John Ibbitson, writing in the Globe and Mail a couple of days ago, said: “Last week’s Throne Speech mentioned Alberta once, when Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government promised to help the province’s workers adjust “to meet a net zero future” of carbon emissions. That document could be remembered in history as one of the many acts of animus or neglect that drove Alberta to separate from Canada.” That’s not really surprising, is it? We should know by now that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau neither knows nor cares about Alberta … it’s not part of Québec or Greater Toronto; it (neither its government nor its people) does not subscribe to the Laurentian Consensus so it cannot possibly matter, can it? Why should he care?
Maybe he and the people who pull his strings should care. Mr Ibbitson says that “A new book, Moment of Truth: How to Think About Alberta’s Future, warns that an independent Alberta is a growing possibility unless Canada acts decisively to address Western alienation.” OK, we’ve heard about Wexit, already, haven’t we? It was an issue during the last federal election. It’s just another passing fad, isn’t it? Maybe, but the authors say that “We can expect to see Alberta assert greater independence within Canada, even as its citizens debate whether to leave it completely. As the book notes more than once, a new Western separatist party will be running candidates in the next federal election.“
John Ibbitson notes that “Many of the contributors to Moment of Truth, including editors Jack Mintz, Ted Morton and Tom Flanagan, are associated with the University of Calgary and/or were leading exponents of the Reform Party … [and they were advisors to Stephen Harper, too, but, he says] … two of the most powerful chapters come from the University of Moncton’s Donald Savoie, a leading authority on public administration, and from co-authors Derek Burney, former ambassador to the United States and former chief of staff to Brian Mulroney, and Carleton University’s Fen Hampson, a leading authority on Canadian foreign policy.“
He goes on to say that “The book’s 15 contributors maintain,” correctly, in both John Ibbitson’s view and in mine view, “that the political, bureaucratic, academic, cultural and business interests of Ontario and Quebec, collectively known as the Laurentian elite, historically sought to keep the Prairie provinces subservient … [and] … This imperial attitude is growing stronger rather than weaker. Quebec vetoed the Energy East pipeline … [and Mr Ibbitson confirms that he agrees (as do I) that it was Québec, not the national government that vetoed the Energy East project] …
… [in fact, the news stories at the time show that the federal government, which has jurisdiction over pipelines, had, de facto, bowed out of the process, and it was left to premiers like Higgs (NB) and Notley (AB) to try (unsuccessfully) to persuade Premier Legault to reconsider. Justin Trudeau had surrendered his authority to the Québec premier] … Ontario and Quebec resist internal free trade and the federal government neglects the urgent needs of the oil and gas sector even as it continues to siphon equalization funds from Alberta taxpayers … [thus, he says, and I agree] … The estrangement between Alberta and the Trudeau government is dangerously deep. Yes, that government nationalized the Trans Mountain pipeline. But it killed other pipeline proposals and imposed a carbon tax. Its onerous environmental regulations and general hostility to the Alberta natural resource economy have driven businesses out of the province.” No matter what Prime Minister Trudeau says his green motives are, it is very hard for many, many people to conclude anything except that he has a deep, abiding aversion to Western Canada, and to Alberta is particular.
Mr Ibbitson goes on to say that “Prof. Savoie notes that Mr. Trudeau dispensed with regional ministers, apart from his Quebec lieutenant, Pablo Rodriguez – remarkable since Mr. Trudeau himself is from Quebec. The staff within the Prime Minister’s and ministers’ offices are overwhelmingly from Central Canada, and the federal public service – whose bilingualism requirements ensure that its ranks are dominated by people who grew up in or near Quebec – grows in size and power under the Liberals.”
But it may be something deeper than that. In another column, also in the Globe and Mail, Andrew Coyne, commenting on the recent Throne Speech, says that the bit about language “begins soothingly enough. “The defence of the rights of francophones outside Quebec, and the defence of the rights of the anglophone minority within Quebec,” it declares, “is a priority for the government” … [but] … then it abruptly shifts gears. “The government of Canada must also recognize,” it instructs itself, “that the situation of French is unique,” there being just eight million francophones in Canada on a continent of 360 million anglophones and all that. “The government therefore has the responsibility to protect and promote French not only outside of Quebec, but also within Quebec” …[and then, My Coyne says we get to] … the kicker: “In this vein, 51 years after the passage of the Official Languages Act, the government is committed to strengthening this legislation” – how? Among other things, by “taking into consideration the unique reality of French.”“
So, Andrew Coyne says, “the government will “strengthen” the law that now protects official language minorities, including the anglophone population of Quebec, in line with its newfound obligation to “protect and promote French … within Quebec.” That is to say, it will protect the language of the province’s majority against the English speaking minority. This will be yet another kick in the teeth for the beleaguered English speaking minority in Québec; it is yet another assertion that les Québecois are, somehow, “better” than the others … that’s what Justin Trudeau said in 2010. It seems that Justin Trudeau wants to promote French-speaking Québec at the expense of the rest of English Canada … it plays back to the SNC-Lavalin scandal and his assertion that he, as a Québec MP, had to protect jobs in Québec but many Albertans wondered why he wasn’t interested in protecting jobs in the West.
