Thursday, June 28, 2007

BC's example for other provinces

I heard some of the local nationalists attacking this column by Barbara Yaffe, and even herself personally, so I had to find out what the fire was about. Looking through I found only the most fleeting and passing reference to this province at all.

And yet this piece still became a target. It seems like it no longer takes criticism of this province or this premier to raise ire and wrath; merely pointing out the success of another premier or province is enough.



Campbell's quiet diplomacy scores federal benefits for B.C.
Barbara Yaffe Vancouver Sun, 2007.06.22

No one is certain how it happened, or precisely when, but B.C. has become "the nice guy" of Confederation.

Since 2001, when Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell took office, B.C. has pursued what could well be called "constructive federalism." And reaped significant rewards as a result.

The modus operandi is low-key, consistent and professional. No petulant politicians travelling to Parliament Hill. No legal threats. No insults. There's also a deliberate effort to give Ottawa full credit, where due.

Action Central is a little-known intergovernmental affairs secretariat in Victoria, with 26 employees who operate as part of the premier's office.

The secretariat's website outlines the premier's mission: "To ensure a corporate perspective across ministries in all of B.C.'s relations with the other Canadian governments."

And: "To improve and strengthen B.C.'s influence on federal-provincial matters."

As it cultivates a positive rapport with the feds, B.C. this year celebrates renewed status as a "have" province.

In the past year B.C. has broken new ground in forging relationships with other provinces, and regional groups beyond Canada.

In 2006, Campbell held a "high-level dialogue" with Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire. The two jointly appealed to U.S. President George W. Bush to delay passport requirements at border crossings.

Interprovincially, B.C. and Alberta since 2003 have held a cabinet meeting together each spring. In 2006, Edmonton and Victoria penned the Alberta-B.C. Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement, forming a common jurisdiction for certain purposes for their 7.5 million residents.

It covers everything from cooperating during emergencies to enabling university students and workers to transfer school credits and job credentials between the provinces.

Without doubt, B.C.'s neighbourliness and diplomacy are yielding greatest dividends on the federal-provincial front, not only vis-a-vis the Harper crowd but with the Chretien and Martin governments before it.

Back in the late 1990s, when Glen Clark was premier, Ottawa and Victoria were hostile, dropping gloves over everything from fishery management to a federal expropriation of the Nanoose military testing range.

In an interview six years ago, just before becoming premier, Campbell predicted that under his leadership relations between the province and Ottawa would be "exceptional."

They have been. Few other provinces have enjoyed such civilized dealings. Campbell abandoned B.C.'s longstanding practice of fed-bashing to score points on Ottawa's back.

It's not that B.C. has no bones to pick with Ottawa. The province could use more cash to fight the pine beetle infestation. It would like a federal moratorium on offshore oil exploration lifted. The softwood deal Ottawa signed with the Americans certainly didn't meet with universal approval on the West Coast. B.C. remains underrepresented in the Senate. It wanted Ottawa to honour the Kelowna accord.

But Campbell prefers negotiating quietly than arguing publicly.

That's in sharp contrast to Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert, who last week announced he would take Ottawa to court over equalization, or to the Nova Scotia and Newfoundland premiers deploying megaphones to bicker with Harper over the Atlantic Accord.

Harper's dealings with Quebec require him to continually do high-profile heavy lifting. And Ontario, under Dalton McGuinty, has become a provincial whiner par excellence.

Meanwhile, B.C. quietly pursues its own interests, in a respectful manner, recognizing Ottawa has its own rewards to reap.

Accordingly, the RAV line, for which Ottawa contributed $450 million, was promptly named "The Canada Line."

Ottawa, during Clark's rule, rejected a request for $170 million for a new Vancouver convention centre; more recently it handed over more than $200 million to the enterprise. Another $590 million in federal money has fuelled a Pacific Gateway Strategy aimed at making the province an internationally competitive transit hub.

Ottawa has moved the Canadian Tourism Commission to Vancouver; it has been at B.C.'s side from the start in securing and financing the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Of course, the Harperites are simply tending their own electoral backyard in the West. But Campbell deserves full credit for culling weeds and making it possible for the garden to grow.

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