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Three: A History of Anguish

The Roots of Western Alienation

A Western politician, Otto Lang, speaking in the House of Commons in the spring of 1974, said: "The grievances, the inequities, the discontent, the so-called alienation, are real. In Western Canada the problems have been growing steadily for some considerable length of time. This goes back through a succession of governments involving different political stripes."

Westerners can still trace the roots of the feelings Lang was voicing in 1974. Identifying and understanding the regional discontent and how it began and developed is necessary to the central message of this book: a century of subordinate status for Western Canada must end. The Frederick Haultain experience illustrates only one aspect of a deeply-set pattern of regional alienation. Discontent reaches deep and spills into many spheres of western life. Whether a western politician, a women’s rights activist, a struggling artist or a native leader, we have all experienced the feelings of helplessness, frustration and anger with our regional lot in Confederation.

What follows are some earlier experiences which help explain current western attitudes. A historical pattern of subordination and resulting grievance constitutes the basis of the western alienation which continues to the present day.

Farmer Fury

The first albatross from Ottawa was hung around western farmers’ necks in 1879 when Prime Minister Macdonald began to enact the high tariff feature of his National Policy. A 20% tariff imposed on farm implements in 1879, for example, was raised to 35% in 1884. The aim was to encourage new Ontario and Quebec manufacturers by penalizing the entry of competing products primarily from the United States and Britain. For western farmers, however, the result was that they were forced either to pay high duties on imported farm machinery and the like, or to buy substantially more expensive substitutes from Central Canada. For almost a century afterwards, Westerners, who obtained no visible benefit from high tariffs in terms of manufacturers locating their plants near their most important customers, believed that they were paying for most of the elegant mahogany in the homes and offices of manufacturers in Toronto and Montreal.

The western complaint remained until well into the 1970’s that world export realities required Westerners to sell our agricultural products, notably wheat, into highly competitive world markets, but that we were obliged by Ottawa to buy necessities in a domestic market made less competitive by protective tariffs. The tariff quickly became in the late nineteenth century a key point of confrontation between the prairie farm community and, as the economists W.T. Easterbrook and Hugh G.J. Aitken have put it, "those who viewed the wheat economy as a hinterland to be exploited...."

The Saskatchewan economist V.C. Fowke asserts that Canadian farmers generally were no more free traders than protectionists. Until the 1840’s, many were protectionists, just as 150 years later some would express fear that a Canada-U.S. comprehensive bilateral trade agreement would threaten their livelihoods. A reciprocity agreement with the U.S. in agricultural products in effect between 1854-66, however, benefitted Central Canadian producers of oats, rye and barley handsomely. One reason the Americans abrogated the treaty after their Civil War, concludes Fowke, was because the legislature of pre-Confederation Canada raised tariffs during 1858 and 1859 on products which were important to American exporters. The Manufacturers’ Association of Ontario was also formed at about this time with the sole purpose of seeking high tariffs, and one of its officers would boast later that the high tariff proposal of the Macdonald government in 1879 was with very few exceptions "the same as suggested by the Manufacturers’ Association." A majority of Ontario farmers appear to have voted for Macdonald and high tariffs, including those on grains and wheats, in the 1878 election.

Seven years later, however, delegates from the West, Ontario and Quebec voted at a farm conference for the removal of tariffs on farm machinery and other necessities. In 1883, one of the first agricultural producer organizations formed in Western Canada issued a declaration of rights which included a call for the removal of duties on farm machinery and building materials. Western wheat growers were clearly more united against the tariff than were those from Ontario and Quebec. Unfortunately, Central Canadian manufacturers, merchants, bankers and railroaders, fearing competition in the West from American suppliers and railroads, lined up on the side of tariff protection as the general election of 1911 approached.

