General Articles


To that old cry, "Canada has too many governments,” this noted historian retorts, "Nonsense—Our big provinces behave like imperial powers and should be carved up”

ARTHUR LOWER October 15 1948
General Articles


To that old cry, "Canada has too many governments,” this noted historian retorts, "Nonsense—Our big provinces behave like imperial powers and should be carved up”

ARTHUR LOWER October 15 1948


To that old cry, "Canada has too many governments,” this noted historian retorts, "Nonsense—Our big provinces behave like imperial powers and should be carved up”



1— Vancouver Island

2— British Columbia

3— Okanagan

4— Athabaska

5— Alberta

6— Saskatchewan

7— Manitoba

8— Superior

9— Timiskaming

10— Huron-Erie

11— Hurontario

12— St. Lawrence

13— Montreal 1 4—Abitibi

1 5—Laurentia 1 6—Richelieu

17— New Brunswick

18— Prince Edward Island

19— Nova Scotia

(Total, when Newfoundland is added, 20)

EVERY time one picks up a paper, he sees something to remind him of the perpetual feud between Ottawa and the provincial capitals. Some provincial premier is always shaking his fist at the Prime Minister. Premier Duplessis of Quebec has lately won a sweeping electoral victory vith frantic shouts of defiance at the big, bad wolf of Ottawa. Premier Macdonald came right out in he Liberal convention and told Mr. King that he lad better not try to gobble up Nova Scotia. Uid Premier Drew’s heroism in shielding Ontario rom the villains at the national capitel is well known.

Outsiders, witnessing one of these displays of provincial defiance, might think that the country was falling apart. They would be wrong. What they see is simply a phase of normal family life. There never was a family where the children did not occasionally attribute the blackest and crudest of motives to the parentá. So with provincial governments.

The wonder is, not that there is bickering and plenty of it, but that great sprawling continental states such as ours (or the United States, or Australia) hang together at all. The only possible device that could keep together free peoples,

scattered over immense areas, is federalism. Even Russia has found it expedient to go in for what it terms federalism. Apparently, however rigid the dictatorship there, it cannot run things in detail all the way through from Moscow to Vladivostok.

In all such countries the story is much the same; jealousy and distrust of the central government, ostentatious ignorance on the part of the older or wealthier toward the newer or poorer. Even in Britain, a composite state, Scotsmen in the pages of “Punch” invariably are humorous figures uttering queer expressions like “Och” or “Aye.” In the United States, good New Englanders affect to know nothing of what lies west of the Hudson River.

For all our localism, all our quarrels, we Canadians have never dissolved in civil war, as did the United States. Yet most of us recognize that our federation works far from perfectly. Perhaps the most popular panacea among us is the one that goes something like this:

“The trouble with this country is that it has too much government. We have nine provincial parliaments with several hundred members — there’ll be 10 when Newfoundland comes in plus a federal parliament

Continued on page 77

What This Country Needs Is 10 New Provinces

Continued from page 7

with 255. There are also separate systems of courts for each province. We would get cheaper government if some of the provinces were combined, so that we could cut down on the salary list of members and cabinet ministers.”

Sometimes the proposal is to revive the old project for uniting the three Maritime provinces, sometimes it is suggested that the three Prairie provinces be combined. The idea of fewer provinces, 1 contend, is not only impracticable but dangerous. It would be better for this country if we had, not fewer and larger provinces, but more and smaller.

The original conception on which Canada was founded was that there should be a central government for common affairs and local governments for ordinary matters. Money and the postoffice naturally fell to Ottawa; private property and relationships between landlord and tenant as naturally fell to the provinces. But other ideas came in, to distort the picture.

Into the British North America Act, there had crept the provision that every province should have the control of its natural resources. Here was an avenue by which provincial governments were to be carried far beyond their indicated functions. Today, thanks mainly to the generosity of successive administrations at Ottawa and the pugnacity of various provincial premiers, all the provinces, with the exception of the Maritimes, are territorial giants. All consist of small settled regions to the south, with great unrelated tracts of wilderness to the north. Provincial governments administer these distant territories much as the government of an empire administers distant colonies.

