The Referendum Debate

Something is happening, Central Canada; you better find out what it is

Andy Snaddon May 15 1978
The Referendum Debate

Something is happening, Central Canada; you better find out what it is

Andy Snaddon May 15 1978

Something is happening, Central Canada; you better find out what it is

The Referendum Debate

Andy Snaddon

Given a choice, most of us in the West would rather be rich and disliked than poor and patronized as we were so long.

But the new strength of Alberta, as well as other provinces, may lead to a new provincial-federal balance which will unite rather than divide this country.

What frightens the eastern pooh-bahs, be they the Ottawa civil service elite or the banker boys of Bay and St. James streets, is what has always terrified the rulers of any declining empire. The natives in the farflung provinces are restless, the hewers of wood and the drawers of water want more say in their own destiny.

The fear is understandable.

For years the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto triangle divinely dominated the land with the power invested in it through representation by population at Confederation. Let’s not knock it too hard; after all we’ve got a country with a lot of assets. But times are different now and any comfortable Establishment shakes when the winds of change blow. Les Anglais in Montreal did not see the French growth underneath their noses and. now helpless, tend to blame the rest of us for not preventing it.

In Ottawa, the mandarins have got so used to sending emissaries out to the colonies to tell the peasants what’s good for them that they’re astounded when the rude countrymen reply, “The hell it is.” Bay Street, which was slow to loan a dollar to the heartland unless it was sure it would return two and there was full collateral, suddenly finds part of the country financially more independent.

The French Fact, which, unfortunately, does not look like a fact in the very multicultural West, can be best accommodated by uniting the nation along the lines Alberta and the other western provinces are thinking. Remember, while Ottawa was still looking askance at Quebec, it was the western premiers who told René Lévesque that this was going to be one country.

The western red-neck is the stock in trade of the Toronto media which thinks Ontario is Canada and can’t see why the rest of us are provincial.

I can find red-necks in Ontario though I'm too honest to make it sound like a regional complaint. I recall the old farmer up at Coldwater (near Moonstone, in case any Ontario writers want to find it) who told

me; “I don’t see any French problem, all the ones I know talk English.” Or how about the cabbie in old Toronto, who said of Ms. McTeer: “If she were my wife she’d get five right in the mouth.” Probably closer to the Ontario average than the editors of Chatelaine will ever know. Rednecks aren't regional.

Let’s face it, what put the bicultural and bilingual program on “hold” was not the fictional Alberta oilman with his $1,000 bills and gold taps in the wash-basin. No

sir, it was the “red-necks” of the Ottawa civil service who saw their jobs in jeopardy. When the Liberals saw John Turner’s rotten borough of Ottawa-Carleton go down the drain, they got the message.

What has escaped the attention of the eastern dreamers who seem to think the country is going back to their good old days is that the way the country operates now is through new federal-provincial channels, and bilingualism is less important.

While Parliament was holding its daily charade last February the premiers met to talk business. The Ottawa Press Gallery, which so often mistakes debating points and confrontation for real news, may have been disappointed that nothing seemed to happen with the premiers. Yet during the course of the year almost weekly federal and provincial civil servants will meet to hammer out new deals.

Parliament? The power lies with the cabinet. The institution is meaningless to most parts of the country.

In many areas the premiers have the chips. They can deal with Ottawa and

more and more, they do. At the moment they may be demanding too much power, but it’s still the way the country is going to develop. Be it on the U.S. style, the West German federal plan, or a combination of various methods a new system must be made to work. The old system is too universally rejected.

Quebec has the most extensively developed department for intergovernmental relationships. Alberta is in hot pursuit as are other provinces. At a meeting to explain the new channels of power to interested businessmen and government officials in Ottawa last year the joke was that airlines would go broke if it weren't for the civil servants flying back and forth for such sessions. Those links tie a country together.

Torontonians are livid that somebody else should have money. They still think it should flow in to the centre and dribble out.

Well, we would have higher revenues in Alberta if we got the full international price for gas and oil. But we pay our way for being Canadians, always have.

In the official Alberta view the best thing for this country is not necessarily to sell our gas and oil to the United States, but to pipe it to Quebec and the Maritimes. Railways, seaways and pipelines knit a country.

What Albertans really want is to develop their province so that when the oil and gas is gone they’ll still have a strong economy. That means just input into tariff hearings, it means a national system where each province has better representation at the decision-making level.

It would seem to have a similar sound to policies of such Quebec federalists as Claude Ryan. Surely no one thinks that if the PQ is ousted, Canada is going to remain as it was 30 years ago? We need new systems of representation.

As for Albertans, we kind of like being able to sit in on the game and play with the other fellows, now we’ve got some chips of our own. We don’t have to hope the nice players from Qttawa and Toronto will give us a piece of their winnings if we’re good boys. We kind of like it. And it makes for a better game.

Andy Snaddon is editor in chief of the Edmonton Journal.