Members of Parliament don't need to feel like nobodies 100 feet from Parliament Hill. Maxime Bernier's call for a radical de-centralization of the Canadian federation, made in a recent speech to the Albany Club in Toronto, shows that elected officials have the ability to shape the intellectual debate in Canada, if only they show the courage.
Mr. Bernier, the MP for the Quebec riding of Beauce and a former minister in Stephen Harper's Cabinet, carries the libertarian banner proudly. His calls to "restore our Constitution" carry a tinge of Tea Party rhetoric. He wants to get the federal government to transfer tax room to the provinces and get out of major areas of public policy: "The federal government today intervenes massively in provincial jurisdictions, and in particular in health and education, two areas where it has no constitutional legitimacy whatsoever. This is not what the Fathers of Confederation had intended."
It is not clear why, exactly, Mr. Bernier thinks such a revolution is needed, other than for reasons of principle; he says the looming battle between levels of government to fund health care is a "recipe for permanent discord." A new report by the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation proposes a more thoughtful series of reforms to the jurisdictional battles between governments.
But the mere act of speaking, not from someone else's talking points, but from his own heart and mind, has allowed Mr. Bernier's manifesto to cut through what passes for ideological discussion in Ottawa.
Politicians who aspire to be more than partisan yes-men and -women could learn from Mr. Bernier's example. They may have to set aside their Cabinet aspirations for now (and Mr. Bernier's intervention may be evidence of his leadership ambitions), but the public benefit could be great. Those who want to make a new case for the party's Reform roots, or opposition members looking for renewal in their ideological ranks, should follow Mr. Bernier's lead.
Our elected politicians still have the power of the pulpit. It is up to them to use it – the bar to ideas, old or new, is not that high.