by Braid,
ISBN: 1550132563

Post Your Opinion
How The West Was Stung
by Clive Cocking

WESTERNERS ARE ACCUSTOMED to being ignored, ridiculed, and exploited by central Canadians. It comes with the territory. Naturally we delight in taking our own shots, mostly jokes aimed at the perfidious East. But lately the humour has worn thin, barely concealing the lurking anger. These days we want to do more than just poke fun at the eastern buffoons ruining this country. This mood is evident in Breakup: Why the West Feels Left Out of Canada, by Don Braid and Sydney Sharpe, a discussion of western alienation, how it started and why it`s getting worse. Flashpoints, past and present, are examined: the Riel rebellions, Ottawa`s Ontario- dominated economic policy, Quebec and "national" unity, the language issue, the National Energy Program, the CF-18 contract controversy, Meech Lake, and the Mulroney record. Should any perplexed central Canadians care to read it, they will find this book highly educational and perhaps startling. Breakup is a deeply felt book full of passion, eloquence, anger, and warnings that should not go unheeded. Like the first shocks of an impending earthquake, the authors begin, the ominous prospect of national breakup is rum, bling through the West. "Westerners," they say, "feel a thousand tremors shake their sense of loyalty to Canada," and have begun exploring other options and solutions. "Central Canada, as usual, focuses on its own ancient demons of language and unity, and the West, like any neglected partner, quietly prepares its mind for divorce." According to the authors, the problem goes back to when the Prairie West was purchased from the Hudson`s Bay Company by Canada in 1868, and "then treated as a possession through all the stages of its slow, painful and incomplete integration into the nation." It was not until 1930 -- amazingly -- that Ottawa finally granted Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta the resource ownership denied them when they became provinces, and which all other provinces had always enjoyed. From the first, central Canada regarded the West as subordinate territory to be exploited: its role, Laurier declared, was to "furnish a steady and remunerative business to the manufacturers of eastern Canada." Although their histories diverged, each western province can cite many examples of federal exploitation, neglect, and discrimination. British Columbia`s relations with Ottawa have been less tumultuous, stemming from its negotiated entry into Confederation as a full-fledged British colony and, the authors accurately observe, a tendency to be "secure and often oblivious in their glorious world beyond the mountains." Manitoba is most inclined to centralist positions, except on language. Saskatchewan is "perhaps the most civilized" in its reactions. "Albertans are usually the angriest westerners because they believe they have been robbed blind by Confederation." That certainly comes through in Breakup, and with some justice. No federal action has outraged Albertans more than Trudeau`s 1980 National Energy Program, which deprived the province of revenue due it from ownership of oil resources. Albertans remain convinced that the NEP was dictated to benefit central Canada, and would not have been enacted had Ontario or Quebec owned the oil. Braid and Sharpe cite a C. 1). Howe Institute study showing that between 1961 and 1985 Alberta paid $100 billion more into the federal treasury than it received (or $1,956 per capita compared to Ontario`s $126), mainly because oil prices were kept artificially tow. The mood of westerners has not been helped by the discovery that they dumped the hated Trudeau for the phoney saviour Mulroney. Albertans were furious when Mulroney took two years to dismantle the reviled NEP. Manitobans were outraged at the blatant favouritism of the CF-18 fighter maintenance contract going to a Montreal company despite a superior Winnipeg bid. All of western Canada has been fuming since interest rates were boosted to cool the overheated Ontario economy, depressing the western economy where inflation was lower. Most infuriating of all was the no-compromise hard sell on the Meech Lake Accord, widely rejected as another example that "Quebec`s grievances are always considered first, before those of the West." The major flaw in this book is that it focuses primarily on Alberta`s anger with Confederation. This gets tiresome when Braid and Sharpe, at considerable length, push Alberta`s goal of an elected Senate as the solution to western alienation. Unfortunately, it is more likely a tragic delusion. Neither the federal government, nor the opposition, is inclined to grant any serious new powers to an elected Senate that would detract from the supremacy of the House of Commons and the clout of Ontario and Quebec. It`s just not on. In the end, the authors rightly warn that the West`s grievances must no longer be ignored. Their proposed constitutional change may not be the answer, but some action is needed. They put the onus on Ottawa, Ontario, and Quebec to give up some of their control for the good of a truly united Canada. "The choice is theirs," they conclude. "Westerners can only knock at the door and wait, outsiders looking in, hoping that others stop the drift toward breakup."

Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us