Satisfaction or Separation?

The “West wants in” was the rallying cry of Preston Manning and the Reform Party. It took nearly 20 years but the West is now in, we think. It took the Reformers, the Tories and a few others to come together as a group to win a minority government position in our 2006 parliament. Indeed the West has a chance now to be an influence again in government. It’s not the first time western influence came to Ottawa, hopefully it won’t be the last or as short-lived as previous western influences.

The first western battle was staged at Red River in 1869 when the Hudson’s Bay sold their land to Canada without so much as a heads up to the Metis and Red Rivers Scots. The Metis were especially ticked and afraid they’d lose their farms and their hunting rights. They rebelled. They had every provocation to rebel as Canada at the time had no jurisdiction in the area. The Hudson Bay abandoned theirs and the Americans were poised, if not ready, to take over the territory. That Western concern was placed on the back burner by military intervention but never really solved. It erupted again in 1885 with the Riel Rebellion. While three died at Red River, many more died in 1885. Riel, the spiritual leader was hung as were several aboriginal men. Western interests were put on the back burner again.

In 1905, when it became obvious that the North-West Territories, which included what we now know as Alberta, Saskatchewan and parts of Manitoba wanted to become one province, Ontario squashed that idea. There was no way the
business and political interests of Ontario were going to be rivalled in geography or finances by a a huge western province. The result, we have three provinces instead of one. Ever wonder why Saskatchewan’s borders with Manitoba and Alberta are such straight lines? It’s because they were drawn arbitrarily by a surveyor or map maker in Ottawa. About 20 years later the grain industry, control of the railways and wartime conscription brought about another western uprising. This time the Progressives, led by Tommy Crerar of Russell, Manitoba, swept the land and elected many seats in Ottawa.

In the 1950s and 60s, the Social Credit movement swept across Western Canada and elected some members. Then in the midst of the 1980s Mulroney Progressive Conservative government term, Western Canada realized that they were being shafted again, this time by their very own people in the PC party and the Reform movement was born.

It seems that every 20 years, the West has to rise up and get mad and take control of its own destiny. The problem is fundamental. Unless fundamental changes are made, then Canada will be split again and again into warring factions. Hopefully, the Conservative Party of Canada will make the fundamental changes needed to avoid this 20 year cycle of nation tearing uprisings that seem to come out of western frustration.

First of all Prime Minister Harper has to firmly, but gently, stand his ground. Toronto is important but they don’t rule the
universe. They think they are the economic engine of Canada. If they are, which is doubtful, then they must respect from whence they get the engine’s fuel.

Harper has to address regional disparities. They will never happen in a rep-by-pop only government. The House of Commons is filled by representation by population. The Senate was meant to reflect regional interests. We have to appoint elected senators. Provinces should elect a slate from which Harper has said he will appoint senators. That’s a simple change that does’t require constitutional amendment. There are many other changes that have been promised, they have to come. Otherwise, there will be another western uprising and that one will bring western separation.

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