Preston Manning warns against resurgence of separatism
Speaking at a Fraser Institute luncheon recently, Preston Manning issued a simple warning to Western Separatists looking to the recently proposed Coalition government as a pretext for promoting a resurgence of their movement.
"Don't threaten western secession," Manning warned. "An economic crisis requires us to pull together, not apart."
Manning admitted that, as Western Canada's representation (especially representation of Alberta and Saskatchewan) in such a Coalition has clearly been an afterthought for those supporting the proposed Coalition, it may be "tempting" for many to consider joining or re-joining the movement.
Certainly, some small-minded individuals have. At a recent anti-Coalition rally in Edmonton, a small group of people bearing signs advocating for Western Separation actually managed to go largely
But Preston Manning's words should sew caution into the minds of these individuals.
In making this pronouncement, Manning does what he has always done best: reminding pragmatic Canadians that, while political visions (and really, who is more visionary -- for good or ill -- than a separatist?) or activist crusades may demand otherwise, the first responsibility of any government is to do what is best for its citizens.
Considering the current state of the global economy, separatism should be furthest thing from the mind of any responsible Canadian in any part of the country. The implications of separatism fall, as they always do, across both the long- and short-term.
In the short-term, separatist agitation always breeds instability into the political order. In fact, this has been one of the most damning criticisms of the proposed Coalition government, the one that the coalitionists themselves cannot answer (to involve separatists in the political process is one thing -- to incorporate a destabilizing influence into the government is entirely another).
In times of economic crisis, political instability always decimates economic confidence.
Not to mention the short-term legal implications of seccession.
Denis Stairs provided an outline of the legal issues at the heart of separatism in his study of what the aftermath of a Quebec separation would have looked like. As they apply to Quebec, they would also apply to any Western province, or collection of Western provinces, that chose to secede.
First off, the presence of any representatives from a region that had voted to secede could not reasonably take part in the negotiations between that region and the federal government. Such MPs would suffer from a conflict of interest -- not only would the demands of their constituents conflict with their responsibilities to the federal government, but their interests (in this case, maintaining their own job) would conflict with the demands of their constituents. As such, the federal government would actually have to be reconstituted without those provinces before such negotiations could occur.
Secondly, the separating provinces would almost certainly have to pay for the costs of separation. This would only be added to the costs of establishing new political infrastructure to satisfy the responsibilities of that new state: responsibilities such as national defense, monetary policy and citizenship issues (including the issuing of recognized passports).
Third, the separating provinces would retain no claim to Canadian government property within their borders. "Scavengers" would inevitably be sent to recover that property.
Fourth, just as the west would have prevented Quebec from separating from Canada on favourable terms, Quebec and Ontario would prevent any western provinces -- especially Alberta -- from separating under favourable conditions.
The provinces would also have to establish new trading arrangements with other countries, and establish new diplomatic relationships. Entrance to defense alliances such as NORAD and NATO would also be complicated by Canadian resistance to their membership.
As daunting as these issues are, these are only the short-term implications. Longer-term concerns include what, precisely, would become of the western economy after oil in Alberta and Saskatchewan loses its value as an energy commodity -- an outcome actually much more likely than simply running out.
Within a united Canada, Alberta and Saskatchewan would at least have other federal partners to help develop alternative economic wealth -- although these two provinces should be doing this well in advance of such an economic blow. But within an uncertain and undefined coalition of western separatist provinces -- it could include British Columbia or Manitoba, but could just as easily be Alberta alone -- there would almost certainly be no such relief.
Sadly, all too few western separatists seem to have considered any of these issues. Instead, they seem to be relying whole-heartedly on an age-old dogmatic theme of western alienation: that of petro parochialism -- the notion that oil wealth will ensure the prosperity of the western provinces indefinitely.
Except that it won't.
If these individuals don't buy the arguments forwarded by the peak oil crowd, who wait gleefully for the decline of oil production, they should buy it under basic common sense: barring a civilization-wide meltdown, oil and gas will inevitably replaced by cleaner, renewable energy sources. While Alberta and Saskatchewan certainly could be an industry leader in the development of these alternatives, neither province has done nearly enough to secure that outcome.
It's sad that so many western separatists don't understand this. It's sadder still that the proposed Coalition seems to be providing the western separatist movement with a pretext to spread.
Liberal MP Simma Holt has seemingly begun to champion this cause. "his cries out to us on the Pacific Rim: 'if any part of Canada should separate it is British Columbia,'" Holt recently announced.
The great irony in this should not be missed. Simma Holt served in the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau, a separatist-fighter even more prototypical than Stephane Dion. And just as Dion and Justin Trudeau have chosen to cozy up to the Separatist Bloc Quebecois in order to attain power. Now, Holt seems set to reinvent herself as a champion of western separatism -- in this case, British Columbia.
But the case against Western Separatism is as strong as the case against Quebec Separatism, and as strong as the case against this Coalition government.
Just as with the case for Quebec Separatism, or the case for the Coalition government, the case for Western Separatism is extremely weak.
Other bloggers writing on this topic:
Right of Centre Ice - "What Would a Western Canadian State Look Like?"
Pearce Richards - "The Faulty Case for Western Separatism"
Big City Lib - "Ezra On Separatism: Then and Now