If the Conservatives were unmovable on the tariff, the Liberal party was little better in practice. In 1894, the Liberal leader, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, declared to attentive Winnipeggers: "I denounce the policy of protection as bondage -- yea, bondage; arid I refer to bondage in the same manner in which American slavery was bondage." This was consistent with the low-tariff platform of the Liberals in the previous national election, but once elected in 1896, Laurier’s government repudiated both the 1893 platform and his Winnipeg comment. No major change to Macdonald’s tariff policy was made. By 1905, Prime Minister Laurier could even tell the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association: "They (western settlers) will require clothes, they will require furniture, they will require implements, they will require shoes.... It is your ambition, it is my ambition also, that this scientific tariff of ours will make it possible that every shoe that has to be worn in those Prairies shall be a Canadian shoe; that every yard of cloth that can be marketed there shall be a yard of cloth produced in Canada...." Both national political parties had lost all real interest in tariff reform by 1905, despite the ongoing preoccupation of western agriculture with the issue.

Several factors resuscitated it. First, Prime Minister Laurier during his famous prairies trip in the summer of 1910 heard repeated calls for reciprocity with the U.S. In December of that year, a large delegation of both Western and Central Canadian farmers went to Ottawa stressing both the tariff and reciprocity. Second, as Fowke points out, the Prairies, which held only about 8% of the national population in 1901, contained about 18% by 1911. These factors, plus the government’s uncertainty of winning another term for other reasons, appear to have persuaded Laurier to seek reciprocity with the U.S. Following months of heated debate in the House on a bill to implement the agreement, Laurier, confident victory awaited him, called an election on the single issue of reciprocity.

The Liberals entered the 1911 election campaign with 133 MPs and came out with 87; Robert Borden’s Conservatives began with 85 and finished with a comfortable majority of 134. The campaign has been thoroughly discussed in numerous places, but a few points about the western perspective are in order because the two parties surprisingly ended about evenly divided overall in the West.

Initially, as political scientist Murray Beck notes, none of the sitting western Conservative members expected to hold their seats if they opposed reciprocity. Soon, however, the nation’s manufacturing, transportation and banking establishments, whose well-being was thought to depend on continued protection, rallied against the agreement in the name of national loyalty. On the other side of the issue, advocates of reciprocity pointed out that people like Edmund Walker, the president of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, could do business in New York City without a disloyalty charge but a Saskatchewan farmer could not sell a load of grain in Minneapolis "without selling his country and his soul with it."

All but one of ten seats in Saskatchewan went Liberal; in Alberta, the Liberals won six of seven. In B.C., where there was a strong British sentiment, voters were asked by Borden’s supporters to choose between the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes; the Conservatives in consequence won all seven seats. In Manitoba, the Conservatives won eight of 10 seats. Their campaign proved successful for a number of reasons, largely having to do with the strong political organization of the provincial Conservatives led by Premier Rodmond Roblin; the Manitoba campaign turned only partly on the reciprocity issue.

One of the ironies of the 1911 election was that the reciprocity agreement in issue in the campaign dealt with natural products and not manufactured goods. In Fowke’s words, Central Canadian business had raffled to defeat "an agreement which in itself asked practically nothing of them. They fought it for what it might lead to, a later agreement which might not leave their position of economic privilege untouched."

Western farmers returned to the attack on the tariff in the 1920’s without success and in the worldwide trade wars of the 1930’s most Canadian tariffs rose by 50%. Only in the 1970’s, after the Tokyo and Kennedy Rounds at the GATT, did tariffs begin to go down.

"Damn The CPR"

Another major farm issue in Western Canada over many decades was the railway monopoly in general and freight rate equalization in particular. It began when the CPR printed its first freight schedule in 1883 and, except for a few items, the rates were 50% higher than the Grand Trunk Railway’s rates for Central Canada for the same services. Westerners soon noticed that while the CPR pooled its income and expenses nationwide, wheat travelled 200 miles for ten cents a bushel in Ontario and Quebec but for twice that in parts of the Prairies. In fact, as the late transportation economist Howard Darling observed, Manitobans paid a higher rate than Central Canadians, residents of what is now Alberta and Saskatchewan a higher rate than Manitobans, and British Columbians paid the highest rate of all. Ottawa rail officials would later approve this as "fair discrimination."

