Published Hill Times, October 30, 2017
I do not understand why people believe that Western Separation is dead. It appears, at least on the federal level, that Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberals believe that they can ignore Alberta and (now) Saskatchewan.
In the past, the only province that threatened separation was Quebec. However, with the first Trudeau, the situation changed. In fact he is sometimes labelled as the ‘father of western alienation’ with policies such as the National Energy Program. This program appeared designed to deprive the west of economic benefit in favor of transfer payments to other parts of the country such as Quebec.
This caused the start of a western separation movement. Does anyone remember the Western Independence Party? It believed that the four western provinces and territories should separate and form a new country. Admittedly it was a fringe party but it did run 11 federal candidates unsuccessfully in 1988. What it accomplished was publicizing and bringing western alienation to a national and public level.
Almost at the same time, the Reform Party of Canada came into existence. With Preston Manning at the helm, it became the largest party in Western Canada (1993). It merged into the Canadian Alliance in 2000, which then merged into the Conservative party in 2003. Based on this merger, Liberals seem to have considered western separation a dead issue. Once again they can isolate the west with impunity.
TransCanada Corp announced that it has cancelling its proposed $15.7B Energy East pipeline proposal. This project would have fueled development in the economy and eliminated our need to rely on foreign sources. According to reports, the pipeline would have carried over one million barrels of oil per day and added 1,500 kilometres of new pipelines. It was expected to create about 14,000 new jobs that, obviously, would stimulate the economy.
Prime Minister Trudeau claims that the decision was not due to politics but the record appears to contradict this assertion. New climate-change policies were created but the same standards were not imposed on Venezuela and Saudi Arabia imported oil. The result was that TransCanada Corp and Canadian oil companies were forced to comply with standards that were not required for foreign companies. If as Trudeau claims he is a true environmentalist concerned with the world, why is not Canadian oil supported since it is cleaner than imported oil? Is not the world environmental impact more important than that of any country?
The reaction from Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, a former federal Liberal, proves politics were part of the agenda. He was elated to be notified about the cancellation and called it a ‘victory’, taking credit for his role in the demise. From a western perspective, look at the contrast. The Liberal government runs to the aid of Bombardier once again. With the new loan, Bombardier probably has more than $4B in unpaid loans to the federal government. At the same time, the Liberal government creates impressive bureaucratic obstacles to a western based initiative.
The question that needs to be asked is what can Alberta (and Saskatchewan) do about it? Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan has been quoted as saying, “”Something needs to change. For the West to continue on like this in our federal system is the equivalent of having Stockholm syndrome.” In Alberta, both Brian Jean and Jason Kenny who are running for the leadership of the United Conservative Party have called for an Alberta referendum on federal equalization programs. Brian Jean tweeted, “equalization is broken. Albertans should owe NOTHING to politicians in Quebec who cheer against our industries.”
The solution may be the same both provinces. There is Section 22 of the Canadian Constitution, commonly known as the ‘Notwithstanding Clause”. It allows a province to opt out of federal legislation. “Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision…” and “(2) An Act or a provision of an Act in respect of which a declaration made under this section is in effect shall have such operation as it would have but for the provision of this Charter referred to in the declaration.”
Alberta or Saskatchewan implementing a not-withstanding provision for equalization would be an advantage for the provinces. The money not paid in equalization could be used for provincial revenues and to help ensure or create a balance provincial budget. Second, it would be an extremely popular move in the west to end federal welfare programs that appear to benefit Quebec.
To date only one province, Quebec, has used this clause and that was to restrict English language usage in the province. The federal government is committed to equalization payments in the Constitution through clause 36 (2) “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.” The not-withstanding clause would allow a province to over-ride this clause.
From a western viewpoint, this would create a ‘fairer’ taxation system since the voters would no longer be expected to support the have-not-provinces. A separation movement has started once again. There are many perceived advantages to both Saskatchewan and Alberta to become independent when they are treated as second class citizens within Canada. I am certain that there are other federal programs that the notwithstanding program could apply to.
The government may well have woken the proverbial sleeping tiger.