10.28.2005

can of worms

I'm opening a sticky subject here, my need to understand causing me to throw caution to the wind. It's about Alberta. Alberta vs. the rest of the Canada.

The Globe And Mail runs something about Alberta's gripes every day, and I try to follow along. If it weren't for wmtc's resident Albertan, and the ensuing arguments in comments, I would've had no warning. It's not something Americans know about. As is, observing for more than a year, I have only the smallest of clues.

Here's what I know. Please pardon my ignorance and oversimplification, but I have to start somewhere.

The province of Alberta is rich, because it has oil.

The province of Alberta is conservative, relative to the rest of Canada. Hmm. Funny how those two go together.

Because of its great oil wealth, Alberta revenue helps fund services in the rest of Canada. (These are transfer payments?) Apparently many Albertans resent this. They want to keep Alberta's money in Alberta. They don't want the rest of Canada to have as many "social programs" (very broad term there) as it does now, or they want them to pay their own way.

I don't get this.

Canada is a country. There is oil in one place and not another. A place with high revenues from oil reserves can help balance lower revenues elsewhere. What's wrong with that? Should the provinces be treated as separate countries, and take a sink-or-swim attitude towards each other? (What is it about conservatives and "states rights"?)

It's not as if the people of Alberta are somehow more talented than the rest of the country, and have become rich off their peculiar talents. It's the geology upon which they happen to live. If I were typing this in Calgary instead of outside Toronto, how would that make a difference? Why should I keep the wealth of the land simply because I live there, rather than more equitably distribute it throughout the country?

I've caught a tremendous amount of anger from Albertans towards the rest of Canada, and talk of secession. I can't say I understand it. Once in an earlier post, I remarked, they act as if Albertans are the only people who pay taxes. I pay taxes, too. What am I missing here? Why all this anger and bitterness?

I understand that every resident of Alberta will soon receive a $400 "prosperity cheque", a piece of the great windfall in their province's coffers. To me this sounds suspiciously like the $600 tax rebate bribe W gave out when he first took office. (Along with many other Americans, we sent ours to groups trying to stem the devastation caused by the 2000 Selection.) I heard Paul Martin making noises about tax rebates, then read many letters in the Globe And Mail from taxpayers expressing the same sentiments: we don't want it. Use it.

Here's a view on those Albertan cheques. It's very funny, especially now that I understand the provincial stereotypes.

So here are my questions, folks: What's up with Alberta? Why do Albertans want to secede? Should the threat be taken seriously? What would make them happy? That is, what kind of Canada would they like to be living in?

I'm looking forward to reading your answers, from many different points of view. I ask only that you be reasonable and refrain from personal attacks. That is, no posts that begin with "Rob thinks..."

99 comments:

Jacob said...

One contributor of western alienation was a particularly disasterous federal interference in the energy industry in the seventies called the national energy program. The NEP existed to protect Ontario and Quebec industry from high oil prices at the expense of the Alberta economy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Energy_Program

L-girl said...

The NEP existed to protect Ontario and Quebec industry from high oil prices at the expense of the Alberta economy.

Thanks, Jacob. Ah yes, I remember this from earlier comments.

Any other perspectives on the NEP?

Also, this was in the 1970s and it's still fueling (npi!) the resentment?

James said...

What's up with Alberta?

What's up with Texas? ;)

Both have oil, both have big hats, both have resentment towards taxes, both have seperatists movements, both have (had) alcoholic recent heads of governments, both have liberal cities surrounded by conservative populations (Edmonton, Austin)...

And I don't know that the oil makes Alberta uniquely well-off. Ontario doesn't have oil (well, not very much), but it does have banks, businesses, and Bay Street, which are a huge source of tax revenue. Like Alberta, there is a net ouflow of Federal tax money from Ontario to the rest of Canada (and, for that matter, provincial tax money from Toronto to the rest of Ontario), but the resentment doesn't seem as strong here.

Which is not to say we haven't elected our share of aggressively conservative governments -- most recently Mike Harris's bunch, whom we have to thank for the huge increase in homelessness in Toronto, among other things -- though I suspect that was more a backlash against the Rae NDP government having made a number of dumb mistakes than a genuine desire for hard-core conservatism.

(When Americans say that Toronto is so clean & such, many Torontonians think, "You should have seen it 10 years ago", thanks in part to Harris's government.)

Amateur said...

I think it's part of a bigger issue that you might call "provinces' rights." I'm not an expert on these issues, but it's clear that Canadian provinces have much less power than US states. The areas of responsibility are just drawn differently. Fundamentally, I think, all of the provinces resent the federal government, even the poorer ones!

As long as we're talking about causes of western alienation, we have to mention the enormous constitutional 'crisis' the country has been having about Quebec for the last 40 years. All the attention (and perceived special status) given to Quebec is a real slap in the face for westerners who feel that their own issues of interest are unaddressed.

RobfromAlberta said...

Apparently many Albertans resent this. They want to keep Alberta's money in Alberta. They don't want the rest of Canada to have as many "social programs" (very broad term there) as it does now, or they want them to pay their own way.

Let's get it right. Albertans are, for the most part, content to pay their "fair share". We currently pay something on the order of $2000 per person per year in transfers to other provinces and while we may grumble a bit about it (especially since other provinces have better health and education services than we do), we are reasonably accepting of the situation. What irritates most Albertans is that eastern politicians keep hinting that Alberta still isn't paying enough. There is always talk that Alberta is getting too rich and the current levels of equalization are not sufficient.

As for the NEP, it was theft, plain and simple. Ontario and Quebec used their political clout to steal money from Alberta for their own benefit. There has never been a recognition that the NEP was wrong and, therefore, Alberta does not trust Ottawa when it says there will not be an NEP II. Keep in mind, the NEP didn't simply redistribute Alberta's wealth, it decimated the provincial economy. Thousands of jobs in Alberta were destroyed so thousands of jobs in Ontario could be spared. If that isn't a reasonable cause for resentment, I don't know what is.

L-girl said...

Let's get it right.

I'm trying. That's why I asked. :)

If that isn't a reasonable cause for resentment, I don't know what is.

It may be. What would a reasonable remedy look like, to you?

RobfromAlberta said...

What's up with Alberta? Why do Albertans want to secede? Should the threat be taken seriously? What would make them happy?

The truth is, the threat of Alberta secession is not very serious. I doubt more than 10% could truly be called Alberta separatists. Having said that, Alberta's concerns should not be ignored. We are the economic engine of the country. As Ontario and BC flirt with "have-not" status, Alberta has truly become the goose that lays the golden eggs. Canada needs Alberta as much as, if not more than, Alberta needs Canada.

L-girl said...

I think it's part of a bigger issue that you might call "provinces' rights." I'm not an expert on these issues, but it's clear that Canadian provinces have much less power than US states.

I thought it might be part of that general issue. From my perspective, states have way too much power in the US. I dislike it intensely.

"States rights" in the US is code for discrimination, anti-labor, anti-environment, anti-welfare, anti-choice - you name it, conservative policy falls under "states rights".

It's also used wildly hypocritically. The biggest proponents of states rights over-rode the state of Florida to install W in the White House.

Thus I wondered if Albertans were infected by the same bug.

L-girl said...

We are the economic engine of the country.

Well, you're one of the economic engines. It's hard to believe Toronto and Vancouver aren't generating income.

RobfromAlberta said...

It may be. What would a reasonable remedy look like, to you?

Obviously, a conservative majority in Ottawa would help, but that's not going to happen. A heartfelt apology from the Liberals over the NEP and a Triple E Senate would go a long way.

L-girl said...

All the attention (and perceived special status) given to Quebec is a real slap in the face for westerners who feel that their own issues of interest are unaddressed.

I can understand that. At the risk of being slammed here, Quebec does often seem like a big whiny baby that keeps getting the bottle.

The recent incident of Levesque not accepting his prize because the G-G didn't kiss Quebec's ass enough seemed very typical of that.

L-girl said...

a Triple E Senate

Translation, please?

L-girl said...

I have to go away from my computer for a while. I'll be back later with more questions and comments.

RobfromAlberta said...