Westerners argued in vain during most of a century thereafter that there should be equalization of rates in the sense that all Canadians should pay the same rate for the same distances for the same kind of material shipped in any part of the country. Struggling settlers in the West deeply resented that they alone must carry the cost of building and maintaining the less productive section of the CPR line lying between Kenora and Sudbury. Convincing Ottawa’s Board of Railway Commissioners that different rates for the same goods in different regions constituted unjust regional discrimination would prove to be a crusade not for the faint-hearted.

In Manitoba, widespread objections to the early CPR monopoly, which had included massive land and cash grants, a monopoly on western rail construction, and in effect control over all products moving to and from the province, led in 1882 to the first recorded western threat of secession from Macdonald’s Canada by some angry Manitobans. Their provincial government had attempted to build a rail line from Winnipeg to the U.S. border, but was not permitted to cross the main CPR line. When Manitoba’s Métis premier, John Norquay, who was in fact supportive of Macdonald’s own party at the federal level, vowed in 1887 to build the Manitoba Red River Valley Railway to the U.S. boundary, the prime minister used his connections to prevent a bond sale in New York and London. He then ousted Norquay as premier by spreading rumours, probably false, to the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba about alleged financial irregularities. Within two months of Norquay’s resignation as premier, Liberal Thomas Greenway, who had earlier been a Macdonald MP in Ontario but broke with him over the tariff, took the job in 1888. Macdonald soon swallowed his decade-old view that the transcontinental line of the CPR was the heart of his National Policy and he granted to Greenway the right for Manitoba to create rail competition. The CPR monopoly was ended in 1888 in return for substantial financial compensation.

The CPR sought and won a further cash grant from Ottawa in 1897 to build a spur line from Lethbridge, Alberta to Nelson, British Columbia, through the Crow’s Nest Pass in the Rockies.

Neglecting to specify a termination date for the agreement, the CPR voluntarily agreed, in exchange for its access to some very rich minerals in southern B.C., to reduce its existing freight rates on "settler’s effects" moving west. More importantly, it also agreed to reduce its existing freight rates by about 20% on grain moving eastward from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay. This was the first of the fixed Crow rates which to some Westerners made, in W.L. Morton’s words, "the burden of the tariff tolerable on the Prairies." In fact, the first Crow rate was no gift at all to Westerners because in the 1903-19 18 period the CPR agreed to an even lower rate for wheat moving east. In 1922, the final Crow regime was set at 1/2 cent per ton-mile for grain shipped from Regina to Thunder Bay. Five years later, it was also extended to grain shipped to Vancouver and to Churchill.

Eventually many western farmers and ranchers, along with the rest of the consumers and manufacturers in the region, realized that they had paid a steep price for the "Holy Crow." This was partly because its existence allowed other freight rates to continue to discriminate against the West. A study by economist Thomas Schweitzer indicates that before 1914 the general freight rate on the Prairies was fully 30 to 50% higher than in Central Canada and Ontario. An additional surcharge for British Columbia was not finally abolished until 1949 when the cheaper prairies rates were extended to B.C. by Ottawa’s Board of Railway Commissioners.

During the 1920’s, British Columbians took the leadership in the western freight rate issue by arguing that the province should not have to pay higher rates for the same service because of the presence of the Rocky Mountains. Residents of the three other western provinces returned soon to the rail war as well. The Calgary Albertan in a piece entitled, "Freight Rates Throttle the Prairies," argued that "The main blame probably rested on greedy eastern manufacturing and commercial interests determined that the West develop as a sort of colony of Ontario and Quebec, dependent on them for manufactured goods...." By the time the CPR and CNR announced in October of 1946 that they had applied for a 30% increase in freight rates, seven of the nine provincial governments were ready for a major confrontation, none more vehemently than the four western ones. Only Ontario and Quebec did not protest. Ultimately the Mackenzie King government allowed a 21% increase and only in 1949 was the Mountain Differential for B.C. freight abolished.

