Ours is a multicultural country with a strong sense of national unity. Canadians coast to coast embrace diversity in a way that is reflected by the governments’ bilingual and tolerant immigration policies. We as citizens value and are clearly proud of our country. So why, then, is there a prominently displayed sign along Highway 2 near Olds that calls for Western separation?
Amongst all the fierce nationalists in this country, there are more than a few Canadian citizens that do not believe in Canada. The most well known of these people come from Quebec, a province that has twice held referendums on whether or not to remain part of Canada. The situation in Quebec has been explored in depth by politicians and the media alike, and as a result the rest of the country has come to understand a little better why the issue of separatism arose in the first place. That is not the case for western Canada.
The idea of Western separatism has been gathering support since before 1980, when the Western Independence Party formed. Several local supporting parties also evolved from the common goal of Western separation; the British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba Separatist Parties, as well as the all-encompassing Western Block Party that is active today.
Many supporters of the Western Block Party are ex-members of right-wing parties such as Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives. The aforementioned parties were united in 2003 under the common goal of dethroning the Liberals from constant power in Ottawa, something that made many former members uneasy. Many felt that the new Conservative party had lost its integrity and become mildly left-wing, compared to the other, much more liberal, political parties in Canada. As a refuge for the ultra-conservatives that had been left behind in the merger, separatism became a hot topic.
Many of the values that define us as ‘Canadian’ are precisely what drive some Westerners to lobby for a new sovereign nation of Western Canada. The primary goals of the Western Block Party are to establish mono-lingualism, stop immigration, get rid of the gun registry and to stop sharing western Canada’s wealth with the rest of the country. On top of that, Separatists want to opt-out of the Kyoto accord, arguing that the environmental policies will cost them too dearly, and that the risks of the Greenhouse Effect have been proven non-issues.
It seems that the biggest issue for western Separatists is the way wealth is being extracted from western Canada – in the form of oil, gas, coal, and agricultural revenues – and redistributed to the rest of Canada’s provinces and territories. This centralized collection and distribution of the country’s wealth strikes Canada’s more conservative citizens as a somewhat “socialist” economic organization, and they are not exactly socialism enthusiasts. Members of the Western Block Party want to keep their own resources and the associated revenues within their region to create a wealthy nation of their own. They are tired of having no representation in Ottawa, and feel that separation is the only means to achieve their goals.
Advocates of western separation may like the idea of controlling their own resources, but they are disregarding how they themselves benefit from the Liberal system in times of uncertainty. Specifically, the provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have each received federal payments through the Equalization Plan for the past several years. The Provincial Equalization Plan has been in effect for years, and its renewal was outlined by Finance Minister Ralph Goodale in Budget 2005. The plan aims to spread federal wealth throughout each province that produces less capital than the average Canadian province, essentially “equalizing” them. This plan is unsettling to Western Block Party members, who feel that each province and territory should learn to live within its means instead of relying on other parts of the country.
Supporters of western separation do not all expect to one day see Canada split down the middle; they do, however, expect that if they apply enough pressure, Ottawa will respond and start giving them what they want. On the other hand, there are members of the party that are relentlessly committed to separating from Canada.
Doug Christie, leader of the Western Block Party, is one of those. He expresses his concerns about our “juvenile and bankrupt country” (Western Block Party forum), ignoring the economic prosperity Canada has enjoyed these past seven years. This year marks our seventh consecutive balanced budget, a fact which sets the stage for vast surpluses each year. Christie says “This country has the mental attitude of juvenile and spoiled children,” and that “the West is betrayed by a socialist state.” Clearly Doug Christie is not one of the flag-waving nationalists that come to mind when one thinks of Canada.
Maybe there is no real way to please members of western Separatist parties, since the majority of Canada remains more liberal minded. Giving people like Doug Christie what they want – one language, halted immigration, and an end to Kyoto – means an extreme betrayal of Canadian values. The sign on Highway 2 remains more than just a symbol of the ongoing struggle of the western Canadian to be heard by Ottawa, it is a shining example of the flaws in our national identity. Beneath the surface of Canadian pride and multiculturalism lies a frustrated population at odds with the national majority. Unless members of the separatist movement are provided with some kind of concession from Ottawa, their signs are likely to remain all over western Canada.
Western Block Party, home page: http://www.westernblockparty.com
Western Block Party forum: http://westernblockparty.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=6
Canada Budget 2005: http://www.fin.gc.ca/budget05/pdf/bp2005e.pdf
* photo courtesy the author