Western Separation - A Tale Told by an Idiot, Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing
If you ever want to see me descend into a paroxysm of rage, mention the phrase “western separation”.
I react badly to this suggestion for several reasons. First, I’m a big fan of Canada. I think it’s a hell of a good country, and it really pisses me off when certain people (usually members of what I call the “intelligence-free” right) suggest busting up a perfectly good confederation. And I’m not saying this just as a resident of Ontario. I was born in BC and lived in Alberta for nine years. I’ve seen and interacted with a lot of this country, and I’m pretty confident the whole thing works better together.
Second, I quarrel with the idea of western sovereignty because IT IS SO DAMN STUPID. Tallying up the false assumptions and bonehead logic that underpin this position is a monumental task, but here are some highlights:
1) The West is ‘alienated’
. Now here’s a classic sentiment. Whether Ontario is stealing oil revenue or refusing to elect Alberta’s socially conservative political party du jour
, central Canada just can’t stop screwing the West. Or at least that’s what everyone seems to think. The problem is, even if there was some evidence supporting this idea, nobody seems to know what it is. Take this conversation between my good friend who now lives in Alberta, and an Albertan he met in a bar:
Friend: “So why do you feel alienated?”
Albertan: “Because Ontario keeps screwing us.”
Albertan: “You know…by screwing us.”
Friend: “Right. So how would you fix it?”
Albertan: “By getting elected, going to Ottawa and making sure they stop screwing us.”
Albertan: “By making them stop screwing us.”
Friend: “I see.”
The fact is, everybody’s alienated and nobody knows why. Could it be a few hard-luck politicians who needed a horse to ride into power dreamed the whole thing up? And nothing spells “conservative election drive” like “a crusade without any referent to reality”. Just putting that out there.2) Alberta would be better off on its own.
True, Alberta is currently pumping money out of the ground, benefiting every time a war or natural disaster sends gas prices ever higher. So, as the argument goes, since we’re rich like bandits and hate sharing, maybe we should go it alone. A plan brilliant in its intricacies. Except for one thing: THE OIL IS GOING TO RUN OUT. SOON. I guess someone forgot to mention to the western separatists that oil is a non-renewable resource. Oh well, I guess a sovereign Alberta can always fall back on its thriving cattle industry. Ouch.
The fact is, both Alberta and BC have primary resource-based economies. If those resources dry up, or if people stop requiring them, economies of this type are in trouble. If these provinces separate, they won’t be able to relay on the mature industrial economies of Central Canada to bail them out. Say nothing of the fact that newly-independent Alberta and BC would become the 51st and 52nd states so fast, you’d start believing in manifest destiny again.
Alberta and BC do have legitimate grievances, just like every province in Canada. The intelligent thing to do is to work through existing institutions for a better deal, not by scrubbing the whole country and ensuring mutual harm. A good first step to building a better confederation is to stop hitching your regional hopes to socially conservative politics. Central Canada doesn’t vote Conservative because we’re trying to screw the West. We don’t vote Conservative because they suck.