Journalist and sometimes politician Stephen Taylor, writing in the National Post, says, and I agree with him, fully, that “The existence of the Wexit movement is a national tragedy … [because] … The Wexit movement is the latest uproar of Canadian regional populism. Canada’s bifurcation of haves and have-nots, contented and aggrieved, elites and non-elites has been cleaved along provincial lines more often than not … [and] … Central Canada and its dominant political brand — the Liberal Party of Canada — have done much to concentrate our country’s national political interest along the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor … [but, he adds, and I agree, even more, if that’s possible] … Meanwhile the Canadian experience has Canadians watching more U.S. cable news than our own, following more American politics than our own and more frequently travelling (before the pandemic-related travel bans) north-south, to the United States and back, than east-west within this country of our own. Indeed, Canadian newspapers and news channels often cover the three-ring political circus south of the border with more interest and intensity than the usual bromidic Canadian puppet show on offer.“
I believe that is how we must all see Canada: eternally divided, one group eternally angry at the other(s), and eternally more interested in the affairs of our big, rich neighbour than in fixing our own problems. The Wexit notion is not new, it was here in the 1970s and before that, too ~ prairie populism has a long history.
But Mr Taylor worries that the selection of Jay Hill, a former (Harper) Conservative cabinet minister, as “interim leader of “Wexit Canada,” a new federal separatist party that says it intends to run candidates in the next federal election … adds some troubling credibility to a movement to break up Canada’s national integrity.” Mr Hill does, I think, give Wexit Canada some added credibility.
But, Stephen Taylor says, “as our attentions have been pulled elsewhere … [the Canadian media’s constant fascination with Donald Trump even when we have a disaster in the making in Canada] … our fellow Canadians have been suffering. The perfect storm of the coronavirus pandemic, Russian-Saudi designs on crushing the growing North American shale gas market and the domestic political gridlock on the development of pipelines and new energy projects have decimated Alberta’s economy.“
He says that in this situation we should look at motivations and try to see if there is common ground ~ a way to find that always elusive “win-win” solution.
“For the Liberal Party of Canada,” Mr Taylor says, “its motivations and outcomes are well-defined along regional lines. It wins the right to govern in Ontario, Quebec, and in eastern Canada, while the growing discontented, who are looking in from the outside, are banking their votes with Conservatives now with a monopoly on votes in Saskatchewan and Alberta.” That’s not encouraging, is it?
Separatist movements ~ in Québec, in Western Canada, in Catalonia or in the Punjab ~ are almost always a reflection of alienation from the “centre” and in this case, Stephen Taylor says, “much of what ails the west has been linked to the dominance of the Liberal party in central Canada. The party of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been in power for almost 70 of the last 100 years.” But things came to head, he suggests, because “In the last five years, Trudeau and the central Canadian political establishment have made it impossible for Canada to build any new infrastructure to support Alberta’s suffering energy sector. And this year, Trudeau’s deafness and failure on reconciliation and consensus have laid bare how vulnerable our national infrastructure is to a group also let down by the Liberal party.” We saw the results of four years of Trudeau government in the 2019 election: except for the territories (2 of 3 seats), the Liberal Party was shut out of Western Canada from Greater Vancouver all the way to downtown Winnipeg. Even veteran Liberal heavyweight Ralph Goodale lost is previously safe Regina-Wascana seat. It was a massive repudiation of Justin Trudeau’s actions and policies and attitudes.
Stephen Taylor says, again, that the Liberals have found the coalition that is, most often, necessary, to govern Canada: Québec, which has been its firm base** almost exclusively and almost constantly (the Mulroney years being the major exception) since the hanging of Louis Riel in 1885, and enough of Ontario and Atlantic Canada to form stable (and very often good) governments and government after government, too. The Conservative interregnums for the past 100 years (Arthur Meighan’s two brief stints (1920/21 and 1926) don’t count) were:
- R.B. Bennett: 1930-35;
- John Diefenbaker: 1957-63;
- Brian Mulroney: 1984-93; and
- Stephen Harper: 2006-15.
That’s about 30 out of the past 100 years since Sir Robert Borden resigned in 1920. In short, the Liberals have found the key to victory: Québec + Canada’s big cities. The Liberal formula works because of this map, which I have used over and over again:
Since about ½ of all Canadians live in that little, tiny red strip of land between Windsor and Québec City it only makes sense that they should get about ½ of the seats in the House of Commons, and then it’s not surprising that with just slightly less than⅓ of the popular vote Justin Trudeau could form a minority government. It’s not surprising and it’s not anti-democratic, either. It’s just good politics: appealing to enough voters to win power.
“Will Wexit Canada improve the arrangement?” Stephen Taylor asks.
“No,” is his answer and yet again I agree with him.