Retuning to Moment of Truth, John Ibbitson says that ” The book’s contributors put forward three solutions:”
- First: “More Alberta, less Ottawa.” Alberta should consider withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan, collecting its own income tax and establishing its own police force, both to lessen the federal presence and to prepare the province for independence if necessary. Jason Kenney’s UCP government is considering some of these options;
- Second: Demand the end to all interprovincial barriers to trade and introduce a rebalanced fiscal federalism that reduces tax flows out of Alberta and increases federal flows into it; and
- Third: If Ottawa, Ontario and Quebec don’t bend to those demands, establish a commission on independence and on entry into a common market with the United States, to be followed by a referendum on independence … [because] … “If attempts to strengthen Alberta’s position in the federation are ignored, the bolder option for a common market, a break from Canada and closer association with the United States, will become the only credible course of action,” Mr. Burney and Prof. Hampson conclude.“
There is, John Ibbitson suggests, a fourth option: “In The Big Shift,” he writes (my hyperlink added), “Darrell Bricker and I argued a fourth option: Ontario voters must understand that theirs is an increasingly Pacific province – demographically through immigration and economically through increased trade with Indo-Pacific nations … [and] … Suburban Ontario voters – especially immigrants or the children of immigrants (my hyperlink added, again) – would do well to make common cause with their Western cousins. Former prime minister Stephen Harper created that coalition, which remains available to the Conservative Party.“
John Ibbitson appears to share the opinions of the contributors to Moment of Truth: ““None of us favour separation as a first option,” the book’s editors conclude. “But we also see it as a viable last resort if all else fails. It may be that in order to stay in Canada, Alberta must be able and willing to leave it.”” I abhor that conclusion … but I guess I understand it, too.
Other than noting that the problems of Western alienation go back more than a century and are rooted in how the Laurentian Elites in Ontario and Québec have always considered the West to be a hinterland, of sorts, where sturdy peasants worked for the benefit of those in Québec City, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, Mr Ibbitson does not apportion blame.
It seems to me that the current anger is rooted in two factors:
- Equalization, which was introduced in 1957, but which has grown over time and is, now, enshrined in the Constitution ~ something for which Pierre Trudeau is, only somewhat unfairly, blamed because “Parliament and the government of Canada are committed to the principle of making equalization payments to ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.” (Subsection 36(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982).” Although it is not true that Alberta pays equalization directly to Québec the fact is that Alberta always pays and Québec always receives; and
- The Trudeaus, père en fils, who by word, like Justin. Trudeau’s aforementioned comments in 2010, or deed, like Pierre Trudeau ‘giving the finger’ to Western farmers in 1982, always showed their all too obvious disdain for Western Canadians:
If we lose this country, which I served, in uniform for more than 35 years and for which my father died in battle, in 1943, then I will lay almost all the blame at the feet of the Trudeaus, père en fils, and at the feet of those who voted for them. I believe that almost every single vote cast for a a Liberal candidate since 1968, by may count that’s over 73 million individual votes cast in 16 general elections, has been a vote against Canada’s national unity. I know that’s a bit unfair to my Liberal friends, but the Liberal Party, even under Paul Martin and Michael Ignatieff, never cast off its loyalty to the Laurentian Elites and to its Québec base. Now, in fairness, the last time the Liberals won the West was in 1940, and Alberta, especially, has voted for anyone but the Liberals (Social Credit, then PC, then Reform and most recently Conservative) ever since. But the anger didn’t become palpable until the early 1980s and the anger level hasn’t fallen much since.
The two factors driving that anger are Equalization and the Trudeaus. Solving the equalization issue is complex ~ it is, generally speaking feature of most federal systems; solving the Trudeau issue is both simple and urgent and it is something that ordinary Canadians, voters, can do at the next general election.