Those Provincial Rights

In thus apportioning the soil of Canada, the Federal government could say, “Well, the Americans do the same thing: they have divided all their territory into states, until now the national government has virtually no territory to administer directly.” The American example, I submit, was misleading. Most of the United States is. to a greater or lesser degree, arable. When a new state was set up, it was eventually settled more or less continuously. But in Canada, there was never any expectation that the stretches of the north would be settled, nor will they ever be, except in favorable patches here and there. They will always he administrative areas pure and simple. This is an essential difference between Canada and the United States and from it arises the essential difference between an American state and a Canadian province. The American state with one conspicuous exception, Texas, is a relatively small and homogeneous local area, whereas six Canadian provinces out of the nine are great imperial domains.

The orthodox defense for this extension of provincial boundaries is that it is in line with the idea of provincial rights. But does it have anything to do with provincial rights? When, in the early years of this century, people rushed out onto the western plains, local government had to be provided for them. It was wise, prudent and just in 1905 to erect the two new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. These provinces, in providing law, order and local services for their inhabitants, exemplified the intrinsic meaning of

“provincial rights.” But what had the extension of their boundaries to 60 degrees north, far into the wastes of the Pre-Cambrian Shield, to do with “provincial rights”?

What we have done in Canada, by our system of large provinces, is to have reduced the original idea of Confederation to a kind of League of Nations. At Washington, where 48 states are dealt with, even the greatest of the states counts for little in itself. New York, with a population about as large as all Canada’s, has only some 12% of the total population. Compare Ontario’s with its 33%. In the U. S. the Federal government has never feared a state. What it has feared has been the section, by which Americans mean vast regions like the South. But in 1940, when a hostile resolution was directed against him from the legislature of a great Province—Ontario— Mr. King thought it prudent to dissolve and secure the people’s re-confirmation of his mandate.

Bigness and Efficiency

In Canada, the original aim, as expressed in the British North America Act, was for a strong central government and for local governments with limited local powers. But the Canadian people were not ready for any great degree of cohesion, and the Privy Council obligingly co-operated in weakening the federal government; the provinces retained their wilderness lands—in the United States these had been surrendered to the national government by the North-West Ordinance of 1785-—and so we took the path of decentralization. Today this has gone so far that we cannot get important things done unless we assemble a conference of Dominion and Provinces, which meets with the stage setting of an international conclave (and like such bodies, frequently breaks up in disagreement). That is, in addition to nine provincial governments and one federal, 10 in all, we are gradually evolving an eleventh — a supergovernment based on this combined get-together and a supergovernment, not of elected representatives, but of premiers and officials.

And yet the proposals for fewer provinces “to save expense,” keep coming up. Suppose we could save the cost of three or four legislatures and of some scores of legislators, what would that amount to? No more than a few millions a year at most, for cutting down the number of M.P.P.’s would not reduce other expenditure, such as that on schools and roads. And can anyone contend that a great province would be more economical than a small? The exact reverse appears to be true. Government in a small province like Nova Scotia is parsimony itself compared with the prodigality of Ontario or British Columbia. What is more, in a relatively small community a man can feel close to his government and can in some measure keep tah on it. It is to be suspected that the most expensive and the least efficient governments in Canada are those of the larger provinces.

So much for expense; next for the way of achieving fewer provinces. I f the proposal is to amalgamate the three Maritime provinces, just ask any Maritimer one question. “Where will the capital be?” If any agreement can be secured on this, then the next step in union may be proceeded wit h. As to the proposal to amalgamate the three Prairie provinces, which still comes up occasionally, consider the vast area to be administered. It. is 1,000 miles from Winnipeg to the Rockies, the largest stretch of continuously settled country in all Canada, if it is

unwise to centralize affairs too rigidly at Ottawa—w'hich few would deny—it is equally unwise to centralize them too rigidly at the capital of a vast province.

Not long ago, the school board of Orillia, Ont., so the press report ran, virtually threw in its hand. It was impossible, the statement went, for a local community, through its school board, any longer to have much control of its schools; it was bound hand and foot by the provincial department of education. Instances of the same kind of bureaucracy could be multiplied. The provincial governments themselves are guilty of too much centralization. Through centralization they are slowly destroying municipal institutions, the very springs of democracy.

If Canada were reduced to a few great, provinces, what we would have would be the incorporation in legal form of “the sections,” those great divisions of our country which each in themselves have a certain specious unity: the Appalachian Atlantic, the

French St. Lawrence, the Lakes, the Prairies, the Pacific Coast. If this were done, the end would not he far to seek: each section would begin to take on “national” characteristics and would build up understandings (“alliances”) with other sections against its neighbors. The end would be disintegration.

