2003 June 13 Friday
Alberta and British Columbia As American States?
Lawrence Solomon executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute has an article in the National Post (a Canadian publication) on the idea of bringing Alberta and British Columbia into the United States as the 51st and 52nd states. (you can also find it here)
Because U.S. democrats would balk at adding a Republican state to the Union, they would want a second, more left-leaning state to be added at the same time, to maintain a balance of power – this was part of the bargain that had to be struck before Democratic Alaska and Republican Hawaii could be ushered into the Union. The likeliest running mate for Alberta is British Columbia – a lush and largely liberal urbanized province that has much in common with the west coast states of Washington, Oregon and California.
Canada has serious political problems that continue to cause discussions among Canadian political commentators about a possible break-up of Canada. Solomon thinks one cause of Canadian political problems is the excessive amount of power held by rural areas in Canada. Solomon has a later article on barriers to trade in Canada erected by the provincial legislatures.
To protect their private fiefs, each provincial legislature has erected trade barriers to block Canadian businesses that try to come in from other provinces. The barriers cover financial services, they cover construction. They cover electricity, gas distribution, transportation, health, education and architecture. Most of all, they cover the resource industries.
Solomon argues that this state of affairs is at least in part a result of legislative districts (called ridings in Canada - from the days when one had to ride around them on a horse?) which have fewer people in them in rural areas than in urban areas. The rural areas support regulations that create barriers for trade between between provinces. This reduces competition and reduces economies of scale. Given that Canada has about a ninth the US population spread out over a large area it already has much less potential for economies of scale than the US does. Therefore trade barriers between provinces are especially damaging to overall living standards.
But if we compare the United States to Canada in terms of internal trade the biggest factor that has made the US more integrated economically is a clause in the US federal constitution. Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution contains what is called the Commerce Clause which has generally been interpreted to mean that US states can not create trade barriers between the states.
To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;
To establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States;
To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures;
In the views of many commentators (myself included) this clause has been abused by liberal courts to empower the federal government to regulate all manner of local matters. There has been a long series of cases which have changed the scope of the Commerce Clause. For a treatment of the history of court rulings see a review by Robert H. Bork and Daniel E. Troy entitled Locating The Boundaries: The Scope Of Congress's Power To Regulate Commerce. While the Commerce Clause has been abused to excessively extend the power of the federal government its net effect over the longer run has been to allow large economies of scale within the US economy that have enabled Americans to have higher living standards than Canadians. The increased level of trade between the parts has also been a politically integrating force in American politics.
Does Canada lack the equivalent of the Commerce Clause? It sure sounds that way. How about it Canadians, do you folks have a federal constitutional clause that prevents provinces from restricting inter-provincial trade?
There's a law on the books that the federal government and the provinces signed to promote free trade among the provinces. It's called the Internal trade accord but but it,s so obscure that most businesses don't even know of its existence and that there are mecahanisms to challenge protectionist policies. The feds can't really impose free trade as teh provincves would band together to block any federal initiatives. It's very frustrating because it's easier to export to another country than to trade inside Canada. Rather ironical considering that Canada was founded as a customs union to facilitate trade between the British North American colonies
Finally, I don't think that Alberta and BC will become American states in my lifetime. As much as American assume that the English Canada are just like them, there are sufficent differences between the English Canadians and Americans that there'd be surprising tensions between both.
To answer your question: Canada does have a 'commercial clause' [art 91(12) BNA 1867] and it parallels the peace order and good government powers but the former was reduced due to judicial interpretation by the Judicial committee of the Privy council. Further that clause overlaps with the exclusive provincial jurisdiction for property and civil right in the province.
Nonetheless, since the Supreme court has become the ultimate court of appeal in Canada, there's been a resurgence of the trade and commerce clause where the court has ruled in favour of the feds. However, the imposition of this power has been very slow due to the provincial competency to regulate property and civil rights. So the courts have always had to scrutinize if a federal law that legislates interprovincial/international commerce does so or is an atttempt for the feds to encroach on an exclusively provincial comptency via a general federal power
The standard text to read is Peter Hogg Chap 20: Trade and commerce in Constitutional law of Canada [Carswell]
I should add that the GATT/WTO decision have been more effective in breaking down protectionist barriers than the feds.
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The basis for your argument that British Columbia and Alberta could potentially become part of the US seems rather far-fetched; simply because protectionism between provines is seldom used.
Canada is undoubtedly one of the frailest federations in our world today. This is due to many factors, many have scupulously studied this fenomenon. Political unbalance, demographic unbalance, Quebec, lack of common identity; these problems are not as elementary as they seem, undoubtedly there is a deeper analysis to be done on the topic of Canadian disunity; in my opinion, though, these are te reasons for Canada's woes. Inter-provincial trade is secondary.
As the world becomes increasingly globalised, the tendency for disunity within nations will also become a part of history, rather than the future. In my opinion, if canada did not split up in the past hundred years, this is not the time for it to happen. Federations in Europe, with far greater problems for their unity, such as Spain, Belgium or the United Kingdom, have maintained unity for hundreds of years. European nations are not looking to divide from within, but to come together with their neighbours. Similarly, Canadians and Quebeqers in particularly (as seen in the latest elections to the Quebec National Assembly) have realised that breaking away is no longer a worthy cause, the costs are too many, and the benifits too few.
British Columbia and Alberta are a part of Canada. British Columbia, as the second most populated English province, holds many stakes in Canada, political, economic and social.
Alberta's constant oposition to the federal government has not greated further disunity in the nation, I would even dare to say it has been a healthy way to keep the federal government aware of the fact that it has to deal with western issues too. If Albertans are 'republican', they are 'republican'in Canada, thus they vote for the Canadian Alliance. If Albertans ever say they are unhappy with being a part of Canada it is only a way to wake up the government from its sleep with Ontario and the east.