New western force gathers steam in its rush to 'fix' Canada
Published by the Ottawa Citizen, August 2, 2003
Alberta senator-elect Ted Morton announced this week he will seek the tory nomination for a seat in the provincial legislature. This is significant because the University of Calgary professor could, ostensibly, fill one of Alberta's senate seats when it becomes available. That he would choose provincial politics instead is another sign that some westerners are losing hope of increasing their influence in Ottawa.
An enduring fact of Canada's existence, western Canadian alienation has never threatened it. But historic trends and chronic dissatisfaction suggest some new arrangement between the West and the federal government is inevitable. Much hope has been invested in Senate reform or a breakthrough for the Canadian Alliance but, like Ted Morton, few in the West are counting on either.
"The West is further from realizing constitutional reforms than it was 25 years ago; and the Canadian Alliance party has stalled at the Manitoba/Ontario border. If westerners want a secure, democratic and prosperous future, they must plot a new path," Morton said recently.
Morton represents a new force in western politics. Building on the populist movements that once vented western frustration, it wants fundamental change and it is looking at new strategies for achieving it. Joining grassroots organizations and established players such as the Fraser Institute and the Canada West Foundation, the new players are academics and former writers and publishers.
Morton, for instance, teaches political science at the University of Calgary. This is where political commentators Barry Cooper and David Bercuson also teach, as do Tom Flanagan and Rainer Knopff who, with Morton, co-authored the 2002 book, The Charter Revolution and the Court Party.
If some of the names sound familiar it is because Flanagan, Knopff and Morton joined Stephen Harper, Ken Boessen-kool and Andy Crooks to pen the "firewall" article that proposes Alberta withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and Canada Health Act, as well as collect provincial income tax and create a provincial police force. Flanagan and Boessenkool currently work with Harper in the Canadian Alliance while the Firewall Six article now forms the basis of Morton's bid for legislative office. So far, about 2,000 members of the Alberta Residents League are backing him.
"Professor Morton's call for westerners to insulate ourselves from Ottawa's 'discriminatory and costly policies' ... is a veritable template for home rule," says Wayne Eyre, a retired editor and writer living in Saskatoon who is promoting Scottish-style devolution. "Westerners think in regional terms," he says, "so a new sub-federal government with its own legislative assembly is the answer." Eyre's Web site -- www.westernhomerule.ca -- attracts 20 to 70 hits a day.
Eyre's work is in the ideas stage, but the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy is off and running with an organization and a game plan. It was its chairman, Link Byfield, and other members of the formidable Byfield family who published the seminal western Report magazine, which folded in June after 30 years. From its ashes has risen the Citizens Centre, an organization whose agenda is nothing short of refederating Canada.
Byfield, in introducing the idea on the centre's Web site (www.citizenscentre.com), writes, "Canada is broken, and the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy wants to help fix it ... from the time of Louis Riel, through the great Prairie farmers' movements, and up to the Reform and Canadian Alliance parties, the demand for fundamental change has gone largely unanswered." Invoking the Clarity Act to effect change and Switzerland as one model of governance, Byfield insists that the provinces can take power into their own hands, create their own constitutions and rework Confederation for the benefit of all Canadians. "If we can't influence Ottawa, then we must decrease Ottawa's influence in the West," he says.
Byfield, too, sees the firewall proposals as a starting point. This fall, the Citizens Centre will publish a paper about withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan. "The Centre is a non-partisan impetus for government action," he says. "Westerners aren't interested in separating, but they are interested in more autonomy."
Indeed, many are listening. Former Report readers are buying Citizens Centre memberships -- 3,100 at $100 each since June and counting. The centre is also planning Western Assembly II to take place spring of 2004 in Calgary. It was Western Assembly I that gave rise to the Reform party.
Margret Kopala writes weekly on western perspectives.