Sunday December 04, 2016

90 to 110 and back again: sometimes Canada just doesn't make sense

110km/hour is just one of the speed limits you find on Canadian highways.

110km/hour is just one of the speed limits you find on Canadian highways. (Paul Withers/CBC)

Listen 6:00

Have you ever noticed that the speed limit on the Trans-Canada Highway, Canada's national highway, changes across provinces? 

Or that grade 7 students in one province learn different things than grade 7s in another? 

Amy Attas has, and she says it's time for change. 

Rogers Pass before opening

A car drives through Rogers Pass in B.C., just before the Trans-Canada Highway opened in 1962.

When Canada was created in 1867, provinces were given control over roads, education, and health care. Maybe that made sense a hundred fifty years ago, says Attas, but it doesn't now. 

The massive social and technological change since confederation can make the historical divisions of authority seem awfully artificial. So we live with a patchwork of provincial regulations for things that cross provincial boundaries.

Attas says that her work as an itinerant labourer has revealed some of the absurdities of the current arrangement.

"I go where the work is, often staying in hotels for months at a time. I always maintain a permanent residence in Manitoba, but I'm gone from there over half the year. Sometimes I'm in B.C. for more than three months, but sometimes the work is in Ontario, or Alberta. Do I really have to change my driver's licence four times a year?"

I'll happily renounce my provincial citizenship for a national health card that gets me consistent coverage across the country, a single minimum wage that protects me from sea to sea, a federal drinking age to protect our kids. - Amy Attas

Attas allows that there are some reasons to main a degree of de-centralization.

Amy Attas

As an itinerant labourer, Amy Attas moves around the country for work. The need to constantly change health cards, driver's licences, and highway speeds has her calling for an update to the division of powers. (Credit: Sandro Lacarbona )

"Alberta's economy and B.C.'s ecology should be at odds, so that we can reach a responsible compromise. Decisions around diamond mines should include the voices of the north who will be directly affected, not just the southern companies who profit."

She says that the situation doesn't require a total overhaul, and that small changes could go a long way towards making Canada work better.

"I'll happily renounce my provincial citizenship for a national health card that gets me consistent coverage across the country, a single minimum wage that protects me from sea to sea, a federal drinking age to protect our kids."