Well, you're one of the economic engines. It's hard to believe Toronto and Vancouver aren't generating income.

Well yes, every place generates income, even lowly Newfoundland. The question is, does it generate more wealth than it consumes. Currently, only Alberta and Ontario contribute more revenue to the federal government than they receive in federal transfers and Ontario is on the cusp. If current trends continue, the economic output of Toronto will not be enough to keep Ontario afloat.

RobfromAlberta said...

Translation, please?

Canada's current senate consists of a weird formula of representation based on a combination of population and how early each province joined Confederation. As such, eastern provinces (even small Atlantic provinces) have greater representation than western provinces. Also, senators are appointed at the whim of the prime minister. There is no election and no Parliamentary oversight. If the US president had that kind of power, Americans would take up arms in revolt. Finally, the Senate rarely utilizes its power which is, in any case, subordinate to the Parliament. So, what Alberta wants is something called a Triple E Senate; equal (as in equal representation for each province), elected and effective.In other words, a counterbalance to eastern dominance of the Parliament.

Lone Primate said...

Alberta has truly become the goose that lays the golden eggs. Canada needs Alberta as much as, if not more than, Alberta needs Canada.

Speaking of goose eggs, this strikes me as the tune of a rat sucking a big, rich egg, loudly boasting he doesn't need the rest of the farm. It'll be interesting to hear the refrain when there's nothing left but the shell. But I have a feeling it won't be anything fair and rational like, "Well, the non-renewable scarce commodity upon which our wealth was based has run out, and now we have to work for a living again like the rest of the country," no... I have a feeling it's going to be more something like "We'd be just fine if the rest of Canada hadn't ripped us off..." well into the 22nd century. Sad but true... I'm pretty sure we're lining up for the anglo version of Quebec.

Currently, only Alberta and Ontario contribute more revenue to the federal government than they receive in federal transfers and Ontario is on the cusp. If current trends continue, the economic output of Toronto will not be enough to keep Ontario afloat.

Yeah, isn't that amazing? Ontario's on the verge of having its back broken by the level of transfer payments it's required to contribute to the federation -- to the point that it's in deficit spending -- and yet it's Alberta, with its $400 "gosh, what'll we do with all the cash, boo bloody hoo" cheques making all the noise about resentment, being hard-done-by, separation.

And they wonder why their "concerns" don't resonate with the rest of us.

Lone Primate said...

So, what Alberta wants is something called a Triple E Senate; equal (as in equal representation for each province), elected and effective.In other words, a counterbalance to eastern dominance of the Parliament.

How is it unfair that Parliament should be "dominated" by the representatives of 70% of the country's population? Surely you're not really suggesting that the populations of four provinces and three territories with less than a third of the country's people all-told ought to have the right to veto or trump the wishes of six provinces with over twice their combined population...? What, just because of which side of a bunch of arbitrary, imaginary lines we stand on, your vote should count for 233% of mine?

RobfromAlberta said...

Surely you're not really suggesting that the populations of four provinces and three territories with less than a third of the country's people all-told ought to have the right to veto or trump the wishes of six provinces with over twice their combined population...?

Oh hell no, I wouldn't want to interfere with the tyranny of the majority. I'm just answering the question "What does Alberta want?" I certainly don't expect to see it happen.

Ontario's on the verge of having its back broken by the level of transfer payments it's required to contribute to the federation

The difference is Ontario has the power to change the system and it will, you can count on it. The Liberals will want to keep Ontario happy and Alberta will foot the bill.

I'm pretty sure we're lining up for the anglo version of Quebec.

On this, we are in complete agreement.

L-girl said...

equal (as in equal representation for each province)

Equal? [eyes bugging out here] Not proportionate to population but actually equal? So provinces with a tiny proportion of the population have the same number of representatives as the heavily populated ones? Yeesh.

Also...

If the US president had that kind of power, Americans would take up arms in revolt.

You should never, ever say this with any seriousness. I think it's been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the US government can do whatever it wants, at any time, to anyone, and "the people" will never take up arms in revolt, except for a few loners who will be called crazies and put away.

What's more, "the people" will defend the government (in the form of a strong-appearing president) and its right to do whatever it wants and criticize, marginalize, and, if possible, imprison, anyone who says otherwise.

I understand about the Senate, similar to the US Supreme Court. But believe me, the US President has enormous and ever-expanding powers, and no one does a damn thing about it.

I'm off again, more later.

Lone Primage, I agree with what you're saying. Try to keep the temperature down, eh?

L-girl said...

Lone Primage,

Um, sorry. I'm sure you're at a nice prime age, but you're a Primate all the same.

James said...

I can understand that. At the risk of being slammed here, Quebec does often seem like a big whiny baby that keeps getting the bottle.

A lot of folks -- even though sympathetic with Quebec's concerns -- feel likewise. Though more about the Bloc Quebecois and the Parti Quebecois than Quebecers themselves.

"States rights" in the US is code for discrimination, anti-labor, anti-environment, anti-welfare, anti-choice - you name it, conservative policy falls under "states rights".

Basically, "states rights" is used as an excuse to say the Bill of Rights doesn't apply. :P

Also, senators are appointed at the whim of the prime minister. There is no election and no Parliamentary oversight.

The Canadian Senate is more along the lines of the British House of Lords than the US Senate, only less meaningful. Myself, I'm not sure if the solution is a "Triple E" Senate, or just doing away with the Senate altogether.

RobfromAlberta said...

So provinces with a tiny proportion of the population have the same number of representatives as the heavily populated ones? Yeesh.

Right, just like the US Senate

L-girl said...

Right, just like the US Senate

Oh wait, I understand. I thought you meant in all of Parliament, but you meant just in the Senate. I see - a compromise arrangement like the US supposedly has between the two houses of Congress.

I'd have to know a lot more about the Senate to know if the triple-E is better than what James is suggested, no Senate altogether. But now I see what you mean, makes more sense.

RobfromAlberta said...

I'm not sure if the solution is a "Triple E" Senate, or just doing away with the Senate altogether.

That would save some money, but it wouldn't do much for western alienation. I would like to point out one more thing, Alberta is not alone in this. We may be the most discontented, but much of western Canada feels that Ottawa is not responsive to its concerns.

RobfromAlberta said...

I thought you meant in all of Parliament, but you meant just in the Senate. I see - a compromise arrangement like the US supposedly has between the two houses of Congress.

Exactly.

L-girl said...

I hope Peter shows up, Alberta's minority (socialist) voice.

Alberta is not alone in this. We may be the most discontented, but much of western Canada feels that Ottawa is not responsive to its concerns.

Is it a rural vs urban thing? Because I assume you're not including Vancouver in "western Canada".

RobfromAlberta said...

I understand about the Senate, similar to the US Supreme Court.

Except that, as we've seen with the Harriet Miers fiasco, the president doesn't always get his way. The PM can appoint whoever he wants to the Senate and there is absolutely no scrutiny of the appointment at all.

RobfromAlberta said...

Is it a rural vs urban thing? Because I assume you're not including Vancouver in "western Canada".

Yes, that's true. Vancouver and Victoria tend to vote more Liberal/NDP. Likewise, Edmonton tends to send one or two Liberals to Parliament every election. Most of the BC interior tends to vote conservative.

RobfromAlberta said...

...and Saskatchewan usually votes Conservative, although they are "funny" conservatives to my way of thinking, more like rural populists.

L-girl said...

Except that, as we've seen with the Harriet Miers fiasco, the president doesn't always get his way. The PM can appoint whoever he wants to the Senate and there is absolutely no scrutiny of the appointment at all.

I understand what you're saying.

In practice, Congress generally rubber-stamps whoever the White House appoints. These days even asking questions, a la Barbara Boxer, is supposedly partisan and unpatriotic. Miers went down because both parties didn't want her.

There are checks built into the system - the problem is they are rarely used, the executive branch has grown too powerful. And now that it's not even elected...

Ahem. Anyway.

But the checks and balances are there in theory, and the Senate in Canada doesn't even have that.

Lone Primate said...

Oh hell no, I wouldn't want to interfere with the tyranny of the majority.

This will no doubt in future be referred to as "democracy" in such cases as the majority is on the other foot.

