Is Canada barrelling head first towards a full-blown unity crisis?
Right now, if you asked many Canadians (especially our brothers and sisters in the west) such a question would be purely rhetorical in nature. When Canadians returned to the polls on October 21, 2019, they gave Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a second mandate, albeit under the authority of a minority government. Even more stunning was the fact the almost deceased Bloc Québécois was unexpectedly resurrected from the graveyard of Canadian politics along with an alienation movement that is spreading across western Canada like a prairie fire.
Has Canada ever truly been a united country? While to the world (and even to most Canadians), the Great White North is a shining symbol of peace, democracy, and prosperity, the relationship between Ottawa and the provinces has been continually up and down since the country’s founding. Being that Canada is a constitutional monarchy, centralization of power has always and will largely be the order of the day. In the opinion of many historians and writers, Confederation was the product of a group of elites in urban Ontario and Quebec (at the time Upper and Lower Canada) who graciously invited everyone else to join their newfangled country. For a relationship to truly work effectively, all parties must have an equal say, or else tensions and eventual splintering will occur.
In Atlantic Canada, there are respected scholars who bemoan the region’s long economic decline, crony politics, and culture of dependency on equalization as a direct result of becoming a partner in Confederation. Speaking of which, back in 1873, Cornelius Howatt, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island, a fierce opponent of union with Canada, stated unequivocally that “If PEI joins Confederation, all we’ll be will be beggars.”
Concerning western alienation, we’ve been down this road before. As many western Canadians look with disdain upon what they see as an anti-oil east, a growing chorus is seriously considering leaving Confederation, either to form a new country or become the 51st state. While such proposals will most likely never see the light of day, Ottawa cannot ignore the reality that with the rise of the Bloc Québécois combined with the emerging Wexit movement (inspired by Brexit), a complicated unity crisis may be just around the corner.
If you’re like me, you probably don’t expect Canada to break apart anytime soon. That being said, uniting Canadians from coast to coast to coast must become a priority. Is wresting more power away from the ‘Laurentian Elites’ to the provinces with regards to legislation and control over natural resources a winning proposition? Only those opposed to fixing the unity crisis would object. Other measures should include busting down all interprovincial trade barriers and instituting electoral reform.