Over the years, the Crow Rate arrangements have been the subject of numerous government inquiries, first by the MacPherson Royal Commission on Transportation in 1961, and then by the Snavely Report in 1976, the Hall Commission in 1977, and the Snavely Update in 1982. The 1982 Gilson Report led to the 1983 Western Grain Transportation Act replacing the Crow’s Nest Pass Freight Rate.

John Whalley and Irene Trela, authors of a 1986 study commissioned by the Macdonald Commission on the economic union and development prospects for Canada, concluded their discussion of the Crow Rate with the following statement: "The Crow Rate will not be as important a policy element within Confederation in the years ahead as in previous decades, since it will be slowly phased out as inflation reduces the real value of the benefit. However, the sense of regional grievance in the West over the recent action on the Crow is real. Following its removal these feelings will no doubt remain, especially as the benefits to the West from the Crow Rate have traditionally been seen as counterweight to benefits accruing to central Canada from the tariff."

A fascinating case study of the situation today involves an experience last year by Alberta Gas Chemicals Ltd. in Medicine Hat. The company was exporting methanol, made from natural gas, from its plant in southern Alberta in rail tank cars. CP Rail has the only rail line entering or leaving Medicine Hat, one line of which travels south to the U.S. boundary where it connects to the American-owned Burlington Northern Railroad. Long anxious to increase its sales in the U.S., Alberta Gas tried repeatedly, without success, to get CP to quote a rate to Coutts. Finally, it simply shipped a car of methanol to Coutts -- a distance of 178 miles -- only to receive a preposterous bill from CP for $13,000.

In mid-1987, Sam Egglestone, a spokesman for Alberta Gas, gave evidence to a Senate Committee on behalf of the company on the consequences of having earlier outlined the episode to a House of Commons Committee. He told the astonished senators:

"You might be interested in how the CPR responded to the submission we made to the House of Commons standing committee on March 17. The next morning they were on the phone from the senior level of their company telling us they are very unhappy with us, that they did not like our submission, that they did not like the way we got the rate, and that we did not tell the whole truth.... Just in case we did not get the message, they informed us on May 8 that they were increasing all our rates to Chicago and west of the Mississippi by 23%. They were going to remind us who is running the show. They put that rate increase through."

CPR management is clearly still hard to like in Western Canada but CN is at times little better. Why, Westerners ask, does the federal Crown Corporation have only 37% of its active rail employees living in the four western provinces when it does two-thirds of its entire freight business in Western Canada?

Champion Forest Products operates a pulp and lumber mill employing 750 men and women on the CN line west of Edmonton. Most of the output is sold to the United States where substitute products come from American, Brazilian and Scandinavian mills. In order to become more competitive, Champion proposed a $285 million modernization which would both secure the present jobs and create up to 400 permanent new ones. According to Ken Hall, the company president, CN as a captive shipper unilaterally raised the cost of moving their products 19% between 1983 and 1987, compared to a 6% increase over the same period by American railroads. No thanks to CN greed, the plant expansion is proceeding.

Pushing Wheat

The historic attitude of many western grain growers to the marketing of their wheat is well phrased by Gerald Friesen: "The business of the Prairies during the half-century after 1880 was, first and foremost, agriculture. Crop prospects, the weather and wheat prices were part of daily conversation because they affected the fate of the region. In these years, a complex system for raising, handling, transporting, and marketing grain was built on the foundations provided by village and farm residents. And when farmers believed the system to be unfair or inefficient, they united in protest. As a result, discussion of economic issues became, willy-filly, partisan political debate. King Wheat, as he was known, inspired intense disagreements among his subjects."