The Liberals will want to keep Ontario happy and Alberta will foot the bill.

It's fine with me if Alberta takes its turn; Ontario's been doing it for 140 years. Though I will say, with rather more grace and aplomb than we're seeing out there.

Myself, I'm not sure if the solution is a "Triple E" Senate, or just doing away with the Senate altogether.

I've been back and forth on this one myself. My instinct is to reform the Senate and give everyone the same number of seats, same as in the US. I mean, if we're going to be bothered having a second house of Parliament, it shouldn't be just a pale, useless version of the Commons. But that's in the academic sense. When I start looking at the practicalities of it, which really amounts to tail-wagging-the-dog stuff about 3.5 million people in Alberta putting 20 million people in Ontario and Quebec in their place, I start to lose my enthusiasm for being "fair". Clearly, being "fair" is not on the minds of these people. It's getting one back, sticking it to the rest, and having the means to raise the temperature in a pressure cooker. When it comes to that, I'd rather just board up the Senate and put "This House to Let" on the doors.

But the checks and balances are there in theory, and the Senate in Canada doesn't even have that.

Frankly, that only sounds good on paper. Put into practice, it amounts to trying to pass a bill to promote clean water in Ohio that requires a $4B highway-to-nowhere project in Montana and a new $350M fish hatchery project in Senator Greasepocket's half of Nevada.

RobfromAlberta said...

Though I will say, with rather more grace and aplomb than we're seeing out there.

It's easy to be graceful when you hold all the cards. I would also remind you that Ontario gained its stature by draining wealth from everywhere else. The Bank of Nova Scotia, the Bank of Montreal, Sun Life Assurance, how many corporations has Ontario poached from its "partners" in Confederation? Ontario has grown wealthy on the backs of other provinces. At least Alberta's wealth comes out of Alberta.

RobfromAlberta said...

Put into practice, it amounts to trying to pass a bill to promote clean water in Ohio that requires a $4B highway-to-nowhere project in Montana and a new $350M fish hatchery project in Senator Greasepocket's half of Nevada.

The way spending bills are passed in the US is truly an abomination, but I don't think this sort of horsetrading comes into play in confirmation proceedings. Laura can correct me if I'm wrong, but is it not the case that nomination votes aren't subject to amendments?

Lone Primate said...

I would also remind you that Ontario gained its stature by draining wealth from everywhere else.

Another way of putting this is that Ontarians were Canadians who chose to locate close to the market (the US) and built successful businesses there that eventually proved attractive to head offices in other places. It's much more fun to suggest this was some sort of nefarious plan -- like suggesting eliminating corporate tax, for example -- rather than a natural expression of Canadians taking advantage of a geographical advantage of one part of their country... as I'm sure some people would be quick to suggest about Alberta's oil.

At least Alberta's wealth comes out of Alberta.

I see... so Calgary, a city the size of Mississauga in a province of not quite four million, organically "grew" all the head offices that make it the #2 spot in the country for such establishments, did it? Canadian Pacific, Imperial Oil, etc.... they got their start there, did they? They weren't by chance poached from your partners in Confederation, were they?

L-girl said...

Put into practice, it amounts to trying to pass a bill to promote clean water in Ohio that requires a $4B highway-to-nowhere project in Montana and a new $350M fish hatchery project in Senator Greasepocket's half of Nevada.

This is a ridiculous farce, but it's a separate issue.

L-girl said...

Laura can correct me if I'm wrong, but is it not the case that nomination votes aren't subject to amendments?

Oops, just saw this. That's right - confirmations are a simple up or down, yes or no vote. All kinds of back-room deal-making goes on, of course, but no horsetrading of the kind that mucks up bill passage.

L-girl said...

Basically, "states rights" is used as an excuse to say the Bill of Rights doesn't apply. :P

Correct.

Wrye said...

Hmph. You start a topic like this when I'm stuck at work? This is an immense topic, you realize...

Is it a rural vs urban thing? Because I assume you're not including Vancouver in "western Canada".

yes and no. What you're seeing now is a repeat of what was in vogue in the early 80's. At that time, Western Canada was much more of a unified bloc. But Alberta has always been much more conservative than BC, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba, and this time they're much more out on their own--I think King Ralph has something to do with that one. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and BC have all had elected left and centrist governments in the last 10 years. The Conservatives and their ancestors have governed Alberta for most of the time it's been a province.

So, what's different aboutr ALberta, apart from Oil?

I suspect that the settlement pattern in Alberta was much more ethnically American than in the other three provinces. Manitoba has francophone origins, Saskatchewan has always seemed slightly more European, and BC--while it has a strong American component (think Gold Rush), has powerful balancing influences. But Alberta was settled largely by Americans, and late-19th, early 20th century Americans at that.

Either that, or it's something to do with being on the lee slope of mountains.

Anyways, more later, when I'm not at work.

L-girl said...

Another way of putting this is that Ontarians were Canadians who chose to locate close to the market (the US) and built successful businesses there that eventually proved attractive to head offices in other places. It's much more fun to suggest this was some sort of nefarious plan -- like suggesting eliminating corporate tax, for example -- rather than a natural expression of Canadians taking advantage of a geographical advantage of one part of their country... as I'm sure some people would be quick to suggest about Alberta's oil.

This is good. :)

redsock said...

Actually, didn't Miers withdraw because the Wingnuts felt she wasn't conservative *enough* and was too much of a wildcard on abortion?

The Democrats never got a chance to truly object. There were no hearings.

I wonder if this will cause Moron to pick (or rather, to present someone that has been picked by Cheney et al.) someone the religious wackos are absolutely happy with?

That is scary -- as is the Dems probably saying something (like they always do) like "Oh, we'll rubberstamp this one, but we'll get tough next time. Promise."

***

I have some good news: Libby Was Indicted on 5 Counts! ... Happy Fitzmas everybody!

L-girl said...

Well, I thank you all for this, it's been (and I'm sure will continue to be) very educational.

So:

Albertans, and other rural westerners, feel that they contribute a lot - maybe more than their fair share - to Canada, but are not recognized for it, and don't get enough in return.

If it's true that services are lacking in Alberta, despite its sizeable contribution to the Canadian economy, then that's wrong, certainly.

I still don't see why any province should be richer than any other province based on geographic happenstance. Perfect balance is never achieved, but all of Canada should have access to all of Canada's resources, as much as possible.

But you know, I'm all for equality, and I don't mind one bit if it's engineered by the state. Passing out $400 cheques so people can buy more junque isn't my idea of good government.

L-girl said...

Hmph. You start a topic like this when I'm stuck at work? This is an immense topic, you realize...

Yes! I do realize. :)

Please come back when you're not working!

L-girl said...

I suspect that the settlement pattern in Alberta was much more ethnically American than in the other three provinces.

Interesting!

Anyways, more later, when I'm not at work.

Yes, please.

L-girl said...

Actually, didn't Miers withdraw because the Wingnuts felt she wasn't conservative *enough* and was too much of a wildcard on abortion?

Absolutely. She couldn't pass the litmus test, i.e., she might not have voted to repeal Roe.

I wonder if this will cause Moron to pick (or rather, to present someone that has been picked by Cheney et al.) someone the religious wackos are absolutely happy with?

It's highly possible. I got an email from an (under-informed) former Haven buddy saying Whoo-Hoo On Miers. I was like, no, I don't think so...

I have some good news: Libby Was Indicted on 5 Counts! ... Happy Fitzmas everybody!

YAY!!!

James said...

I would like to point out one more thing, Alberta is not alone in this. We may be the most discontented, but much of western Canada feels that Ottawa is not responsive to its concerns.

I don't think that there's a province in Canada that thinks Ottawa is responsive to its concerns... It's sort of a constant: everyone resents Toronto for being Toronto and Ottawa for being the federal government.

I still don't see why any province should be richer than any other province based on geographic happenstance.

I don't have a problem with provinces being richer due to their geographic situation; but no Canadian citizen should be lacking basic necessities because of their province's geographic disadvantages.

L-girl said...

I don't have a problem with provinces being richer due to their geographic situation; but no Canadian citizen should be lacking basic necessities because of their province's geographic disadvantages.

