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On the one hand, Canada is definitely a country.

We have a flag and everything. A currency, too, and international borders, and a central bank. All that “country” stuff that gets you a seat at the United Nations.

On the other hand, Canada also sometimes camouflages itself, fairly convincingly, as something less than a country. Don’t tell the Secretary-General.

The year 2018 offered a few examples of this tendency. We were reminded that we have 13 separate securities regulators for 13 separate jurisdictions, lose billions of dollars every year because of self-inflicted trade barriers within our own borders, and can’t get our most valuable natural resource to market across provincial boundaries.

In other words, the past year saw us resume our occasional pose as a kind of pseudo-country, one whose mutual bonds are loosened by provincial jealousies, bureaucratic gridlock and political indecision.

Yes, yes, we know: Canada is a federation. It is and it should be. But do we have to be such a ragtag federation? A savvy Canadian political party should put forward a nation-building agenda that ties us closer together, makes us richer and corresponds with the self-respect that a country of our stature ought to have.

The slogan writes itself: Make Canada a Country Again.

The first order of business on the MaCCA agenda would be creating a national securities regulator. We’re the only Group of 20 country without one. Each province – and territory! – has its own. This anomaly creates hassle and risk for investors and firms alike, for example, by requiring companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange to file papers in every province – and territory! – where they sell shares, and making it harder for people to keep their financial adviser if they move.

The good news is the Supreme Court cleared the way for a pan-Canadian regulator in November by upholding the constitutionality of Ottawa’s latest, more co-operative scheme. Alberta and Quebec are still opposed, but their legal arguments for blocking Ottawa and the other provinces are gone. It’s time to take this idea across the finish line.

Interprovincial trade is another ancient bugbear of Canadian federalism. A 2016 Senate report estimated that internal trade barriers cost the country’s economy up to $130-billion a year through inanities such as differing organic food standards and a crazy quilt of licensing rules and building codes.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has been pushing the provinces to loosen some of these restrictions, but progress has been slow, and the Supremes have been less helpful than they were on capital-market regulation. Last spring, they ruled that provinces have the right to limit the import of goods if the goal isn’t restricting trade, as in the case of provinces that bar certain quantities of alcohol from neighbouring provinces on health grounds.

But just because provinces have the legal power to hamstring the economy and make us all poorer doesn’t mean they must do so. Why not take a page from the European Union’s playbook and align Canada’s patchwork of provincial consumer regulations? Trade between Greece and Belgium is often freer than it is between New Brunswick and Manitoba.

Or consider this: The Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating estimates that conflicting provincial and territorial standards have inflated the price of water heaters in this country by as much as 30 per cent.

The average Canadian voter, regardless of province or territory, never asked for any of this. The only cheerleaders for the status quo are well-placed special interests. Freer interprovincial trade, common securities regulations and uniform business standards are staid consensus ideas with appeal across the political spectrum. There’s no need for the MaCCA movement to be a partisan affair.

Nothing in the idea of Canadian nation-building implies bulldozing the prerogatives and identity of Alberta or slighting the national consciousness of Quebec. Rather, it’s about making the country work as a country where co-ordination is clearly needed.

This would be nationalism, yes, but not the exclusionary kind that focuses on group identity, border walls or subordinating minorities. Rather, it would be a lateral nationalism concerned with stitching together a loose-knit, continental federation that too often duplicates its efforts and trips over its own feet.

Canada is 151 years old now. Grow up already.

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