He explains that “Former Reform party leader Preston Manning made his rallying cry, “The West wants in.” The West was under Prime Minister Stephen Harper and now every seat — save one — in Alberta and Saskatchewan were won by Conservative MPs. The Western political bloc is in place. Wexit Canada will only have appeal where Conservatives are the dominant voice of opposition. Conservatives are the only ones vying for power and a redistribution of Canada’s federal focus. Creating wild splits will only accentuate the poor representation of Western Canada’s interests in the national Parliament.“
The better solution, Stephen Taylor says, and I agree, again: “is for federal parties to grow beyond their regional bases. Only the Conservative party seems committed to doing this, looking to expand beyond their landlocked beachhead in Alberta and Saskatchewan.” But he says, the Conservatives‘ “previous failure to do so was, in part, due to Canadians looking south to define their political tastes at home. No Conservative party in Canada would ban abortion or reverse LGBT rights, but you might not know that because you are likely watching CNN and Fox News. We need to tune-in the grievances of Canadians that the Liberal party has afforded no bandwidth. Our national distractions have become our national conversation, leaving those unheard looking to deafen with other forms of feedback.“
The Liberals have, it appears to many, bought the Canadian mainstream media. Additionally, too many Canadians are, as they too often do, looking to the USA for solutions to Canadian problems. We, especially our celebrity-obsessed media, are endlessly fascinated with what the Americans are saying and doing. We want to “know” and our media is only too happy to tell us about America and racism and Donald Trump and, and, and … everything except what we are doing to tear our own country apart. Maybe Jay Hill will get their attention.
One can argue that modern Québec nationalism, including separatism, was born when Quebecers woke up, in 1957, to find that Canada no longer, as it had for two generations, revolved around it. John Diefenbaker came as an awful shock to many, many people and Jean Lesage saw that Québec needed to take better care of itself because it could no longer rely on being Ottawa’s pet. The result was “Maîtres Chez Nous:” let us be masters of our own house. Jean Lesage led, logically and directly to the FLQ, the October Crisis of 1970, René Lévesque, Lucien Bouchard and the Bloq Quécois. And it is the Bloq Quécois that Jay Hill says he wants to recreate for the West ~ a strong political movement that, he says, “needs to do for the West what the Bloc Quebecois has done for advocating that province’s interests … [and he added that] … the sentiment driving western anger and separatism is no longer a protest movement and will not be ignored.” It needs to be understood that the Wexit movement isn’t provincial, it isn’t just about Alberta. The Wexit true-believers want a new country that stretches from Churchill, on James Bay to Kitimat on the Pacific Coast and, I assume, all the way to Tuktoyaktuk in the Arctic, too.
The Wexit threat to Canada seems, to me, greater than that posed by Québec separatism. I suppose that Canada could survive, perhaps even prosper without Québec because a sovereign Québec would disintegrate when its own separatist movements in e.g. the Pontiac (North of Ottawa), the James Bay, and other regions all sought to rejoin Canada or to break away from Québec and go it alone. Canada without Québec is possible to imagine, but, Canada without the West is simply inconceivable to me.
Wexit is here, now, with a credible leader, because the Trudeaus, père et fils, have infected this country with their illiberal, often anti-liberal, ideas for over 50 years. Wexit is a natural and very dangerous response to the concentration of political power in the hands of one minority in a nation of minorities. Justin Trudeau may have been (accidentally) correct when he said: “Canada has no core identity.” We are more than “two nations warring in the bosom of a single state,” we are many nations in a polyglot multinational state. Some of those nations have common roots in Europe but some have formed new nations here in Canada, and we are, also First Nations, and ethnic nations ~ Chinese-Canadians, Filipino-Canadians, Indo-Canadians, and so on. Our nations are sometimes geographically coherent ~ the West and Québec, for example ~ but other nations are found scattered in every region, including in Kelowna, Red Deer, Moose Jaw, Brandon, Belleville, Sherbrooke, Sussex, Summerside, Antigonish and Joe Batts Arm. But the fragile union that Macdonald, Cartier and Brown helped to build and that Laurier, Borden, King and St Laurent held together, sometimes through crises far, Far, FAR worse than a global pandemic, is being torn apart by parochial, partisan, personality-cult politics.
Wexit is a symptom of a deeper problem: a lack of belief in what Canada can be. Justin Trudeau is one of many who, like his father, doesn’t believe there is a “Canada,” and he is, in his abysmal ignorance, about to destroy Canada, It is up to Canadians, Conservatives, Liberals and ‘Dippers alike, to stop him.
* Perhaps I should have titled this post “What’s wrong with Camada? The Trudeaus“
** Soldiers will understand the overwhelming importance of securing one’s “firm base” before launching offensive operations. It is, I suggest, the same in politics and the Liberals have had Québec for about 125 of the last 135 years.