That's a better way to put it. So if you have to jigger some money around...

RobfromAlberta said...

rather than a natural expression of Canadians taking advantage of a geographical advantage of one part of their country... as I'm sure some people would be quick to suggest about Alberta's oil

There's nothing nefarious about it. It's just business, except when Alberta does it. Then it's greed. Ontario has been profiting from the misfortune of the rest of the country since Confederation as the wealth and talent of the nation gets pulled into the gravity well of metro-Toronto. So you'll forgive me if I don't feel much sympathy for long-suffering Ontario.

It's fine with me if Alberta takes its turn; Ontario's been doing it for 140 years.

140 years?...you must have gone to the Carolyn Parrish School of History, the equalization program started in 1957.

RobfromAlberta said...

So if you have to jigger some money around...

The current level of "jiggering" is more than adequate to provide for the rest of the country. What we are looking at now is envy. It's not that other provinces lack services, it's that Albertans are too rich, simple as that.

L-girl said...

I can understand that. At the risk of being slammed here, Quebec does often seem like a big whiny baby that keeps getting the bottle.

A lot of folks -- even though sympathetic with Quebec's concerns -- feel likewise. Though more about the Bloc Quebecois and the Parti Quebecois than Quebecers themselves.


I meant to say earlier, I am sympathetic to Quebec and the whole notion of distinct cultural identity. I haven't been here long enough, I guess, to distinguish between what the the Parti/Bloc says and what the people themselves want.

L-girl said...

It's not that other provinces lack services, it's that Albertans are too rich, simple as that.

Although you might define services different than I do. To me, if there's a surplus, it should be used to provide more and better services.

I constantly read and hear about how rich Alberta is. I realize you will tell me that's because all Canadian media is centered in, on and about Eastern Canada.

Yet I never hear Vancouverites say that. Perhaps East = liberal in this view.

RobfromAlberta said...

To me, if there's a surplus, it should be used to provide more and better services.

Albertans know the oil won't last forever. So they have created something called the Heritage Fund, which is basically a rainy day fund which we hope to live off of when the oil runs out. Much has been made of the prosperity cheques, which I freely admit is cheap political theatre, but a lot of that surplus is going to the Heritage Fund too. The eastern media makes us out to be a bunch of greedy, stupid rednecks who only live for today (and there are a few out here who fit the bill), but most of us just want to be self-sufficient now and in the future. We see eastern politicians talking about getting more money from Alberta and we see that money being stolen from our future generations who won't enjoy the same oil bonanza we do. If our fellow Canadians can't understand that, than clearly we do not belong in this country.

RobfromAlberta said...

Yet I never hear Vancouverites say that.

Say what, exactly? That the West is ignored by Ottawa? A lot of Vancouverites do. They are politically more Liberal, so they vote Liberal, but they still have plenty of gripes with Ottawa.

James said...

I haven't been here long enough, I guess, to distinguish between what the the Parti/Bloc says and what the people themselves want.

The separatists parties have embarassed themselves frequently. After the last Referrendum, Jaques Parizeau did a great job of discrediting his party when he made a drunken speech blaming the separatist loss on "money and the ethnic vote" ("money" = Anglos and Jews; "ethnic vote" = Vietnamese and Cree, among others).

This was about the time that "Tremblay" lost its spot as the most common name in Montreal to "Ng".

The Cree had their own referrendum and voted that, if Quebec left Canada, they'd leave Quebec and stay with Canada. Parizeau's bunch insisted that that was not a legally binding referrendum, but the Quebec sovereignty one was perfectly legitimate.

Most of northern Quebec is Cree land, including many of the hydroelectric power sites.

L-girl said...

If our fellow Canadians can't understand that, than clearly we do not belong in this country.

Why is that the bottom line to discontent, picking up our marbles and stomping off? Is there nothing for which Alberta needs the rest of Canada?

I'm not saying this derisively or sarcastically. I'm truly asking.

Yet I never hear Vancouverites say that.

Say what, exactly?


That the media is all controlled by eastern liberals who give them a bad rap. Although my experience of Vancouverites is limited to progressive types.

The eastern media makes us out to be a bunch of greedy, stupid rednecks who only live for today (and there are a few out here who fit the bill),

I admit I have been influenced by this. I saw a CBC piece on the Lakeside strike. The anti-union Albertans, who freely called themselves rednecks, were anathema to me on so many levels. Anti-union, racist, ignorant yahoos.

Lone Primate said...

Laura can correct me if I'm wrong, but is it not the case that nomination votes aren't subject to amendments?

Well, certainly markers are collected. I vote your way this time, when something in my interest comes up, I call in your marker. Okay, so we don't have this in Canada because it's the PM's shot. Has the country fallen apart, wound up in a war, suffered an insurrection or invasion as a result? It's not like the Senate counts for much. If it ever does, it'll be elected; if it's ever elected, it'll count for something.

RobfromAlberta said...

Why is that the bottom line to discontent, picking up our marbles and stomping off?

Because everything else has failed. It's really not all that different from your own personal journey. You decided America had moved in a direction you could not follow, so you chose to leave. Albertans are not there yet, but if all we can ever expect is more of the same, we will get to the same point you did eventually.

Is there nothing for which Alberta needs the rest of Canada?

I'd say that's a probably a question the rest of Canada needs to answer.

RobfromAlberta said...

Has the country fallen apart, wound up in a war, suffered an insurrection or invasion as a result?

Whoa lp, setting the bar pretty high there, eh?

L-girl said...

Why is that the bottom line to discontent, picking up our marbles and stomping off?

Because everything else has failed. It's really not all that different from your own personal journey.


Gotcha. Very good analogy. Sick of banging your head against the wall.

Is there nothing for which Alberta needs the rest of Canada?

I'd say that's a probably a question the rest of Canada needs to answer.


But I mean it the way I asked it. You're saying, I think, let Canada see if it can live without Alberta. (Let them freeze in the dark...) I'm asking, does Alberta need Canada for anything, or can it really be a sovereign state?

RobfromAlberta said...

I'm asking, does Alberta need Canada for anything, or can it really be a sovereign state?

My personal sense is that Alberta probably could stand on its own, but the inevitable pull southward would eventually lead to Alberta's incorporation into the US. There are plenty of Albertans who don't see that as a bad thing. I'm not one of them, by the way.

Lone Primate said...

There's nothing nefarious about it. It's just business, except when Alberta does it. Then it's greed.

Precisely. I don't recall hearing Ontario moaning about people taking our jobs, or our taxes, or our this or our that. That's always how it's been. Ontario provided the oomph, paid the freight, formed and continues to form the keystone of Confederation. But we've never moaned like a bear with a toothache the way Alberta does.

Ontario has been profiting from the misfortune of the rest of the country since Confederation

Ontario's been providing the money, manpower and resources for there to BE a Confederation for 140 years. What, the 17 guys in the District of Athabaska were going to give us Canada? There wouldn't BE an Alberta if there hadn't been an Ontario to build a railway through 1500 miles of nothing and rock to Vancouver. Sheesh, you'd think the place sprung fully formed and rollin' in dough right out of the box or something.

So you'll forgive me if I don't feel much sympathy for long-suffering Ontario.

No doubt. We both know we'll still be here to wipe your nose when you're out of black gold, don't worry. As always.

140 years?...you must have gone to the Carolyn Parrish School of History, the equalization program started in 1957.

You've been hanging around with Ralphie the Red-Nosed Regent a little too long. The CPR, the NWMP, the territorial government, the federal schemes that populated the prairies from 1890 to 1920... these things that sustained and even CREATED the west were, in fact, colossal "transfer payments" of the first order. Or do you suppose Alberta paid for all that with turnips and hay? And now that you're here, what's ours is yours and what's yours is yours. Typical.

Albertans know the oil won't last forever. So they have created something called the Heritage Fund, which is basically a rainy day fund which we hope to live off of when the oil runs out.

Ah, but CANADA's falling down on the job for paying down the federal debt instead of buying laser tanks and invisible jets, yeah.

If our fellow Canadians can't understand that, than clearly we do not belong in this country.

