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Of course Premier Danielle Smith’s proposal to separate Alberta from the Canada Pension Plan should be abandoned. Such a move would be bad for the CPP, bad for Alberta pensioners and bad for the country.

Of course Premier Scott Moe’s decision to stop collecting the carbon tax on home heating in Saskatchewan should be abandoned. The tax must and will be remitted to Ottawa one way or another.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must accept his full measure of responsibility for these imbroglios. He has put the federation under greater threat of schism than at any time since the 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty. It will take years to repair the damage, if it can be repaired at all.

During his three governments, Mr. Trudeau has enacted an impressive suite of social and environmental programs: child care, dental care, carbon-emission reduction, with more – especially pharmacare – to come.

Awkwardly, these programs lie in whole or in part within provincial jurisdiction. The Liberal government has responded by employing the tried-and-false tactic of using federal funding to convince or coerce provincial governments to meet federal goals. On the climate-change front, the government has imposed a carbon tax on provinces that doesn’t meet federal standards.

But there are costs. In some cases, such as environmental impact assessments, courts have struck down Liberal measures, forcing the government back to the drawing board. Even when the courts say Ottawa has jurisdiction, the political friction is intense.

And then there is the question of political management, or competence. Complaints from Atlantic Canadians, and the Liberal MPs who represent them, convinced Mr. Trudeau to exempt home heating oil, which is used more heavily in that region than elsewhere, from the carbon tax. That prompted Mr. Moe’s rebellion. Even Wab Kinew, the newly elected NDP Premier of Manitoba, is making a case that his province should be give carbon-tax relief.

Alberta in recent years has become actively hostile toward the federal power. Much of what Ms. Smith envisions may be unconstitutional or against her province’s best interests. But Mr. Trudeau has unquestionably driven federal-Alberta relations to the brink.

It’s not only the West that feels estranged. When Mr. Trudeau came to power in 2015, the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois held only 10 seats in the House of Commons. Today, it commands 32 seats, and would likely make further gains if an election were held tomorrow.

Within the province, the Parti Québécois was moribund only a few years ago. Today, it leads all parties in polls.

Any prime minister who is willing to tolerate – indeed who foments – such serious strains in national unity is failing to do their job.

A federal government can reduce carbon emissions, improve health care, support children and meet other national priorities without putting the federation at risk. The trick is to work co-operatively with the provinces without ever bringing down the hammer. No use of the federal spending power to bribe or blackmail. No wielding of federal authority against a provincial interest.

It takes a lot longer, it’s messier, no one leaves fully satisfied, but the result is usually a healthier and more stable union. Ottawa under both the Conservatives and the Liberals successfully negotiated Trans-Pacific, European and North American trade agreements by keeping the provinces fully informed and ensuring their interests were represented at the bargaining table. Everything the federal government does that involves provincial interests should be done like that.

The next government, whether it be Liberal or Conservative, will have its hands full. There are deficits to rein in, the immigration process needs reforming, we face a critical housing shortage, productivity must improve, and the military is desperately underfunded.

But top of the list must be restoring calm on the fed-prov front, especially between Ottawa and the Prairie capitals.

Federally focused politicians, public servants and those who follow their doings need to bear two truths in mind. First, if federal politicians argue for the need to do this or that in the national interest, even though at least one region of the country opposes the action, then by definition the interest is not national.

Second, when a prime minister and a premier are at daggers drawn, the prime minister is usually more to blame. It’s their job to hold the country together. Mr. Trudeau seems to have forgotten that.

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