8.19.2007

alberta vs canada

In the early days of this blog, and continuing through our move to Canada, the wmtc community included a guy named RobfromAlberta, who I called our "resident conservative". (Rob has since left the blogosphere, at least under that name.)

Rob used to spar with a guy named Kyle_from_Ottawa (who may have been my first non-related reader), and later got into it big-time with Lone Primate, Wrye and G. I learned a lot from their debates, and I learned a lot from Rob, especially about what it means to be conservative in Canada, as opposed to the US.

In many respects, RobfromAlberta was what I consider a "true conservative". He opposed censorship of any kind, opposed laws restricting abortion and supported same-sex marriage. Any real conservative should, in my opinion, hold those truths to be self-evident, as they all fall under the general category of government interference in citizen's lives, which they are supposedly against. He hated Fox News almost as much as he hated the Liberal government. He loved and admired the US, but not what it had (in his eyes) become under the Resident.

From Rob I also learned something about the civility of Canadians, as I noticed he was much more virulently right-wing on his own blog than he was on mine. Indeed, on wmtc he was never anything but respectful.

(RobfromAlberta left wmtc right around the time the Conservatives were elected. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.)

One area of Canadian culture in which RobfromAlberta schooled me was his province's prickly relationship to the rest of the country. Although Rob had lived all over Canada (his wife, I believe, was from Montreal), he was a hard-core Albertan. It often seemed to me that he was more Albertan than Canadian. Indeed, he preached secession. Or at least the threat of secession, claiming that the threat had "worked" for Quebec, as Canada was forced to meet that province's demands - or at least give weight and credence - for the sake of national unity.

I recalled that extreme position as I read this article.
A war is looming between Alberta and the federal government over pollution caused by oil-sands development that will far surpass any previous federal-provincial battle in its political and economic stakes, former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed predicted yesterday.

He told the Canadian Bar Association convention that a ferocious constitutional clash is all but inevitable, pitting the federal right to protect the environment against the provincial right to develop natural resources.

Mr. Lougheed - who was at the epicentre of disputes in the 1980s involving the national energy program and the patriation of Canada's Constitution - said that the clash will be "10 times greater" than federal-provincial conflicts of the past.

"The issue is there front and centre, and coming to a head," he said. "I think the issues we saw before - and I was involved in many of them - were important. I don't minimize them. But they aren't even close to the issue I have just described."

Mr. Lougheed predicted that the dispute will very likely go before the Supreme Court as a constitutional reference, forcing the court to decide whether the British North America Act gives the province the right to develop its energy resources as it sees fit.

"My surmise is that we're into this constitutional legal conflict soon," he said. "And my surmise is that - and this is strong stuff - national unity will be threatened if the court upholds federal environmental legislation and it causes major damage to the Alberta oil sands and our economy."

He said that Alberta's desire to bypass toughened federal environmental laws will cause considerable dispute within the province, and will "cause significant stress to Canadian unity."

"The government of Alberta, with its acceleration of oil-sands operations, will, in my judgment, be seen as the major villain in all of this in the eyes of the public across Canada," he said.

A major source of greenhouse gas and water pollution, the oil sands project is expected to double in size within the next few years.

Mr. Lougheed said he is convinced that public concern for the environment is no passing fad and will only increase pressure on future minority governments in Ottawa to apply strict pollution guidelines. [Full story here.]

This editorial in the Globe and Mail calls Lougheed's speech "prescient" and calls on both federal and provincial governments to take steps to avert a constitutional crisis.
Mr. Lougheed, who survived his own constitutional battles over resource control, is right to see danger ahead. Despite the provinces' control over natural resources - a clause that Mr. Lougheed effectively inserted into the Constitution Act, 1982 - the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized Ottawa's wide-ranging ability to regulate emissions. "The feds have a long-standing power to regulate environmental emissions and, in the event of a conflict between a validly enacted federal law and a validly enacted provincial law, the federal law prevails," says University of Toronto constitutional-law expert Sujit Choudhry. This is constitutional dynamite.

Before a potentially destructive constitutional reference to the Supreme Court occurs, cooler heads should prevail. Alberta should strengthen its existing laws to control greenhouse-gas emissions. In turn, federal opposition politicians should realize they could win their battle for Kyoto and lose the war for national unity. Political compromises should be struck. Mr. Lougheed deserves gratitude for his timely intervention.

Political compromises are necessary and important, but are they more important than clean air and fresh water? Are they more important than the melting polar ice cap? Until pollution from the oil-sands is reduced, Canada will continue to contribute grossly to climate change, despite the best efforts of individual Canadians.