If instead of nine provinces we had 19 or 20, each would be reduced in importance. Each would speak with less weight at Ottawa. The situation would approximate to that in the United States. There would be no more of the undignified brawling between the Premier of Ontario and the Prime Minister, because the premier would be cut down in stature and would no longer be a rival.

I can hear the shrieks of indignation with which such a proposal will be greeted. I once happened to propound some such scheme to a French-speaking senator. “How about dividing Quebec into North Quebec and South Quebec,”

I said, “with the St. Lawrence as the dividing line?” I le was plainly shocked. “That would be murder!” the senator repi ied.

Now in the case of Quebec, division might possibly be a kind of murder, for many French-speaking Canadians regard “Quebec” as being synonymous with the French race. The notion is not valid, since there are three quarters of a million people of French descent outside the province and 630,000 of non-French within it. Still, it cannot he denied that Quebec presents a special case, for it is the organized expression of our country’s second culture, and our two cultures provide us with our major domestic complexity.

Quebec Into Four

Now, since 1 am a friend of the French-speaking people of Canada, rather than of the Province of Quebec,

I have no hesitation in adding to the gravity of mv crime by suggesting that we might consider the division of Quebec, not into two provinces, but three or four. The island of Montreal and the neighboring islands at the confluence of the Ottawa river, plus the “bite” that Quebec makes into Ontario at. that spot and the City of Montreal’s immediate northern hinterland, might in themselves make a suitable province. This province could be called Montreal. The great northern farm and mining lands east from the Ontario boundary, would make another, which we could provisionally dub Abitibi. Quebec north of the St. Lawrence River could become what extreme French nationalists sometimes seem to desire — a little province called Laurentia. Quebec south of the river

would appropriately be called Richelieu.

How about the other provinces?

It all depends on one’s conception of a province. If a province is a community with a life and will of its own, its people hound together by strong ties of blood and history, then division might possibly Ire likened to murder. But then a province becomes virtually a nation. If a province is primarily a convenient administrative area, division may be merely a judicious rearrangement in the interests of the country as a whole.

In practice, of course, provinces are a little of both. Quebec and Nova Scotia lean heavily in the direction of the integrated community and that is why both are invariably more or less restive in Confederation. Alberta, under its Social Credit government, has been given a push in the same direction. Prince Edward Island is a community. New Brunswick’s loyalties seem to go out to the Maritimes as a section, in distinction to New Brunswick as a province. In the west, the Rocky Mountains tend to make British Columbia a world apart, but on the prairies, the over-riding conception is again sectional rather than provincial —“the West,” as contrasted with “the East.” Ontario is a case in itself and demands separate consideration.

“Well, if not murder, division would at least so weaken the provinces that they would be an easy prey to Ottawa and would lose all their provincial rights,” I can hear provincialists saying. “For example, they might lose the right to supervise insurance companies.” A job like looking after insurance companies, which usually operate in many provinces (and there are many such jobs), could be done better at Ottawa. Rights such as supervising insurance often represent little more than the importance, position and desire for power of a group of officials. When it comes to fear for “provincial rights” one has only to ask which government has been the protector of the weaker provinces. Neither Ontario nor Quebec has been willing to forego many privileges in their favor.

In Canada as it is today, only the three Maritime provinces are small enough in area and population to make Confederation work comfortably. While there is much wilderness land in two of them, they all form more or less compact and homogeneous communities, Nova Scotia and “The Island” especially so.

There is also a good deal to be said for the three Prairie provinces, especially Manitoba. Manitobans, as contrasted with Nova Scotians, have no intense provincial loyalty; they are generalized Canadians. In Winnipeg one looks both ways, east and west; he sees Montreal in one direction and Vancouver in the other. Yet all three Prairie provinces are probably inconveniently large and their wilderness lands, while well administered, provide no financial support for them. It might have been wiser, when the old Northwest Territories were being divided up into provinces, to have set up four rather than three. The new province perhaps could be called Athabaska, extending from Edmonton northwest, into the Peace River country, as shown on the accompanying map.

