraft. A telling illustration is the federal government’s easy acceptance of the“radical” fiscal agenda that launched Alberta from deficit to surplus in a matter ofmonths. The seemingly revolutionary strategy of controlling spending so that one mayhave the luxury of reinvesting a surplus is now the accepted norm across Canada.Alberta, due to its resource riches, was perhaps better able to make the leap away fromdeficit financing. Yet as the federal government showed in following the path set by bothSaskatchewan and Alberta, fiscal balance is merely a means to an end. The goal at theend of the day is to deal with the challenges of managing and sustaining prosperity, and The Golden Quadrangle Cambridge Strategies Inc. 3
  4. 4. ensuring that one has the resources to sustain public health care, public education, and theother building blocks that make Canada’s civil society one of the most appealing in theworld.Indeed, the social policy challenges of governance offer apt illustrations of the newpower partnership – one based on creative co-operation rather than arid confrontation.The Prime Minister and the Alberta Premier worked well together in crafting Canada’snew Social Union, based on a document that came to be known as the CalgaryDeclaration.The shift is in part dictated by circumstance – Alberta may be the fourth province interms of population, but it is the nation’s third largest economy. It is the most consistentlyreliable “have” province in Confederation, being a perennial contributor to equalizationpayments these past three decades. An inclement combination of economic conditionsand fiscal policy make Ontario and British Columbia fiscally erratic. Their ability tocontribute to equalization can no longer be taken for granted. As Alberta continues tolead the country in economic growth, effectively weathering fluctuating commoditycycles, it gains greater momentum and a stronger voice within the federation. Yet theseare in a sense details. The catalyst for Alberta’s rising influence comes from alchemybetween leaders that no economic matrices can predict. In the months since the 2000federal election, Prime Minister Chrétien and Premier Klein have crafted an effectiveworking relationship, and displayed a warm personal regard.The relationship may have existed previously, but it was subdued to the point ofobscurity in the months that Premier Klein involved himself in the leadership successionof the Canadian Alliance. Once that involvement ended, the veils were removed. PremierKlein told a magazine columnist that in different circumstances, he might happily haveserved in Prime Minister Chrétien’s cabinet. The reasons for the mutual regard are fairlystraightforward. Each is a third term politician with an unassailable majority. Each is acentrist and a pragmatist, both starting out as Trudeau Liberals and evolving to thepolitical centre as their careers and instincts developed. Each shares a breadth of The Golden Quadrangle Cambridge Strategies Inc. 4
  5. 5. experience in both governance and government. More subtly, each leader enjoys apersonal commitment and involvement in Canada’s aboriginal heritage, most readily seenin their immediate families. Moreover, each is blessed with that golden political currency,the “common touch.” Each is always able to project himself in such a way as to mingleequally well with ordinary and extraordinary people anywhere in the world – as much athome with the servers in a restaurant as with the leaders of the Keidanren, the Japaneseeconomic federation that includes all of that country’s major transnational corporations.Yet there is a more significant foundation for this extraordinary relationship. Each is apolitician remarkably well suited to the current iteration of Canadian and Albertandemocracy, what we would call The Demotic Society. A demotic society is an advancedform of democratic governance that can flourish in established democracies whosesociety and culture has been largely shaped by immigration. A demotic society is anatural evolution of what is broadly understood as western liberal democracy. It mightindeed be looked at the next iteration of a society that is well-educated, confident,prosperous and democratic. In what ways is a demotic society different from ademocratic one? The natural rivalry between distinctive adversarial political parties, andtheir competing ideas and visions, is at the heart of traditional democratic discourse. Yetat a certain point, a critical mass of citizens accepts certain shared principles, ideas andvisions, creating a broad-based consensus of the centre.A demotic society emerges when the adversarial drive of partisan politics outlives itsusefulness. Traditional political parties are in essence tribes – a form of collectivebelonging that emerged when democracy was too new, and it was thought that peopleneeded something that would bind them, produce leaders in whom the citizenry wouldinvest a great deal of authority. By experience, traditional political parties were anextension of the former power structure, whether in a post-colonial society or in a countryentering democracy after a long period of authoritarian rule. Every country needs a periodof traditional democratic politics, if only, as we would suggest, as a transitional phase todemotic politics. The current experience in Indonesia, for instance, is the resumption of ademocratic revolution long interrupted. The dozens of groupings that have emerged as The Golden Quadrangle Cambridge Strategies Inc. 5
  6. 6. political parties have perforce entered into coalitions of like interests – they areessentially negotiating the structures of governance on behalf of the groups theyrepresent. Yet after a period, especially a long period of peace and stability, politicalengagement is no longer necessary to assure an orderly, stable and desirable life for mostcitizens. It is at that point in a country’s evolution that large sections of the electorate nolonger engage in active politics – not even in the simple act of voting – because to thempolitical engagement has little relevancy. Rather than a clash of opposing ideas betweenreadily distinguishable parties, the politics of a demotic society is one of subtle evolutionsof the status quo, of small ebbs and flows that result in larger social, economic andpolitical changes in an interdependent world. Rather than a competition of strikinglydifferent views, it is more an exchange of slightly different approaches to commonproblems. The grand scope of democratic discourse is diminished, and too often politicalconflict is a series of minor irritations and differences magnified into something larger.At one level this can be strength, because it points to a society that is by and largeconfident and well ordered. Yet to those bred in the cut-and-thrust of traditional partypolitics, a demotic society can appear to be curiously passionless. A