Does anyone remember the concept of “open federalism?” That was the anti-centralist concept of Canada espoused by the Reform party back in the early 90’s that said the role of the feds should be limited to those areas that the provincial government either can’t or won’t do themselves. They also argued quite forcefully that any major policy decisions should be done in consultation with the provinces rather than being imposed on them by a dictatorial government in Ottawa.

Ironically enough these were once the cherished principles that our two-faced Prime Minister Harper once swore to adhere to until his dying day, if ever he became Prime Minister. Now, like so many other noble words once spoken by Steve Harper (i.e. denouncing patronage appointments of Senators) & his gang of neo-cons, they have been quickly disregarded in favour of the new dominant political ideology of this government: Ottawa knows best! As a wise man once said (Groucho Marx, often misattributed to Woody Allen) “ these are my principles. If you don’t like them, I’ve got others.”

I was reminded of open federalism the other day, when a Superior Court judge in Quebec found that the long gun registry was a shared overlapping jurisdiction between the two levels of government (criminal law is federal, but the registration of firearms is a matter for the provinces) and could not be destroyed without the consent of the provinces.

Quebec had filed an injunction (easily one of the best things the Charest government and the current interim leader Jean Marc Fournier as Justice Minister, ever did) against the feds when they inexplicably announced that they were destroying the data collected over the years by the registry, stating that they wanted the data to be transferred over to them, for the purposes of creating their very own provincial registry. A sensible and good use of taxpayer’s money. Not to mention a valuable crime fighting tool that virtually every police chief in the country supports.

But don’t expect Minister my-personal-life-is-of-limits-but-I want-access-to-yours Toews to accept logical arguments on this one, or any other issue for that matter. I’m certain it is only a matter of time before he and the government challenge the lower court decision and send the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada (not that they’ve had much luck their lately), open federalism be damned!

With the recent and tragic shooting of Denis Balnchette on election night, fresh in the minds of Quebeckers, they are no doubt more resolved than ever to have stronger, not weaker, gun control laws on the books. Pity that Harper’s bunch is too blinkered by their ultra-right wing views to realize that.

*Photo by mostlyconservative (via Flick under a CC license).

When the Charbonneau commission opens this week dozens of witnesses will testify and be cross examined by representatives from groups as diverse as Hydro Québec to hard core provincial lefties Québec Solidaire. The only oddity with the proceedings will be the conspicuous absence of a single representative from Liberal Party of Quebec. This is rather like having the O.J. Simpson trial without ‘The Juice’ (as he’s sometimes called), testifying before the court. After all, the whole purpose of this inquiry is to establish whether there is any connection between the awarding of juicy pork barrel government construction contracts (corruption never tasted so good!) and the financing of political parties in Quebec.

Yet, the PLQ had no qualms about participating fully in the hearings of Judge Bastarache with regards to the allegations of Charest interfering with the independence of the judiciary by appointing cronies to the bench with the help of former Provincial Justice Minister Bellemare. Ditto, the federal liberal’s at their own inquiry led by Justice Gomery into the Adscam political patronage scheme. So is this a case of LPQ shirking its democratic duty to be accountable to the citizenry then?

Let’s examine the case against them and others, in greater detail. In a report that got leaked by an unknown source, within the governments anti-corruption unit (UPAC) formerly headed by Québec’s answer to Eliott Ness (Jacques Ducheasnau), until he sang like a canary to a parliamentary committee and was promptly given his marching papers. In his report (available online), which does not single out the LPQ, he details the unholy menage a trois between Transport Ministry employees, contractors construction business and engineering firms who get government contracts, then make hefty profits of the deal, ultimately returning the favour by donating to political parties. In the process, biker gangs, organized crime and mafiosos, all take their cuts.

Government cuts to inspectors and engineers exacerbates the situation by putting the government in the difficult position of assessing bids without sufficient expertise to evaluate the costs involved in proposed projects. And like the days of Al Capone’s infamous criminal empire that flourished in Chicago back in the prohibition era of the 1930’s, some of the engineering firms are such cash cows for political fundraising purposes, that they basically become, in the words of an anonymous former political aide, ‘untouchable.’

Naturally, the current Liberal Minister of Transport Pierre Moreau dismissed the problem with his department as being ‘a few bad apples.’

In other related news, the head of the Securité Québec’s escouade Marteau (The hammer squad!) commenting on the recent bust of several high profile ‘business men’ with extensive political connections, namely Paolo Catanio, Frank Zampino and Bernard Trépanier, said that a massive fraud that the men had perpetrated, also involved an unspecified political organization in Québec.

Charest certainly has his hands full these days, what with the city of Montreal rebelling against his authoritarian bill 78, on a nightly basis, and the student strike threatening to spoil the summer tourist season. One can’t help but wonder how all of this might be distracting people from an issue that once was on everyone’s lips, but now seems to be getting a lot less attention. That, of course, doesn’t excuse Charest and his government for their shameful absence from the inquiry that they supposedly committed themselves to.