This blog still has at least several readers from Alberta, although the ones I know of are all progressive. I welcome all of your comments, but I especially look forward to hearing from that part of the country.

6 comments:

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Take all this with a grain of salt, as I still have very much a curious-but-detached outsider's perspective on the whole Alberta thing. But this is what I've observed through those particular glasses.

It seems to me that the vast majority of people who talk about Alberta secession really just mean that their own personal group identity is more Albertan than Canadian, and they want this recognized. (This is just fine, as far as I'm concerned. My own identity is more Edmontonian than either of the above.) Alberta likes to talk big about being different, but really the culture is very similar in the B.C. interior and in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. There are also a lot more progressives here than the conservatives like to admit. If Alberta were, by some miracle, to secede, these people would be dismayed to find themselves confronting the very same forces they loathe within their brand-new country.

That said, there is something to the reasons behind the whole "us against them" mentality. There are an awful lot of central Canadians who, when they say "Canada," really mean "central Canada" or even "Ontario" or "the Greater Toronto Area." (Here is an example of this. See also the comments section where several people clearly couldn't comprehend why something like that could be seen as irritating.) When perspectives other than those coming from your part of the country are regarded as peripheral or--worse--ignored altogether, it really does get annoying. Although I still say sane people a) don't let it rule their lives, b) see it with a sense of humour, and c) don't let "us" stop at the borders of Alberta, because that's just dumb.

As for the topic of pollution in particular, it may interest you to know that polling suggests that this province is a lot more circumspect about oil sands development than Lougheed would have you believe. The Alberta government is not the same thing as 'Albertans', regardless of how much they like to paint themselves that way. They weren't even elected by a majority of the province (and that's likely to be even more true next time)!

L-girl said...

Thanks, I/P! Naturally I was hoping for your input.

(This is just fine, as far as I'm concerned. My own identity is more Edmontonian than either of the above.)

As someone who always felt more New Yorker than American, I understand.

There are an awful lot of central Canadians who, when they say "Canada," really mean "central Canada" or even "Ontario" or "the Greater Toronto Area."

I learned a lot about that from the aforementioned Rob.

I was shocked - although I shouldn't have been! - when the Toronto Star recently picked 7 "wonders" of Canada, all but two were in Ontario, all but one east of Thunder Bay. A few letters to the editor pointed that out.

Thanks for the perspective and the links.

nataleo said...

I was curious and read I/P's link to his site about TWN-I have certainly noticed this all of my life however I live in Eastern Canada. The funny thing is, that I've heard many people from Western Canada refer to Ontario/Quebec as Eastern Canada or "in the East" which always irked me in a small way because I’m a Maritimer! I realize that we are so insignificant population wise (and certainly insignificant economically-actually a liability) but I've always gotten a chuckle out of the term "Western alienation"- But doesn't this happen in the US as well?

L-girl said...

Hi Nataleo!

I/P is a she, by the way. :)

The funny thing is, that I've heard many people from Western Canada refer to Ontario/Quebec as Eastern Canada or "in the East"

I've heard this almost exclusively. I rarely hear anyone use central Canada, as I/P just did.

Before I moved to Canada, I thought of Toronto as eastern Canada. Two reasons for that - 1, my geography sucks and I didn't realize how far east Canada actually goes and 2, I was from NY, that's in the east, I thought of Toronto as north of us, so that meant (to my mind), Toronto was still in the east. I was thinking relative to the US. That may sound silly but that's how it seemed to me.

Not anymore.

but I've always gotten a chuckle out of the term "Western alienation"- But doesn't this happen in the US as well?

I'm not sure what you mean. Do people from western US states feel alienated from the whole? I don't know. It's not an issue you hear much about. (Although people claim the US media is coast-centric - but then they claim the media is liberal, which it ain't...)

There are so many different regions in the US. The divide is much more urban vs suburban vs rural than region vs region, IMO.

nataleo said...

It seems I suffer from blogger gender confusion! My apologies to I/P - I must have had "him/his" stuck in my mind after reading the start of the thread that referred to "RobfromAlberta" and “Kyle_from_Ottawa”. It’s a good thing I don’t write or proofread for a living!

But doesn't this happen in the US as well?

By “this” I should have specified regional focus-be it media or governmental.

L-girl said...

By "this" I should have specified regional focus-be it media or governmental.

Canada is much more provincially and regionally focused than the US, IMO. I was very surprised by the degree of provincial focus when I moved here.

In the US, although we hear about "red states" and "blue states," that is largely a myth. It's much more urban vs suburban vs rural, as I mentioned.