Aboriginal day and summer solstice 2013 .. democracy in Alberta, California, Canada, and Ontario

Jun 21st, 2013 | By | Category: In Brief

Medicine Wheel.

Up here in the northern wilderness today marks both the summer solstice, or official start of summer, and National Aboriginal Day (Journée nationale des Autochtones).

In the spirit of the season the Canadian House of Commons adjourned for its summer holiday early this year – two days ago. (“All parties agreed late Tuesday night to end the most bitter spring sitting of Parliament since Harper’s Conservatives came to power more than seven years ago … They packed it in a few days early after almost a month of late-night sittings …  Proceedings had devolved into acrimonious mud-slinging.”)

Anyone who happens to have remained in Ottawa might want to take in the Summer Solstice Aboriginal Arts Festival : Fri, June 21— Sun, June 23, at Vincent Massey Park (Heron & Riverside), admission free.

A truck moves slowly through a flooded community as evacuations continue in Calgary.

Meanwhile, back in the Harper Conservative homeland: “RCMP asks for military help as ‘insane’ Alberta floods threaten Calgary area.” The counterweights editors have asked me to extend our deep sympathy to all those who have already suffered serious losses, and those who may suffer more over the next few days. We are not used to quite this kind of large-scale natural disaster up here in our rugged but usually more or less well-behaved geography.

In keeping with the spirit of the season as well, I don’t have too much more to add at this juncture. Except that a few days ago I bumped into the kind of statistic that can suddenly illuminate or at least capture some complex phenomena in a few simple numbers.

Late last week I was scrolling through the online edition of the Los Angeles Times. (Something I do from time to time, as a way of keeping an eye on Hollywood and all that, etc.)  And I stumbled across this poignant report :

California Gov. Jerry Brown, flanked by Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), left, and Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), discusses $96.3 billion budget for 2013-2014 at press conference. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press.)

“‘Less liberal’ is the new conservative in state Capitol …   With Democrats in control, Republicans rely on Gov. Jerry Brown to be their budget voice …  After cutting services deeply during years of red ink, lawmakers on Friday passed, on a party-line vote, a $96.3-billion budget that increases spending on schools, public universities and social services. It also sets up an expansion of healthcare for Californians to conform with the federal Affordable Care Act.”

The $96.3 billion California budget figure jumped right out at me. Last week we finally passed our budget up here in Canada’s most populous province of Ontario as well. And, as someone who follows such things a bit, my recollection was that the figure in this case was considerably higher than $96.3 billion. I looked up the official document. And, even allowing that the Canadian dollar has lately been coming in somewhat (but not a lot) lower than the Yankee greenback, my recollection was close enough for jazz. The Ontario Budget 2013 plans for expenditures of $127.6 billion in the 2013-1014 fiscal year!

What does it all mean (maybe) – the different service states in Canada and the USA?

Now, the current population of California is more than 38 million people. This is more than the 35 million people in all of Canada at the moment – let alone the 13.6 million people in Ontario. And yet, even in current US dollars (as of close of business ET June 20, 2013), how come the 2013-2014 Ontario budget is $122.9 billion, while the California budget is a mere $96.3 billion????

Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick.)

This is one of various ways in which Canada actually is different from the United States – all other appearances notwithstanding (outside la belle province du Quebec at any rate, though even there in some non-linguistic sense the similarities are striking). Even in the age of the Harper Conservatives, the welfare state (or perhaps more neutrally  – and a term I like better –  the service state) in Canada is still considerably larger or more generous than it is in the United States.

There is another important wrinkle here, I think. It is often overlooked, and to me it helps explain just why the service state is, so to speak, more popular in Canada than it is in the United States. Provincial governments in Canada, relative to the federal government in Ottawa, are considerably more important than state governments, relative to the federal government in Washington.

Put another way, the service state in the USA is concentrated at the more remote federal level of government. And, I’d argue, that has something to do with its relative unpopularity. The service state in Canada is concentrated at the more locally sensitive provincial level. And that has something to do with its relative popularity as well. (Or so it seems to me.)

Finally (by half at least) , the counterweights editors have also asked me to point out that an article first posted on this site back in the spring of 2006 has lately been attracting considerably more attention than it used to (according too Google Analytics). Its title is “Evolution of modern Canada’s democratic constitution.” I have suggested to the editors that they might want to note this situation under one or more of the current headings in the bar at the top of the counterweights page. And they have said they will do this in due course, etc, etc.

And very finally, this coming Monday, June 24 will be La Fête Nationale Du Québec (formerly Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day), east of the Ottawa River. Best wishes on this occasion too.  And btw, Quebec has historically been one very big factor in keeping the tradition of strong Canadian provinces alive and well. (Yet another reason why Canada without Quebec would be quite impossible  – and vice-versa too.)

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