Well if you and your fellow Albertans can't understand that you wouldn't have a province if the East hadn't kitted it out and built it for you with the largesse of our industry, maybe you're right. So it give it back and move on. If you're expecting the rest of us to kiss off the monumental investment we made in creating the west, think again.

lenny said...

Let's not forget that 31% of Albertans voted NDP or liberal in the last federal election, for which they recieved a measly 2 seats. Talk about alienation!

L-girl said...

The CPR, the NWMP, the territorial government, the federal schemes that populated the prairies from 1890 to 1920... these things that sustained and even CREATED the west were, in fact, colossal "transfer payments" of the first order. Or do you suppose Alberta paid for all that with turnips and hay? And now that you're here, what's ours is yours and what's yours is yours. Typical.

Ah, this is very interesting! This is oh-so-reminiscent of the US anti-tax crowd, who, now that they have paved roads, clean running water, social security benefits, public schools and tax breaks for businesses, decide they don't need "big government" and don't owe nothin' to nobody. Verrry interesting.

L-girl said...

Let's not forget that 31% of Albertans voted NDP or liberal in the last federal election, for which they recieved a measly 2 seats. Talk about alienation!

31%? Really? Wow!

Can someone explain what that means, received only 2 seats? Why only 2?

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

I've been avoiding commenting here, but Albertans seem to have a persecution complex.

Despite living in the nation's capital, I haven't heard a peep or complaint that Albertans are too rich, and that we need to cut them down to size. We don't even say that Albertans are greedy. There is comments about them being redneck hicks, but nothing about economics. Somehow though, Albertans seem to hear things despite being thousands of kilometres away, yet I can't hear it living in the epicentre.

However, despite the fact that I think their grumbling far too much, they do have a legitimate grievence. The balance of power is tipped a little too strongly towards Ontario. Ontario itself makes up half the population of the country, so it should have a lot of clout, but at the moment it essentially has all the power.

L-girl said...

Kyle, I was wondering when you would show up, the voice of balance.

RobfromAlberta said...

There wouldn't BE an Alberta if there hadn't been an Ontario to build a railway through 1500 miles of nothing and rock to Vancouver.

Oh right, I forgot all about the selfless altruism of the 19th century industrialist.

The bill is paid, in full, 1000 times over. We owe you nothing.

James said...

...it's that Albertans are too rich, simple as that.

You know, the only people I have ever heard say this have been Albertans.

Can someone explain what that means, received only 2 seats? Why only 2?

Probably due to the way the ridings are distributed. If a few ridings are highly populated with progressives, there will be a discrepency between the percentage of the vote and the percentage of the seats. I expect that much of Edmonton went NDP, and given that most of the Alberta population is in Edmonton and Calgary, that would account for the mismatch.

This is the kind of thing that parties attempt to arrange then they gerrymander electoral districts in the US.

lenny said...

"Can someone explain what that means, received only 2 seats? Why only 2?"

In our first past the post system one party could theoretically have 36% of the popular vote in every riding and win 100% of the ridings. Though the Conservatives benefited from this sytem in the west, Canada-wide they got a fewer seats in proportion to their share of the vote, and the Liberals got a few more than their share. The NDP are always the biggest losers under this system.
Here are the results from the last election:
http://www.cbc.ca/canadavotes/candidatesridings/alberta/index.html

RobfromAlberta said...

Ah, but CANADA's falling down on the job for paying down the federal debt instead of buying laser tanks and invisible jets, yeah.

I always know when lp is at the end of his rope. He starts talking about invisible jets and laser tanks...last time it was flying nuclear aircraft carriers, I think.

L-girl said...

In our first past the post system one party could theoretically have 36% of the popular vote in every riding and win 100% of the ridings.

I always forget Canada has a first past the post system. I always thought it was proportional, and I have to unlearn that.

Hi Lenny, welcome to wmtc. You picked a busy day to appear.

RobfromAlberta said...

However, despite the fact that I think their grumbling far too much, they do have a legitimate grievence.

Perhaps, do you think grumbling less would accomplish more?

lenny said...

Thanks L and welcome to Canada.
I've been reading your blog for a while but I couldn't resist the can o' worms.
As a lifelong BCer I bristle when I hear 'western alienation'. To my ear it's code for 'conservative Albertan alienation'.

Andrea said...

Good god!!
All of you are giving me a headache!
This province did this,this province did that.
AUGH!
What about the word COUNTRY? CANADA!?
Maybe we should get rid of provincial lines all together and remind everyone that we are ONE COUNTRY. If you dont like it move to one of the self governing states down south.
The oil belongs to the country, just like the trees and the water and what ever other resources we have.
If I move to Alberta tomorrow, I cant suddenly lay claim to the oil and say that my other fellow Canaidans suddenly have no right to it just because I am now Albertan.

Wrye said...

I sympathize, Andrea. But this has been going on since before Confederation. Most of the provinces existed in some form before there was an entity called Canada, of course. Alberta and Saskatchewan are about the only exceptions--but they were both subdivisions of Rupert's Land, so even that point's arguable.

Now, as to who pays for what, think about this thought from Ian Welsh: I quote his last few paragraphs, but the whole post is thought provoking. the money quote:

Alberta and Ontario are currently net payors into transfer payments. They also receive the most immigration, by far.

What they're paying for is to not receive even more immigrants for whom there wouldn't be enough jobs and who would have to go onto their welfare rolls, have their kids taught in their schools, use their medical system and cause crime in their areas. It is cheaper to keep them in low cost areas like Saskatchewan or the Maritimes.

So the next time someone tells you Alberta or Ontario get nothing for transfer payments you can tell them that they're paying to get less, because sometimes less is more.

L-girl said...

The oil belongs to the country, just like the trees and the water and what ever other resources we have.
If I move to Alberta tomorrow, I cant suddenly lay claim to the oil and say that my other fellow Canaidans suddenly have no right to it just because I am now Albertan.


This was my central point. You put it very nicely!

However, I opened this can-of-worms discussion precisely to hear the arguments. It's the best way to learn. If it makes your head ache, there's an easy solution.

If you dont like it move to one of the self governing states down south.

Hmm. This makes you sound American.

James said...

Alberta and Saskatchewan [...] were both subdivisions of Rupert's Land

I bet HBC sometimes wishes it had kept all that territory for itself. ;)

L-girl, dunno if they covered this in your Intro to Canada lessons, but Rupert's Land was the territory the Hudson's Bay Company held before Canada was formed. It included most of Northern Ontario, Northern Quebec, all of Manitoba, most of Saskatchewan and Alberta, Nunavut, and a little of North Dakota and Minnesota. About 4 million square kilometers (1.5 million square miles) in all.

HBC is one of the oldest corporations in the world at this point, incorporated in 1670.

G said...

Whew ... one hell of a can of worms, for sure.

What's been great about checking in and reading this is, I think everyone has had something very enlightening to say ... and even for a lifelong Canadian, this has been educational on many fronts.

I'm going to refrain from touching this one, personally, because I'm right on the fence on this one - I hear what both sides are saying, agree with principles of both, but think at the same time both Ontario and Alberta have a tendency to fall into the trap of self-interest above the interests to the best of the country. And I say this as an Ontarian ... we're certainly not saints in any of this, but that said both sides have their equal share of fault. I won't go into that - the 70+ comments above have done a nice job of illustrating that already.

I think Andrea put it best when she suggested the provinces begin thinking in terms of what's best for the country, and not just themselves. And that goes for all the provinces - we're all guilty of that.

Part of the problem with the self-interest is land mass and population distribution ... the population centres of each province tend to be somewhat removed from the next province over, and the cultures of each province are rather distinct (go from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia, or Alberta to Saskatchewan, etc to see), so each tends to begin to think of itself as our own country rather than a part of a larger entity.