A major problem for early wheat growers was the monopoly of grain elevators at many rail points. This meant that farmers were obliged to accept the local elevator agent’s terms for the price, storage, weight and grade of their crop. Complaints about these practices led to the appointment of a royal commission in 1899 and the Manitoba Grain Act by the Laurier government in 1900. Many farmers believed, however, that the elevator abuses at which the new legislation was aimed continued due to limp-wristed enforcement by federal agents. The economic historians Easterbrook and Aitken concluded Ottawa’s enforcement of the act led to the founding of the Territorial Grain Growers Association in 1901 and the Manitoba Grain Growers Association in 1903. Before long, the Grain Growers Grain Company began as a producer cooperative to compete directly with the private grain companies and the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, both of which were hugely unpopular with many grain producers throughout the West. By the time World War I began, producer cooperatives in all three prairie provinces were competing effectively against the private companies by both handling and selling up to a third of all grain sold on the Prairies.

Events during and after World War I confirmed again for prairie farmers that their national government was not really concerned about their problems. First, despite the vigorous opposition of prairie producers, government control of grain marketing in war-time was discontinued by Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, himself first elected to Parliament from Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. World export conditions thereafter quickly obliged Ottawa to create the Canadian Wheat Board as the exclusive domestic and export marketing vehicle, but it ceased to operate in 1920. Many prairie wheat farmers believed that the hand of the Winnipeg grain barons was behind Ottawa’s decision. When Western farmers were unable to persuade Ottawa to revive it, the three prairie wheat pools came into being to market wheat. They were highly successful during the decade. Easter-brook and Aitken note that when the Depression struck more than one half of prairie wheat acreage was under contract to the three pools.

The total collapse of grain prices in 1930 ended the period of the pools as international marketers of prairie wheat. It also led to the appointment of a royal commission into the operations of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. Nothing, however, of substance was changed for the producer, again the Winnipeg middlemen appeared to have carried the day against the producer interest. Only in early 1935 was a re-created Canadian Wheat Board proposed by Prime Minister R.B. Bennett of Calgary. In what many saw as a deathbed conversion inspired by a looming election disaster, Bennett first proposed in effect to nationalize the entire elevator system and to have the Canadian Wheat Board become the only dealer in all major crops both domestically and abroad. But, again in Friesen’s language, "when the private traders had completed their lobby, the board was a shadow of its former self: it became a wheat, not a grain marketing agency; its elevator system was never created; and its compulsory features were eliminated, leaving it to establish an annual minimum price for wheat that farmers were free to accept or to reject in favour of the offers of private companies."

The resulting vexation of financially-desperate prairie farmers with a self-proclaimed prairie prime minister was clear. When Bennett’s Conservatives were thrown Out in the 1935 election in favour of Mackenzie King’s Liberals, many prairie residents were again hopeful. Four years later, however, the King government planned to eliminate the Wheat Board until the rage of prairie producers stopped him cold. Another so-called national government had wanted to abandon the business of selling western wheat but, for once, the prairie view had prevailed in Ottawa.

Prairie Political Inferiority

The ongoing problem of political inequality for prairie Canadians has probably generated as much alienation as tariff and freight rates combined. The issue surfaced nowhere as strongly as in disputes over natural resources ownership and the setting of provincial boundaries.

Manitoba barely crawled into being as a province in 1870, lacking control of even its crown land and resources, and it did not succeed in obtaining them until sixty years later. The Macdonald government had concluded that providing Manitoba a Constitutional status equal to the five existing provinces, including tiny Prince Edward Island, would deprive the federal government of much of the rich lands in the Prairies. The Manitoba Act of 1870 declared that crown lands in the new province were reserved’ ‘for the purposes of the Dominion." The same principle was applied in 1905 to Saskatchewan and Alberta when they, after much difficulty, also won provincial status. British Columbia maintained control of its resources on entry to Canada in 1871, presumably because no one in Ottawa would have dared to try to take away what was already won.

