Should Western Canada leave confederation?
That is a conundrum for many people living west of the Manitoba – Ontario border and also for Northern Ontario. For most Ontarians living west of Atikokan, Winnipeg is the closest major city and the go-to destination for shopping. That portion of Ontario is resource-rich and energy poor.
The issue is that central Canada has never considered Atlantic or Western provinces as other than useful hinterlands. We have to recognize 153 years of exclusion and discrimination. We need to formalize the exclusion, make it real, and get on with our lives.
Consider the makeup of our Senate for verification. Constitutionally, the Senate is comprised of four divisions. Atlantic provinces with 30 seats (6 seats for Newfoundland added in 1949), Western provinces with 24 seats, Quebec with 24 seats, and Ontario with 24 seats. Ontario and Quebec were set up as Senate divisions, while other provinces share divisions. Western provinces have six Senate seats each while Ontario and Quebec have 24 each. That is how Ottawa envisions Canada.
We get lost in the minutia of a grossly unfair
equalization program and the effort to stifle resource development in Western
Canada and many other issues that have chaffed us for decades, but central
Canada has no incentive to change.
Ontario and Quebec share 61.3% of Canada’s
population. Western Canada has 31.9%. No political party needs the west to win
a majority government. No political party will deal fairly with the West if it
is not in the interests of electors, businesses, and industries resident in
Ontario and Quebec.
Over the last two decades, the federal government has
been pouring increasing taxpayer funding into central big cities. The federal
government is treating cities as separate provinces, by-passing the provinces
and ignoring their jurisdiction.
The government is including revenues from Western
Canada in their largess to cities. Via Rail operates primarily in the Ottawa,
Montreal, Toronto corridor, and is a bad joke elsewhere. We have no interest in
subways in Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. We can go on, but that is minutia.
Central Canada never intended to keep Western
chicks in the nest. The time is here to recognize the abandonment and fly on
our own. It is not a change that we look forward to. Many of us know that
initially, we will trade historical problems with new problems of our own
We will not form a separate confederation of four
provinces without making mistakes and getting some things wrong. That is part
of growing up and learning true independence. A new geopolitical entity does
not arrive in a crate with a user manual.
The major difference is that with a separate,
agreed on constitution, we can make changes when we recognize our mistakes. We
can improve on what we agree to start with. We will be master of our domain and
not have to convince an indifferent and numerically larger lot a few thousand
miles away that our needs and opinions count.
We need to avoid making Western Canada a republic
or otherwise departing from the familiar Westminster style of governance and
British common law. The influx of British Empire Loyalists following the
American War of Independence has lessons for us. We have to remain attractive
to other Canadians who want to relocate to a better run, prosperous nation.
Before 1970, western Canadians got along well. We
had pioneer spirit, were entrepreneurial, hard-working, innovative, and had
little interference with building up our provinces. Since then we have had
escalating federal interference in our affairs. We are nearing a point where we
need permission from Ottawa to breathe.
That is counter and opposite to the pioneer spirit
that got us to where we are viable as a separate nation. We are 11.9 million
strong and growing – 82% of the population of Ontario and 1.4 times the
population of Quebec (2019 figures).
As a separate entity, we can avoid many of the
problems inherent in our current confederation. We have a constitution that is
impossible to change. A constitutional change should require a double majority
– 2/3 of the votes from 2/3 of the provinces but should be doable.
We don’t need to write a constitution from scratch.
We can use the British North America (BNA) Act as a template and make
appropriate changes. We still need a central government to take care of matters
that are beyond the capacity of a single province but can free up the provinces
to deal with local matters without central government interference.
We need to give careful thought and consideration of our current status in the confederation. We have made serious efforts to make a place at the table and be treated as adults and have been ignored for too long not to recognize obvious discrimination.
Do we remain doormats for Central Canada or do we pioneer a new place for ourselves on the world stage?
While we don’t need to build sod huts in a sparsely settled and hostile land, we will be doing the equivalent on an intellectual and governance basis.
Are we up to it? Those are the real questions that confront us.
John Feldsted ... is a political commentator, consultant, and strategist. He makes his home in Winnipeg, Manitoba.