demotic society willbe seen by some as more of an exercise in pure pragmatism rather than “good oldfashioned hard-ball politics” - unless, of course, it is animated by visionary leadership.Different political parties can still find a consensus, but the differences become more ofinterpretation and nuance rather than policy and substance. It is the prevalence of thatbroad centrist consensus that defines the demotic society. The late Pierre ElliottTrudeau’s celebrated description of Canadians as “radical moderates” captures theessence of this notion. In a demotic society, the fundamental tribalism of partisan politics,the “us versus them” notions of political parties, become sublimated to the larger searchfor a voter supported consensus on the issues, structures and scope of governance. Ratherthan the prescriptions of traditional democracy, whereby citizens invest enormous powerin their leaders and expect them to govern according to a distinctive set of partisanprinciples, a demotic society expects leaders to govern in accordance with the broadersocial and economic consensus that is by definition demotic. The consensus may notalways be well articulated – yet citizens will respond adversely if they perceive a party or The Golden Quadrangle Cambridge Strategies Inc. 6
  7. 7. a leadership is straying beyond the confines of that consensus. The emergence of ademotic society can produce confusion and (perhaps justified) concern in a nominallydemocratic state. This reality was brought into focus in two extraordinary political eventsas the new millennium began. Prime Minister Chrétien’s Liberal government won a thirdterm with its largest plurality in the autumn of 2000. The following spring, PremierKlein’s government was also re-elected for the third time, with its largest majority ever aswell. Both of these notable victories produced commentary and concerns about anemergence of a “one-party state,” or an “elected dictatorship” and the dangers of arelatively weak opposition were duly noted.These phenomena can also be seen as empirical proof of the evolution of a demoticsociety in Canada. Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government, for instance,constantly reinvents itself to capture the demotic consensus of the time in the course of itsthree decades in power. The premier who slashed government spending in 1993-95 is thesame one who increased spending by 24.6 per cent in his 2001-2002 Budget. Thatannounced increase was later scaled back to the order of 15 per cent as capital projectswere deferred in the face of tumbling resource revenues, and the bulk of the remainingincrease went to health and education. Clearly, these are not actions of ideologicallydriven consistency, and it is difficult to believe any provincial government perceived as“right wing” would indulge in so large a “reinvestment” in central precepts of the civilsociety. Similarly, the Chrétien government’s increased majority reflects the inability ofthe Canadian Alliance – which offered a strong set of partisan principles and policies – totap into the broader national consensus. The Alliance actually lost seats in its Albertastronghold in the last national election, and its repeated failure to break through in centraland eastern Canada led to a stunning fall in its popularity amongst the Western Canadianelectorate that had once thought of it as a vehicle to end Liberal domination of thenational polity.This concept of the demotic society, a nation of radical moderates, may offer a moreuseful perspective than the notion Canadians are in the grip of a one-party state. Indeed,the debates within parties, the differences of opinion inside the big tent as it were, come The Golden Quadrangle Cambridge Strategies Inc. 7
  8. 8. to shape democratic discourse more than debates between parties. In a Demotic Society,good capable governance is, more or less, taken for granted and the citizen can actuallyafford to disengage from the minutiae of governance, from the day-to-day events shapingour political life and get on with their own lives. Consensual, informed, and effectiveleadership helps too, as the example of Jean Chrétien and Ralph Klein readily attests.This can in one sense be seen as apathy, but in another, it is a reflection of a society sobroadly consensual that citizens feel no compelling need to be active in tribal oradversarial partisan discourse. It is rare in a demotic society to find a true partisan,someone who has voted for only one party all of his or her life. Ask around your friends,your companions, your neighbours, your colleagues – their lives and their experiences aretypically too diverse to be captured in a single narrowly defined partisan grouping. It isthe broad political coalitions, the flexible ones, even the opportunistic ones who mosteffectively gauge public sentiment and opinion, who flourish in the demotic age.It is important to recognise the emergence of demotic governance in Canada is aphenomenon shared with the United States, Britain and to a lesser extent France.Movements of broad consensus – President Bill Clinton’s rightist Democrats, PresidentGeorge W. Bush’s centrist Republicans, rightist President Jacques Chirac’s easycohabitation with the leftist government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, and above allPrime Minister Tony Blair’s brilliant creation of New Labour bestriding the politicalcentre in Britain are all evidence of a political evolution that rises above the old tribaldivides of traditional party politics, creating new coalitions and networks of the centre.The demotic evolution and the confidence it implies are an important element in theemergence of the borderless world, and the attendant possibilities of globalisation, oncewe transcend a fixed focus on economics to embrace a loftier vision.As we have seen with Blair, a well-articulated sense of the nation’s destiny injectspassion into the pragmatism of demotic politics. In Canada, that vision was for too longshaped in the Golden Triangle, the nexus of political and economic power rooted inMontreal, Toronto and Ottawa. The emergence of Alberta as an economic and political The Golden Quadrangle Cambridge Strategies Inc. 8
  9. 9. force, abetted in no small part by the friendship between Premier Klein and PrimeMinister Chrétien, changes that traditional structure. It is perhaps more apt now to speakof Canada’s national vision being shaped by a Golden Quadrangle. Alberta is now thefourth point, at last bringing to national governance the perspectives of Canada’s NewWest – the only part of the country where the majority population is of neither French norBritish descent. The Quadrangle may finally enable “traditional” Canada to transcend itsAnglo-French immigrant culture, and to embrace the energy of a new Canada crafted bythe mingling of the world entire. The Golden Quadrangle Cambridge Strategies Inc. 9