Ontario is certainly very guilty of this (location has much to do with it, as mentioned somewhere above), but we're not alone in that mentality, either. What we forget is provincial suffering in any part of Canada impacts Canada as a whole. Canada needs Alberta, and it needs Ontario - and to say neither needs Canada as a whole is quite naive. The Federal policies and budgeting impact the Provincial decisions directly ... and vice versa. It's a circular street ... a cul-de-sac, if you will ... if the Provincial level suffers in any province, the Federal level suffers, which carries out to each province, and on and on. Same goes for when the provinces are doing well. To suggest that one end of the country doesn't have a tremendous impact on another (as many Ontarians do, and I'm sure a few Albertans also) is a farce. I for one don't think Alberta could stand alone if it left (think we're not going to ask for Canada's oil?), nor Quebec, for that matter - and I know the rest of Canada would suffer greatly also at the loss of either.

G said...

Whoops - guess I didn't refrain, after all. So easy ... but hey, we're all speaking from a love of our country, and differences aside, that's really cool.

L-girl said...

James: Thanks, great info. I haven't yet started my methodical journey through Canadian history, but I'm picking up a lot here and there through these discussions.

So that must be the same Rupert from Prince Rupert Drops. Like many people, I only know about those from reading Peter Carey's Oscar And Lucinda.

G: Excellent stuff! Thanks for chiming in.

Lone Primate said...

The bill is paid, in full, 1000 times over. We owe you nothing.

It’s not about debt. It’s about responsibility. That never ends.

I am so goddamn tired of being made to feel guilty every time we suggest that someone else ought to give a damn about this country besides us. For a hundred and forty years, and really, well beyond that, it’s been the obligation of central Canada – and Ontario in particular – to provide the taxes, the wages, the industry, the materials, and the manpower to build Canada: to set up the wilderness so that other places could participate in the country. To establish other outposts of Canadianism. With a very few exceptions, nearly all of Canada has been built this way. But the minute someone finds an ounce of gold, or a yard of lumber, or a drop of oil, suddenly they grow big nuts and they want to tell the whole rest of Canada to go hump themselves.

Like many others, my family’s been in this country for hundreds of years… some tendrils of it, thousands. They were the trappers who established the trails that became our roads. The farmers who gave a share of their labour to found and finance a government. The carpenters and miners who give the timber and steel to build the railroad. The mothers who gave their sons to the army to hold the line, here and abroad. The factory workers who paid the taxes that summoned the immigrants that populated the West on free land bought and paid for in the blood and toil of those who came long before. I am proud, and keenly aware, of this heritage. So I have rather little patience for people who, a generation or two after drifting to some other part of this land, or even having just settled there from elsewhere, take it upon themselves to suggest that perhaps they aren’t happy to share my country with me. That, furthermore, they just might pick up part of my country and deny it to me. If such people think that I, and people like me, are going to eat that and call it ice cream, then they need to think again. Alberta belongs to me, and every other Canadian — not merely the ones who happen to be living there at any given moment. It is a room in our house. It may be the one in which certain people hang their hat and sleep at the moment, but it still belongs to us all. All of Canada belongs to all of us, all the time.

The spectacular denial of — no, belittling of — the true nature and sacrifice and creation of this land represented in some attitudes is contemptible. I won’t be cowed into saying anything less. Canada is a responsibility all of us owe one another. The poverty of one is the poverty of all. The success of another is the wealth of each of us. Ontarians have understood, have operated upon, this understanding since long before and after any official program of balance payments was initiated. Canadians elsewhere owe Ontario nothing special — what Ontario has given to grow and sustain Canada has been nothing less than every Canadian’s birthright: a share in the material prosperity of Ontario’s advantages, without having to actually pull up stakes and move there. But I will not excuse the petty, jealous, spiteful bile that causes others to bitterly deny our history, gleefully twist our nation-building into something cheap and ugly, or smugly announce that their rights are superior to those of other Canadians. If such spoilers truly would test the oak from which this nation is hewn, I say let them try. They will find it’s still right here.

L-girl said...

Wow. Lone Primate, I found this very moving.

As you know, I've been very angry about the country of my birth, and what people have done, and tried to do, to it.

Although I'm just an infant when it comes to Canada, I feel I understand where your feelings come from.

Alberta belongs to me, and every other Canadian — not merely the ones who happen to be living there at any given moment. It is a room in our house. It may be the one in which certain people hang their hat and sleep at the moment, but it still belongs to us all. All of Canada belongs to all of us, all the time.

This has to be true. This is what Andrea was saying, and what I meant, in my original post, by "if I were typing this in Calgary..."

Canada is a responsibility all of us owe one another. The poverty of one is the poverty of all. The success of another is the wealth of each of us.

This is profound, and comforting, and eloquent. Thank you.

Rayne said...

Albertans are defensive of their wealth becuase it is very newfound to them, and gained (from their POV) at great sacrifice. About 20 years ago Alberta was one of the poorest provinces in the country. In order to balance their deficit they imposed massive cuts in public services. Countless hospitals and schools were closed, government ministries abandoned, and many many social assistance programs axed etc. The woes of sick Albertans, special-needs-kids Albertans, etc were on the national news every night. It was a tough time and many people left Alberta in protest (or because their support/handouts stopped) when that happened. In hindsight, I suppose that acted as a filter on Albertan society, which already historically identified with the "Wild West" culture of rodeos etc. Aside: It was at this time that BC imposed it's 3-month rule for anyone applying for welfare, to try and discourage the cut-off-welfare crowd from Alberta from settling in BC and claiming welfare here.

Then the oil fields were developed, and overnight everything turned around. Debt was paid off and money began to accumulate. Those that stuck it out, and remember the bad times, feel they deserve to reap the reward of sticking it out through the tough times, and those that left the province or critized the provincial government cutbacks don't deserve anything, since they were too wimpy.

That in a nutshell is (broadly) the Alberta situation. Of course, it was oil that turned them around and enabled them to pay their debt, not the cutbacks. Compared to the oil revenues, the immense cutbacks to save money weren't nearly as significant, but don't expect long-suffering Albertans to accept that explanation. It feels better to suggest that the sacrifice of convserative finance and small government is paying off.

rodeo + financial conservative + oil = Texas = Alberta

Nigel Patel said...

We could have a swap! The U.S. could have Alberta and Canada could have another U.S. State as long as I have enough advance warning to establish residence in said lucky State.

Lone Primate said...

Hi, Laura -- the screed there wasn't aimed at you or Andrea, and it wasn't even aimed straight at... that gentleman we're not supposed to mention in the posts... ;) No, it was just a cry born of the constant drum beat of "let's separate" to be heard from seemingly any other part of Canada the minute someone finds five bucks on the ground and thinks they shouldn't have to put up with roommates anymore. How far do people think an attitude like that is going to get them? So, fine, say, Alberta separates. How many months do you think it would be before the guys controling the oil in Calgary would start wondering why they should be taking orders from those sloths in Edmonton, nevermind Ottawa? Or les habitants in the rural parts of the grand republic of Quebec get a little antsy about being locked in the same country with a Montreal full of Haitians and other disconcerting folks? Everyone always seems to think if they could just make Ottawa leave them alone, and make the rest of the country go away, everything would be peachy. They forget that they ARE Ottawa. They ARE the rest of the country. Or would be if circumstances moved them five miles the other side of one arbitrary line or another. I wish people would grow up and figure that out. I really do.

James said...

Everyone always seems to think if they could just make Ottawa leave them alone, and make the rest of the country go away, everything would be peachy. They forget that they ARE Ottawa.

One of the things that drives me nuts about libertarian types who insist that all government is bad is how they constantly seem to forget that, at least in democracies, the citizens are the government. There seems to be this belief that government is something imposed from outside, separate from the citizens. Certainly, in the US, the Republicans play this for all its worth, and from two directions: "The government is incompetent and must be eliminated" and "We're the special elite, you must not question our decisions or you're a traitor." -- as in Grover Norquist's "Drown the government in a bathtub" line and Bush's "The great thing about being President is that I don't have to answer to anybody" bit.

The people get the government they deserve because they are the government.

L-girl said...

James, I agreed with you completely, until you said this.

The people get the government they deserve because they are the government.

This is only true if democracy is healthy and functioning.

I can't say that the US has the govt it deserves. The people have been tricked, lied to, bamboozled. Underinformed, uninformed, misinformed. Their choices are extraordinarily limited, because only a very few elite can successfully run. Their votes, even if counted properly, often come to nothing, because of the electoral college. And now they're probably not even counted.

