Fortis et Liber: Alberta's Future in the Canadian Federation


Northrop Frye once observed: While history is a narrative of what has happened, myth tells the story of what is constantly happening. In this sense, myth is an essential part of what we now call political culture. The Red River Resistance, as strange and ineffectual as it seemed to later Laurentian historians, became part of a Western myth, the most recent manifestation of which was the Freedom Convoy of 2022. And by the way, Laurentian historians were a self-described “school.” centered at the University of Toronto. The most famous of these was the first modern biographer of Sir John A. Macdonald, Donald Creighton. His thesis, The St. Lawrence trading empire, published by Yale University Press in 1937, virtually founded the Laurentian School. The second edition, published by U of T Press, had a more candid title: The Empire of St. Lawrence. This is the origin of the term “Laurentian Canada.”

Between the Red River resistance and the trucker convoy, more than 150 years apart, stood Prime Minister Macdonald's completely misnamed “National Policy,” which subordinated the economic vitality of prairie agriculture to Laurentian industrial trade. (To simplify somewhat: High import tariffs protected Eastern industries while making imported goods critical to the economic development of the Plains unnecessarily expensive, which in turn made export-dependent Prairie farmers less economically competitive; national policy was simple Exploitation of the West.) When Alberta and Saskatchewan became Roman-style provinces in 1905. The Dominion Lands Policy ensured that the main source of revenue from land sales and royalties remained reserved “for the purposes of the Dominion” and not for them.

The West's political response resonated for more than a century. Several political parties and social movements formed against the Lawrence policies: the Progressives, Social Credit, the Social Gospel, the CCF and later the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance. The fact is that people in the West generally wanted to make Canada function as a true federation. They were neither revolutionaries nor separatists. Like their cousins ​​in the American West, they sought equal rights as citizens and equal representation of the western provinces, particularly the Prairie provinces.

In 1905, the Dominion of Canada split off the new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan from parts of the Northwest Territories; The newcomers were treated as significantly second-class compared to the original provinces and, among other things, did not gain full control of their land and natural resources until 1930. (Sources of photos (clockwise starting at top left): Calgary Herald Archives; Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan R-A4110-2; Glenbow Archives, na-1496-2;

And while all of these movements often offered fierce resistance to Laurentian political and economic controls, they also appeared to accept the political institutions of Imperial Canada. Do you remember the slogan of the Reform Party in 1987? “The West wants in.” Why? To increase the likelihood of self-government, the desire of which was dismissed as incomprehensible by the Laurentians: Weren't those pesky Westerners already citizens of an already self-governing country? They must be alienated, poor creatures, and dependent on the care of an alien.

David A. Smith, another distinguished political scientist who taught for many years at the University of Saskatchewan, offered a less condescending response than the traditional dismissal in his 1969 essay “A Comparison of Prairie Political Movements in Saskatchewan and Alberta.” Laurentians. Westerners, Smith wrote, tried to work within the dominant political parties, then through so-called “third parties” that tried to persuade the dominant parties, and then through balance of power strategies. “No other area of ​​the country,” Smith said, “has experimented with so many partisan alternatives and apparently been so dissatisfied with the results.”

A third respected political scientist, Alan Cairns, once asked: Why were Social Credit and NDP referred to as “third parties”? In BC, where Cairns taught, these parties were the Government, the key players in a dynamic two-party system. The “third parties” were the Liberals and Conservatives. The same could be said about Social Credit and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (the future NDP) in the Prairies. That is, the political articulation of the western provinces differs from that of Laurentian Canada.

The Prairie provinces continued to face destructive Lawrence policies throughout the 20th century, such as the extension of the Canadian Wheat Board, official bilingualism, and the National Energy Program introduced by Pierre Trudeau in 1981 (pictured below left, right of Alberta). Prime Minister Peter Lougheed in the middle). Pictured bottom right: Mildred Lake oil sands facility. (Photo sources: (top left) Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau/Library and Archives Canada/C-064834; (bottom left) The Canadian Press/Dave Buston; (bottom right) The Canadian Press)

After Canada's first half century or so, after the Prairie provinces finally gained control of their natural resources in 1930 (as Canada's “founding provinces” had done from the start), more nonsensical Laurentian policies followed in the post-World War II period: the unnecessary extension of the Canadian Wheat Board (whose command and control methods were reminiscent of the late Roman Emperor Diocletian's ridiculous economic decrees), the definition of Canada as a bilingual country (whose main consequence was to ensure that most Westerners did not). (who find a career in Ottawa attractive) and of course the unforgettable National Energy Program, considered by many Albertans to be the 20thTh Century successor to the National Policy.

Then the year 1982 Constitutional law gave the Supreme Court of Canada effective control over legal aspects of the constitution. And like Canada's first Supreme Court, it functioned largely as the centralizing creature of Laurentian Canada. You'd have to be remarkably naive not to believe that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had something like this in mind when he began pushing for “patriation” of the Constitution almost two generations ago. Definitely a major consequence of 1982 act was intended to undermine the institutions of federalism, particularly provincial responsibility for natural resources and the environment, which had previously been supported by the jurisprudence of the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and was largely respected after 1949, when appeals to the Law Lords were abolished .