In the TV business, they say that a long running show has “jumped the shark” when it has featured an episode in which the plot line has strayed way beyond the basic premise of the show simply because it appears the writers have just run out of ideas to keep the show fresh.
The phrase comes from an episode in the waning days of Happy Days in which the Fonz had to jump over a shark-filled pool on water skis.
In today’s vernacular, if you describe anything as having jumped the shark, it means that it may have reached the end of its run.
Recently, the premier of Quebec jetted off to Copenhagen to entertain himself at the international love fest that was the UN Summit on Climate Change.
While engaged in the festivities, Jean Charest took the time to remind his fellow Canadians, and the world, how vital it was to make sure it was Albertans, and only Albertans – they of the evil Tar Sands Conspiracy –who should bear most, if not all, of Canada’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In as many words, Charest reminded the world that only Alberta is at fault for Canada’s increasing carbon dioxide footprint, and that only Alberta should be expected to pay.
In doing so, Charest has made it abundantly clear that our inter-provincial shell game of equalization has jumped the shark.
Let’s face facts here. The first question we have to ask is why was Charest at Copenhagen in the first place?
The Canadian electorate has not elected Charest to act as a representative of Canada at international conferences, and he has no legally defined role in such instances.
But that’s just waving the can opener at the worm container, because there are now even more questions to be asked.
You see, Quebec is not just a confederational welfare case, it’s a welfare case of world-class proportions.
Quebec has no ability to pay its own bills. Massive portions of public spending in Quebec come from taxpayers far removed from Quebec. That’s the reality of equalization.
Given that, how was it that Charest had the money to get to Copenhagen in the first place? The government of Quebec can’t afford bus tickets, let alone the cost of jetting their premier and attached entourage to Europe.
Yet, thanks to the magic of equalization, the premier of Quebec can tap into the pockets of Albertans and fly off to international summits and pretend to be the leader of a mature, self-sufficient democracy.
The single biggest problem with equalization is that we’ve attached no provisions that encourage provinces to get off the equalization gravy train.
Everyone gets to behave as though they’re equal partners in confederation, when they’re most definitely not.
By allowing the have-not provinces an equal voice in national taxation issues, we simply encourage behaviour that is increasingly hostile to those provinces that are footing the bill.
In Quebec’s case, not only have we fiscally encouraged this behaviour, we’ve also enabled it by treating their nationalistic tendencies as though they actually represented legitimate political goals.
Simply put, there has never been a moment since the 1940s when Quebec was capable of standing alone as a nation; yet we routinely have acted as though a small band of bigots could actually create a fully formed nation state.
There’s never been a point in my lifetime when Quebec didn’t receive such a significant share of its public funds from the rest of Canada that an independent Quebec could pay the full toll of her self-aggrandized federal ambitions.
In that vein, it is a demonstrable failure of our equalization game when the premier of a province that’s an abject failure at paying its own way within the framework of Confederation, isn’t roundly and widely scorned as a buffoon by the national media, federal politicians and fellow premiers, when he openly criticizes the single largest source of his own government’s “offshore” income.
Just as the UN’s treatment of Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez at the climate summit spoke volumes about how far that organization has fallen, our own failure to react more stridently to Charest’s anti-Alberta diatribe is equally shameful.
By treating the likes of Mugabe and Chavez as legitimate equals to other world leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama or Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, the UN de-legitimizes itself.
When Canada’s largest welfare case can go off on Alberta with no repercussions of any sort, it de-legitimizes confederation. We may not have jumped the shark quite yet, but I’ll tell you what — the ramp has been towed into place.
Bill Greenwood is a local freelance columnist.