I completely agree that talking of "Ottawa" as if it's a foreign power imposed from outside is silly. But many times people do not get the government they deserve, they get the government that bought or lied its way into power.

L-girl said...

Lone Primate, I understood, truly.

Rayne and Nigel, hi and welcome!

Nigel, many people have suggested just such a swap. Try moving to Vermont: people there are lining up for it already!

L-girl said...

Rayne, I also meant to say, your comment is excellent, I appreciate the perspective. Very interesting!

Rayne said...

No prob, I may have exagerrated on the time scake. The large scale cut backs really got going about 1994/95.

RobfromAlberta said...

A very moving speech, lp, I'd even agree with you except I just don't think you really believe it. I have often felt your disdain for my Canada, the pre-Trudeau era Canada, so all your waxing poetic over hundreds of years of history, well, I'm just not feeling it.

By the way, a word to all those disparaging Alberta, I just say this. It doesn't make us feel more inclined to want to remain part of Canada. Just a heads-up.

RobfromAlberta said...

Compared to the oil revenues, the immense cutbacks to save money weren't nearly as significant, but don't expect long-suffering Albertans to accept that explanation. It feels better to suggest that the sacrifice of convserative finance and small government is paying off.

Don't be absurd. Everyone in Alberta knows our oil wealth paid off our debt. That's a typical cheapshot aimed at portraying Albertans as dumbass rednecks.

Lone Primate said...

A very moving speech, lp, I'd even agree with you except I just don't think you really believe it. I have often felt your disdain for my Canada, the pre-Trudeau era Canada, so all your waxing poetic over hundreds of years of history, well, I'm just not feeling it.

I can respect what the Christians went through in the Colosseum without necessarily wanting to live it myself, Rob. I like what Canada became. I respect and celebrate the centuries of effort it took to get us here. I don't consider it in any way hypocritical do so without wanting, myself, to be a wheat farmer whose flag is the Union Jack and doesn't see anything wrong with laws that deny women the franchise and blacks entry to public theatres, Chinese the right to bring their families to this land, and so on. Of course, if that's where you feel Canadian evolution should have ended, by all means, indulge yourself.


By the way, a word to all those disparaging Alberta, I just say this. It doesn't make us feel more inclined to want to remain part of Canada. Just a heads-up.

There are ten times as many Canadians outside Alberta as in it. Maybe it's time you started worrying about what we think. Especially when you slag us.

RobfromAlberta said...

laws that deny women the franchise and blacks entry to public theatres, Chinese the right to bring their families to this land, and so on

All those injustice policies were revoked long before Trudeau. You really need to get some new material.

Maybe it's time you started worrying about what we think. Especially when you slag us.


We care what the rest of Canada thinks, make no mistake. If we didn't care, this would be a very different discussion. As for "slagging" you, if you can quote one thing I said which is demonstrably false, I will concede your point.

Lone Primate said...

All those injustice policies were revoked long before Trudeau. You really need to get some new material.

Oh, I see. You want to hug the cusp, do you? Everything in Canada gelled out perfect, say, oh, New Year's Day, 1968, and then April rolled around and BOOM, it's been all hell in a handbasket ever since? Sorry, you're the one who claimed "pre-Trudeau Canada" as your province; I didn't thrust it upon you. Those are features of it. That's what happens, for instance, when you don't have a guaranteed list of rights in your constitution to guide law-making and court decisions. That's a hallmark of the Canada you lament. Tough; live with it. Like I said, I salute the effort it took to get here, but that's not the same thing as saying I bemoan not having to endure the process.

As for "slagging" you, if you can quote one thing I said which is demonstrably false, I will concede your point.

I think where you sneered that the entire process of building the country between the Cascades and Sault Ste. Marie was nothing more than a cynical exercise to enrich a handful of people on Bay Street would qualify. I hope you at least blushed when your stated opinion of your country sank that low, I really do. Or is that par for the course in Alberta? -- in which case, my suggestion you ought to worry more about what we think stands.

RobfromAlberta said...

Everything in Canada gelled out perfect, say, oh, New Year's Day, 1968, and then April rolled around and BOOM, it's been all hell in a handbasket ever since?

For a lefty, you sure seem to deal in absolutes a lot. Canada is not perfect, never has been, never will be. My problem with modern Canada is that the concept of personal responsibility is all but gone. In the past, we recognized our failings and tried to improve ourselves (i.e. the emancipation of women, aboriginals, etc.). Ottawa responded to the people. Now, the people wait for Ottawa to solve our problems.

I think where you sneered that the entire process of building the country between the Cascades and Sault Ste. Marie was nothing more than a cynical exercise to enrich a handful of people on Bay Street would qualify.

Cynical? Cynical implies dishonest and there was nothing dishonest about it. It was business. Canada was built by the Hudson's Bay Company, then bound together by the Canadian Pacific Railway. David Thompson explored the Rockies because he wanted to make his fortune selling his maps. Didn't you watch Canada: A People's History? Canada's history is all about making money and I don't sneer at it, I applaud it. Beats the hell out of Manifest Destiny as a motive for building a country.

L-girl said...

Beats the hell out of Manifest Destiny as a motive for building a country.

Of course Manifest Destiny was a tacked-on excuse. Westward expansion in the US was all about profit, too.

Exactly the same as stopping the spread of Communism in southeast Asia, or bringing democracy to the Middle East. They're all excuses. The real motive is profit.

US history lesson over. Carry on.

Lone Primate said...

My problem with modern Canada is that the concept of personal responsibility is all but gone. In the past, we recognized our failings and tried to improve ourselves (i.e. the emancipation of women, aboriginals, etc.). Ottawa responded to the people. Now, the people wait for Ottawa to solve our problems.

This is rhetorical fluff. Beerhall philosophy. The whole country was built by waiting for Ottawa to build a railroad over a hundred years ago. Tell me how things have changed.

Cynical implies dishonest

Cynicism has nothing to do with dishonesty; it has to do with the basic outlook that people are solely motivated by self-interest, which is exactly what you said about the process of nation-building in this country. On the contrary; such attitudes did not build Canada -- they were, in fact, nearly responsible for derailing the process of Confederation in the 1860s. Today they spawn separatism in Quebec, hostility towards Ontario, and selfishness in any province that finds black gold on its doorstep.

Franc said...

Laura, going back to the issue of Quebec nationalism quickly broached upon earlier, I found this article from the Sunday Star. It may provide you with a fair gauge as to what French Quebecers want (or don't want!!) these days as it highlights the somewhat stalemate political situation over there.

Being from Quebec and now living in Ontario, I find the Quebec political scene to be quite simply frustrating, as people there (at least the ones I talk to!!) do not quite take the issue seriously it seems. For years I would have debates on separation (being from the "no" camp myself) with family and friends (That’s a national sport over there…families can be quite divided on the subject) but after having read this article I come to the realization that we're still at square one on this debate and will probably be forever…a bit depressing but what can you do?...this is after all part of being Canadian I suppose!! The whole Gomery issue certainly doesn't help the pro-Canada forces in Quebec and I can't blame Quebecers from feeling "bought out". I was a No supporter in 1995 and am ashamed at what's going on so it's become quite hard to defend Canada in Quebec based on that perspective...

As far as your not knowing the difference between what the bloc/parti wants versus the People well...that's a hard one to crack as French Quebecois can be quite ambivalent at times and even treat their wanting or not wanting to separate just like one would decide between two flavours of ice cream on a Sunday afternoon...I'm fairly knowledgeable on Quebec and to be quite honest, I no longer know what's going on there myself when it comes to separation so don't feel bad about not knowing yet...eventually, we'll all find out!!! I have to admit that I've just become a bystander these days as there's not much else one can do...I've chosen to live here and get on with my life so let's all stay posted and see what happens next...I’d say the next Quebec provincial election (in 2007 I believe) will be something to definitely watch out for as far as what the rest of Canada will have to deal with politically...So enjoy the article (I pasted it in my post as one requires an account with the Star to be able to read it...)

