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Mary Janigan is the author of Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark.
The West’s fierce insistence on resource control has divided many Canadians who don’t understand the depth of this regional attachment. In a coolly rational universe, there would be federal carbon taxes – and Ottawa might push bitumen oil pipelines across provincial boundaries under rigorous environmental oversight. But the confrontations between the West and the Rest of Canada, which have twined through the decades since Confederation, bedevil the present. As the premiers continue to discuss a national energy strategy, federal politicians should lie low. Ottawa can’t take the lead on such issues without threatening national unity.
This saga of lost time began when Ottawa acquired the vast expanse of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1870 for 300,000 British pounds. When Métis Louis Riel resisted this takeover of his Red River homeland without guarantees of provincial status and control over the lands and resources, Sir John A. Macdonald compromised. He created the province of Manitoba – but he retained resource control to provide homesteads for settlers and a path for the railway. In 1905, Sir Wilfrid Laurier also kept resource control when he created Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The discrimination rankled: Every other province had entered Confederation with resource control. Whenever the Prairie premiers demanded control, Ottawa resisted. Worse, the premiers in the Rest of Canada argued that their taxpayers had bought the West – so they owned the West’s lands and resources. If westerners obtained control over those lands and resources, the Rest of Canada wanted higher subsidies – at the very least.
If this sounds eerily familiar, it is. Scroll through the debates of the past: Westerners marshalled the same arguments about resource rights and sometimes the very words their successors do today. The lessons are obvious.
Since Louis Riel first pushed for resource control as the key to his community’s destiny, the notion has been deeply embedded in the West’s identity and pride. When NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair attacked the West this spring for fostering Dutch disease – that is, driving up the value of the Canadian dollar with resource sales and destroying Central Canada’s manufacturers – he offered a simplistic diagnosis. More important, he did not understand that resources are central to the notion of western community.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/on-the-rocky-road-to-a-national-energy-strategy/article5864015/