One of the most awkward areas in Canada is British Columbia. Here are over 350,000 square miles of mountain, forest, valley, sea coast, with great islands on one side and, jabbed into Alberta on the other, a stretch of the plains. Is there any logic about all this? Is “British Columtia” anything but a space upon the map? Half its population lives within a few miles of Oranville St., Vancouver. The other

half lives in the dozens of distant interior valleys, over on “the Island,” up and down the coast. Whatever unity the province possesses, and here as elsewhere a provincial type has arisen, has been conferred by the sea and by the railways built by the Canadian people. A strong theoretical case could be made out for carving B. C. into three provinces. We could start with the Columbia River watershed on the east—the triangle in the southeast corner of the present province— and call this Okanagan. On the west, “the Island” would make a neat province by itself. A more compact, although still large British Columbia would remain, sacrificing a northern slice to the new province of Athabaska.

Carving Up Ontario

Finally among our provinces, there is the crowning anomaly of Ontario, a province stretching 1,000 miles north and south, 1,400 east and west, and with 33% of the country’s total population. If that 33% were more or less evenly distributed, Oritario would just be another large, rangy unit. But Ontario follows within itself the same “pocket” arrangement of people (and therefore of political importance) as the country as a whole.

Southern Ontario (the peninsula between Lakes Huron and Ontario) crams nearly 3,000,000 people into 23,000 square miles—a population density of 125 to the square mile. “New” Ontario (the area north of Lake Nipissing) has barely 1.3 inhabitants for each of its 310,000 square miles. Between these extremes, there are roughly 50 persons to the square mile in the Ottawa and St. Lawrence valleys and seven to the square mile in the other districts of “old” Ontario.

Within the peninsula of “old” Ontario, there Is an inner ring, centring around the western end of Lake Ontario. Here seven contiguous counties have a population of a million and a half, or nearly 40% of that of the entire province. Here lies the great metropolitan tract of Toronto-Hamilton.

Ontario, it may be said, is not unique in these respects. Huge area and “pockets” of population are equally characteristic of Quebec. But Ontario affords a marked contrast to Quebec. Quebec, as cradle of the French race in America, stands for an idea—the maintenance and expansion of the French race. Quebec, right through to Hudson Strait, is the “patrimony” of its children.

Not so Ontario». The average resident of Ontario has no consciousness whatsoever of being an “Ontarian.” The Ottawa valley hardly knows that southwestern Ontario exists. Living in western Ontario—not Western Ontario, around London, which is not west at all, but west from Lake Superior— one thinks of “the east” just as the Manitobans do, and all his connections are with the prairies.

The other day, a young woman from New Liskeard exclaimed: “The people down here seem entirely different from us; we don’t seem to have much in common with these people down in the south. We’re more like westerners.” The young lady certainly had no “Ontario” feeling about her.

All across the north, from Lake Timiskaming to the Lake of the Woods, “Toronto” and “the government” seem shadowy. Many local inhabitants would say that the chief function of the government was to hand out the natural resources of the region to its favorites, as distant imperial powers so often have done.

In the older areas of Ontario, as I know them, affection never centres on

the province but on the “old home town,” or in rare cases, on the county. It’s hardly too much to .say that except as a legal and constitutional entity, Ontario does not exist. The province is an administrative machine without a soul and whoever captures this great, throbbing machine is able to wield enormous power. Inevitably, every premier feels he has to make out a good case for himself; so whatever his party, he shakes his powerful fist at Ottawa.

Canada’s Prussia

The place of Ontario within Canada bears certain resemblances to the place of the old kingdom of Prussia within the German Empire. Prussia contained something like half of the population of the whole empire and some such percentage of its area. Yet Prussia was a composite—a collection of bits and pieces composed of many little territories around the original nucleus of Brandenburg. It had been the driving power of this hard, northern people, headed by their “junker” aristocrats which had made the empire.

It was Ontario’s driving power which forced the creation of the Dominion, compelling the sister province, Quebec, to come along. Quebec is Canada’s Bavaria. Bavaria was the only one of the old German kingdoms that was st rong enough to stand alone. Ontario represents the hard, dynamic, Protestant, Prussian north; Quebec, the easygoing, temperamental, Bavarian, Catholic south. Ontario, like Prussia, contains an inordinate proportion of the people and resources of the whole country. And in Ontario, politics has lately tended to become something of a mere struggle for power, with the strategically placed running the show, sometimes from behind the scenes. As long as the old Prussia existed, the German Empire’s inner unity was precarious.