Oct. 30, 2005. 08:07 AM
A new kind of sovereignist


MONTREAL- it's closing in on 6 p.m. at Verre Bouteille and a steady stream of 20- and 30-somethings is flowing into the smoky, dark-ceilinged room, seeking refuge from the fall chill.

The conversations are loud and the tables full at the venerable watering hole in the city's east end. The talk centres primarily on the Montreal Canadiens' quick start, on the latest bands, on how deep the potholes are.

It takes an out-of-town reporter to raise the subject of the 1995 referendum's 10th anniversary, and the conversation doesn't last long.

"Ah, that's just a thing for journalists," says Alex Tremblay, 28.

He and his drinking companion, 31-year-old Daniel St. Onge, have vivid memories of the referendum. Both voted for the "Yes" side — in favour of sovereignty — but both say that subject is far from top of mind and the preoccupations of day-to-day life have become more important.

"I'm not sure how many people are really thinking about that stuff right now," says St. Onge, draining his glass and standing to leave.

Asked if he would vote "Yes" if the Parti Québécois sweeps to power and holds another referendum — a scenario that could unfold by 2008 — St. Onge shrugs.

"I don't know," he says, buttoning his coat. "We'll see."

It's a typical response in a place where feelings concerning Canada remain both complicated and conflicted.

The apparent apathy shouldn't be misunderstood, however.

Despite widespread reticence to broach the subject on the streets of Montreal, support for sovereignty is as strong or stronger than it was in 1995, when the referendum was defeated in an achingly close vote on Oct. 30.

It is also clear that the movement is changing.

The stereotypical nationalism of years past — rooted in identity politics and railing against an oppressive and unfeeling English Canada — has evolved.

The PQ, which no longer has a monopoly on sovereignist voters, seems to be redefining itself in more radical terms in its current leadership contest.

And most of all, a new sovereignist middle class has begun emerging in the last decade, one that has little in common with its predecessors.

"Young people today have no use for the old arguments. They don't hate the English; they don't care about the latest fight with Ottawa," says Gilles Gagné, a sociology professor at Quebec City's Université Laval and co-author of a study on the subject.

Few Quebecers, regardless of allegiance, doubt there will be another referendum — but one with a different agenda.

The new Péquistes talk about the environment, about the distribution of wealth, about preserving social justice in the face of a global economy.

Gagné says traditional sovereignist currents can be broadly divided into two categories: the French-Canadian identity, steeped in the teachings of the Catholic church; and the Québécois identity, a political class forged through the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s and the emergence of Quebec as the central agent for social change and the protection of language.

In the first case, federalists formed the majority opinion; in the latter case, sovereignists did.

Now, Gagné sees a new generation that has little in common with either previous strain and is more strongly autonomist.

"They can't conceive of the types of things their parents and grandparents believed in. To them, there's Quebec and then the rest of the world. The motivations are completely different, it's about supra-national issues ... They see that if you actually want to do something about the environment, it's better to have your own country."

Pollsters like Jean-Marc Léger dispute that view, saying the reactions of St. Onge and Tremblay are typical among the younger voters on whom sovereignists are pinning their hopes.

"Look, kids today are in a different place," he says. "Federalism, sovereignty — it's all irrelevant to their preoccupations."

At the same time young people are developing a new view of sovereignty, their numbers aren't growing in a province with Canada's lowest birth rate.

Says Léger: "The sovereignist vote is a bit like Jell-O — it's there but it's got a wobbly consistency. People tell us in the same survey that they would vote for sovereignty, but they want to stay in Canada.

"What people are saying is they don't like Canada in its present form. The fundamental position is that two-thirds of Quebecers want to stay in Canada, but they're confronted by two radical positions."

He says polls show that the high support for sovereignty is due more to circumstantial factors (i.e., the Gomery commission) than structural ones.

Because renewed federalism, the so-called third way, has been so thoroughly discredited, he says, voters are left with yesterday's choices in today's circumstance.

"So, we're faced with a lot of people who choose sovereignty by default. That's not a united people taking to the street, protesting, it's a defensive vote."

Léger and Gagné agree that the PQ is facing challenges from the left and from young, more radical separatists who have grown weary of the go-it-slow approach that has taken root since 1995.

Despite all that, the federalist forces in Quebec have largely disappeared from the national unity battlefield.

Says Léger: "Ten years later, the balance sheet is pretty thin on the federalist side. There was the Clarity Act, there was the sponsorship scandal, there have been a few administrative agreements ... We find ourselves a decade later with about the same poll results, even if it's not for the same reasons."

Federalists are quick to note that the Clarity Act, which specifies that sovereignty can take place only after a clear majority votes on a clear question, has changed the rules of the game.

But even that suits the sovereignists, who say the Supreme Court reference that led to the Act also mandates that Ottawa would be obligated to negotiate terms of secession.

Former PQ cabinet minister Joseph Facal, who left politics in 2003, says the last 10 years have shown that the economic rationale for remaining in Canada no longer exists and that the old tactics no longer apply in a post-Gomery world.

"The political landscape is radically clearer than 10 years ago, Ottawa has taken a hard line ... It's very difficult for federalists to put forward a positive project right now, the whole idea of renewed federalism simply isn't credible," says Facal, who was a rookie MNA in 1995.

Even federalists feel their position needs to be overhauled.

"It's a question of developing and putting forward a positive vision and a positive project, not a negative view," says Francois Le Bel, a long-time provincial Liberal activist who was a spokesman for the "No" forces in 1995.

Federalism has evolved over the past decade, Le Bel says, but the rhetoric on the federalist side hasn't.

Le Bel, who is still active in provincial Liberal politics, says the key in future months and years is to emphasize the flexibility of Canadian federalism and to insist on the point that all the traditional reasons for wanting to separate no longer apply.


"We're living in a time when it makes sense to be part of this greater whole called Canada, and if we can evolve within a system that works, why break it. The radicalization of the PQ's position means it is painting itself into a corner, Quebecers are ready for a new vision."

Sovereignists are riding high on the strength of sponsorship-fuelled voter outrage, but even with the federalist forces at low ebb there is recognition there are more important considerations.

Despite his enthusiasm and firm belief that a referendum should be held soon, Facal is one of several prominent intellectuals — led by former PQ premier Lucien Bouchard — who recently issued a clarion call for Quebec to focus on issues of more immediate importance.

"We didn't say that sovereignty isn't a crucial issue that must be resolved. It is. But the challenges that face Quebec — low birth rates, increased competition from China and India, economic development — will be around whether Quebec is a country or not," says Facal.

But it's clear that many sovereignists have gone one step further, forsaking the option even as it is redefined by a new generation.

On Friday morning, Premier Jean Charest called a news conference at a public library in tony Outremont to announce his party's candidate in an upcoming by-election.

It was hardly an accident that he did so in an airy, modern building named after late premier Robert Bourassa, the poster child for Quebec ambivalence toward Canada.

Sitting next to Charest was a beaming Raymond Bachand, a former head of the province's largest labour pension fund, a Harvard-educated former aide to René Lévesque and lifetime sovereignist.

Bachand, 58, is a self-described child of the 1960s — a Québéc- ois, in Gagné's terms — who came to the recent realization that sovereignty is no longer the pressing issue it once was.

"I've come to believe that Quebec can achieve all its aspirations within the Canadian federation, now is not the time to concentrate on constitutional matters," he said.

That a stalwart of the sovereignist establishment would turn the page on the movement is a jarring political image, but one that has become more common in the last two years at both the federal and provincial levels.

Perhaps, as comedian Yvon Deschamps memorably quipped, the new dream for old sovereignists is of "an independent Quebec within a strong and united Canada."

And so, 10 years after 1995's close verdict, times have changed in Quebec, but the situation is just as difficult to gauge.

Speaking by phone from his National Assembly office, Action Démocratique du Québec Leader Mario Dumont sums it up.

"It's clear that there isn't any enthusiasm to address constitutional questions any time soon, but we said the same thing before Meech Lake ...

"The question of identity for a minority people like Quebec is never very far from the surface, we still can't say it's been resolved."

L-girl said...

Franc, thanks for this article, but more importantly, thanks for your own comments. I see my lack of clarity is typical! I appreciate the perspective.