Newfoundland and CETA

27 03 2015

As readers of this blog will know, I’ve been following the negotiations for a Canada-EU trade agreement for some time. Back in 2011, I actually organised a small workshop/conference in London on this topic. Anyway, readers who share my interest in this topic should check out a recent Canadian Business article on how the Canadian province of Newfoundland is blocking the agreement. Canada’s written and unwritten constitutions give the provincial governments a say over foreign policy, or at least the parts of foreign policy that touch on economic matters.

Peter Shawn Taylor’s excellent article on CETA places Canada’s peculiar constitutional system in its historical context by reminding people that Canada’s current highly decentralized  system, which gives regional leaders many veto point over national policy, is rather different from the quasi-unitary state envisioned by most of the creators of Canada’s written constitution.

Sir John A. Macdonald, who would have turned 200 this year, advocated a single central government for Canada, without the bother of provincial legislatures: “one government and one parliamentfor the whole of these peoples,” he argued during debates over Confederation. Our first prime minister also made ample use of the now-obsolete power of “disallowance,” which gave him the ability to overrule the provinces whenever he liked.

So we might have expected the Old Chieftain to make short work of Newfoundland and Labrador’s recent gambit to extract $280 million from Ottawa in exchange for its co-operation in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union. If it doesn’t get its money, the province claims it will refuse to enforce CETA and drop out of all future international trade negotiations. Newfoundland’s brinkmanship is introducing considerable uncertainty into the delicate CETA process. 

If you want a bit more information about the role of business in the genesis of the Canadian constitution, you can see an article on the subject I published in an open-access journal. That article focused on the reaction of British financiers to Canadian constitutional politics in the 1860s. I think that it is somewhat relevant in thinking in more general terms about the relationship between constitutional orders and globalization.

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