It may be lucky for Canada that Ontario does not have an intensive corporate character. If it were as conscious of itself as Nova Scotia, it would probably destroy the Dominion.

As it is, the average Ontarian just assumes that he is a Canadian— people from other provinces may or may not he— and lets it go at that.

All this amounts to saying that modern Ontario is too big, too complex.

Its government has to handle all sorts of matters that are not provincial in character. It runs a railway, immigration schemes, has semidiplomatic relations with neighboring states. Should it be broken up?

Ontario would make four or five nicesized provinces, none of them so powerful as to excite the jealousy of the rest, of the country. I would suggest the following tentative divisions, which correspond roughly with the natural divisions as I have given them above:

The Province of St. Lawrence: to

consist in the triangle lying between the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers, with a western boundary approximately following the height of land between the Ottawa River and Lake Huron. It would run from about iMattawa on the Ottawa River through Madawaska, which lies just south of Algonquin Park, and then southward along highway 62 to Madoc and Belleville.

Hurontario: the heart of the present Province of Ontario. This province would adjoin St. Lawrence and would rest on the Georgian Bay, Lake Ontario, the Niagara River and Lake Erie, as far as the Grand River. The dividing line between it and the southwestern peninsula would be the Grand River and thence northward on a line through Arthur, Ont., to Owen Sound.

I low natural this unit is can be shown

easily—just look in the Toronto papers and see the maps they publish of their distribution by truck and carrier. Where the Toronto paper goes as the predominant newspaper reading of the community, there lies the edge of the Toronto metropolitan area.

Huron-Erie: the southwestern pen-

insula, from the line indicated to Lakes Erie and Huron. My name is not a good one, but I am not wedded to it. London is the natural centre of this region. Anyone taking the short train trip from Toronto to London, if he is sensitive to such things, can feel that he has crossed some kind of boundary. The southwestern peninsula has a genuine life of its own, which has been put into a most interesting book —Fred Landon’s, “Western Ontario and the American Frontier.”

Timiskaming: The region north of

North Bay to Cochrane, thence westward to Hearst and south to Sault Ste. Marie. Here is a vast and rapidly growing area, with a life of its own, distinct in flavor and atmosphere, whose people are quite conscious of their own identity. Timiskaming would meet St. Lawrence and Hurontario at the confluence of the Ottawa and Mattawa rivers. Here, from the high lookout at the edge of highway 17, overlooking the historic route of Champlain and the fur traders, Canadians of the future could stand and see four provinces, Hurontario, St. Lawrence, Timiskaming and North Quebec.

Superior: This is the most difficult to designate as it almost comes down to saying “all the rest.” But communities such as Geraldton and Beardmore, both near Lake Nipigon, are tied in with the two cities at the head of the lakes, Port Arthur and Fort William, and these in turn with the DrydenKenora area. This province would not have a large population, but neither would it be controlled by a government in a distant metropolitan city. The vast stretches of its hinterland should probably go back where they belong— to the administration of Ottawa.

This scheme of partition is merely roughed out here: innumerable modifications would be necessary in detail.

The real point is: would the inhabitants of Ontario worry very much if the present province were so divided? Would there be any cries of murder? Except for the persons at Queen’s Park, both in the ministry and the civil service, and those others whose interests are best served by a quiet and unknown hinterland, the average resident, especially if he lived more than a hundred miles from Toronto, might not be greatly concerned.

Readjustment would give us 19 or 20 provinces, after Newfoundland comes in) instead of nine. No one of them would have more than 15% of the total population: no one would be identified in the same close way with a cultural minority. That minority, instead of seeking to barricade itself behind the ramparts of a provincial government, would fight out its cause in the general arena of the nation—more successfully, I think, for we are coming to realize that the term Canadian is for us wider than either the term English or the term French.

Things as they are make it unlikely that this multiplication of provinces will take place, but the essence of my suggestion is, nevertheless, valid. New Canada will never become a nation in the most intense and fruitful .sense of that word until the provinces revert to what national subdivisions naturally should be— local authorities guarding local rights. Then we shall have some chance of realizing the idea dear to an increasing number within our land —the spiritual unity of our whole country. ir