Saturday, October 25, 2008

"The West" Wants In - So Does Quebec?

I've seen a lot of posts about what we need to do to win, with emphasis from Western bloggers. People keep talking about "Western" specific policies. A couple of things... (and I've lived in the 3 Western-most Provinces all my life... so I can speak to this):

1) What are you calling "the West"? Because we do quite well in the Lower Mainland of BC, and on the island, and in the North, as well as many urban centers.

2) Is this regional, or is it really the beginnings of an urban rural split? Sure the Cons won a few urban seats outside of Calgary, but are they "keepers"? I doubt it. Momentum swung the seats their way, but that momentum is starting to shift already, and "look out" over the next few months... I guarantee there will be more Liberal MPs from Western cities in the next election. Winnipeg, Edmonton, and of course Greater Vancouver are primo candidates for this...

There WILL be an urban-rural split. Conservative MPs were able to split Liberal, NDP, and Green vote to win in those centers. I don't think we split a lot to those groups, but we lost some to the NDP and Greens, and the Greens are a "new alternative" that wasn't always there in such "visible" fashion in the past.

3) People are asking for West-specific policy. What West-specific policy? Does this mean go to the extreme right of the political spectrum, and be "Reform-like"? I mean, besides "hands off our Alberta and Sask. oil", the rest is all about taxes and ideology, isn't it? Should we be anti-abortion, un-controlled free enterprise, strongly for deregulation and against crowns? Should we all joint the NRA? Is this what we want Liberals to become, rather than try to engage so-called "Western" voters with "liberal" ideas? What exactly do WE in the "West" want? It seems that the North part of the West can elect Liberals, and so can urban parts (outside of Calgary)... What does the "West" want???

I say this, because I've been working in elections for years... and since the time of Trudeau have heard "the West wants in". Historically it goes back WAY beyond that. Read political accounts of Canada going back through the past Century.

The question is far more complicated than that. There is no policy or idea, that will appeal to everyone, just like that. We can't just adopt the policies of the Reformers, and cross our fingers.

The "wants in" part, really - of course - means a share in the pot. To be in control. To govern in Ottawa. And this demand isn't from EVERYONE in the West, judging by the fact that close to half (or better in some provinces) still vote NDP, Liberal, or Green, rather than Reform-a-tory. These 4-5 Million Westerners don't see a need to vote conservatively.

Quebec didn't want out. They really "wanted in" - just like the "West", and that is why many vote Bloc. Do you think they really want to separate - every single Bloc voter?

Now you have a Newfoundland separatist movement. Why do you suppose THEY exist?

The thing is, all these groups want more control, yet giving them more control simply makes them hunger for more. The more we devolve power to the provinces, away from the "Center" (not of Canada, but of government), the more the Regions will ask for. If they are a "have not" province, then, not so much, but as soon as they think they're a "have" province - based on the existence of a single finite resource - they want "in", or threaten to "get out".

Harper has built a career around this and his firewall speech. He is single-handedly and surgically destroying Canada's institutions to devolve more power to Provinces. We has a receptive audience to this. Tell anyone you'll give them ultimate control within their provincial boundaries, and you certainly will get some support. But whither Canada? Do we prefer to be 10 independent "nations", or do we love our flag and "one nation, coast to coast, indivisible"?

As Liberals, we need to have the "fundamental Canadian debate" first. Decide if we want to be a union of independent "nations" like the old Greek federation, or a true country. GETTING ELECTED GOVERNMENT SHOULD NOT BE ABOUT WHOEVER HAS THE BIGGEST "FIRE-SALE" TO THE PROVINCES. Who we select as a leader will impact this, and vice-versa.

The federal government is MORE than just an army and a "policer" and jailor. Our federal government has through the decades preserved what it means to be Canadian - our very fabric of being. Our institutions (including health-care, medicare, education, etc.) define who we are, as much as any flag or border.

We need to ask ourselves, as a party, what do the regions (including the so-called "West" region) want. We then have to ask, "is it worth tearing apart our land to give it to them? Do we enter into Constitutional talks to reform the Senate, only to have a challenge in Quebec, or other smaller provinces, just to please Alberta, Sask., and rural BC? Do we allow a Wheat Board to be destroyed to please a few large-scale, semi-truck-owning, well-to-do farmers in AB, SK, and MB, because they are vocal (with lots of money behind their voice), at the expense of hurting thousands of smaller farmers in the West and East, who don't own the trucks to transport their grain to the US? More importantly, do we let farmers "go it alone" on the international market, or do we help them market their grains?

Is it guns? Do we go "back in time", just to please people who are being unreasonable about gun ownership? I mean, seriously, the world is evolving. Yes, gun ownership, but without proper licensing and tracking? You can't even get a CAR without proper registration, yet a 15 year-old can walk into the local Canadian Tire and buy a shotgun. Yeah, that's the sign of a modern progressive nation.

What about oil? Before there was oil, Alberta was one of the biggest "basket-case" provinces in Confederation. Ontario and Quebec money built the railway, built the hotels in Banff, Jasper, and Lake Louise, as well as Edmonton and Calgary (during the Depression more make-work projects came up in the form of building construction in Calgary and Edmonton). The roads and railways were paid for with Eastern money. Now there is oil. All of a sudden, it's "f you Eastern Canada". What if Ontario and Quebec want their investment in Alberta paid back - with interest - in 1905 dollars? If we are truly "one nation", then why is it NOT okay to share? Can't any Canadian simply move to Alberta and take advantage of the piddling oil royalties Alberta charges? What is the difference if those people stay where they are, enhance their own local economies, and still benefit?

Should Alberta recruit it's own soldiers for it's own army? Right now, the Canadian Armed Forces are disproportionately represented by young men and women from Eastern Canada, Quebec, and the Atlantic. Most young Albertan's work in the oil patch. Should we start asking Albertan youth to start "upping their sacrifices"? Of course not. What about Universities. Albertan schools have been woefully inadequate at graduating anything but the core competencies for the oil industry (geologists, engineers, computer scientists, etc.). Where do most of the young executives who work in the gleaming towers of Alberta come from? Try the East. Eastern schools, paid for by Eastern tax-payers.

I'm really tired of the regionalist crap that we incessantly whine about in Canada. We are ONE NATION. We should act like one. Where is the friendly, helpful Canadian image? We all share from each other. We all work together. One Canadian sacrifices his/her life in Afghanistan for his compatriots. Another graduates from one of our "world's best" Eastern Universities (like U of Toronto, or McGill, Dalhousie, etc.), and represents Canada abroad in our foreign service, or teaches students in our North, or comes West to be a dentist in BC. Taxes paid by citizens everywhere have been invested in our past, and in our future. For any one group or province to cry about not getting their "fair share" is a joke. Let them stand on their own. Let them try to drive their industry without outside labor, or outside educated expertise (and the outside taxes that trained them).

We Liberals will need to address these fundamental questions about Canada when we choose our next leader. We will have to do it, because we are the only ones who will. Harper's Conservatives are happy to continue destroying Canada by wholesaling power to the regions (and eventually the US). The NDP shouldn't even talk about power.

We are the party of "nation-builders". It is time that WE stepped back into that mindset, and spell it out for Canadians with the selection of our leader.

WE need to "build our Canada".

WE need to be the leaders in this debate, and make the Conservatives irrelevant in the offing.

1 comment:

Deb Prothero said...

Brilliant essay. I'm so happy to hear these thoughts expressed.