The eventual success of the three provinces in obtaining control of their own resources probably had more to do with political clout than the merits of the matter. In 1901, only 8% of Canada’s population lived in the Prairies, but by 1931 the number had grown to almost 25%. More than 300,000 farms were using 60 million acres of improved prairie land by 1931. As V.C. Fowke notes, by 1929 the Country was exporting an average of one million bushels of wheat per day, having a total value that year of half a billion dollars. Some still argue the transfer symbolized the end of the establishment phase of the first National Policy. Many weary Westerners concluded at the time that the real reason Ottawa transferred land and resources was because Ottawa felt neither was worth keeping. In Fowke’s words: "The remaining natural resources which were transferred to the prairie provinces in 1930 would not have tempted any railway company, nor any hard-bitten farmer from Ontario, or scarcely even the unsuspecting immigrant."

Between 1918 and 1920, Manitoba’s provincial government had, once again, unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a transfer. W.L. Morton noted that one of the obstacles in that period was the claim to compensation by the governments of the provinces which already owned their resources if the prairie provinces received theirs; a second was the demand for compensation by all three prairie provinces for the loss of their lands. Only when a federal Royal Commission finally reported favourably on the issue in 1929 ("the railways had been built and the lands settled"), was the transfer made and modest compensation paid. "After two generations of subordination to the needs of Canadian nation-building," Morton wrote, "the once small province of 1870 had come into its own. Sprung from resistance to Canadian authority; blocked in its hopes of expansion into a great midwestern province, it had seemed doomed to play the part of the ‘Cinderella of the Confederation’."

In the two sister prairie provinces, feelings ran equally high on the resources issue. The Calgary Herald described the Laurier government’s 1905 refusal to accord Alberta and Saskatchewan equality with the original provinces on the resources issue as an "autonomy that insults the West." To this day, some prairie Canadians believe that this act of gross discrimination by Ottawa demonstrated clearly that the West was regarded as an exploitable colony. It is with this sorry historical background that prairie residents judge contemporary slights such as the awarding of the CF-18 contract.

Ontario Beats Manitoba

The Manitoba-Ontario boundary dispute, which has surprisingly been very little examined as a historical subject, is instructive. When it became the "postage stamp" province in 1870, Manitoba consisted of the small area around the Red River Settlement. Being without land or resources, it was simply not viable. John A. Macdonald’s government, returned to office in 1878 after defeating the Liberal one of Alexander Mackenzie, was sympathetic, and extended Manitoba’s western boundary to its present location and northward to the fifty-second parallel. A board of arbitration appointed by Mackenzie had accepted Ontario premier Oliver Mowat’s view that the Manitoba-Ontario boundary should be west of Lake of the Woods, but Macdonald refused to ratify the finding.

The case was in fact strong for extending the eastern boundary of Manitoba to a north-south line in the vicinity of the present location of Thunder Bay. The prime minister championed this location against the Ontario Liberal premier partly because he wanted to keep federal control of the rich timber and mineral resources west of Thunder Bay. If Mowat won the region, Ontario alone would inevitably own the resources. In addition, as ma Elizabeth Hutchison pointed Out in a 1986 thesis written on the dispute, the Red River Basin clearly extended "to approximately fifty miles west of [Thunder Bay] at Lac des Mille Lacs," and the original Selkirk Grant from the Hudson’s Bay Company included Kenora and well beyond. The fact that Ottawa had purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company all the land drained by rivers flowing into Hudson’s Bay (which watershed ended at Lac des Mille Lacs) was also in Manitoba’s favour.

Ontario’s claim to the land mass west of Thunder Bay was historically weak on other grounds as well. The western boundary of Quebec had been defined in the Quebec Act of 1774 as "running ‘northward’ from the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers," a point which lay well to the east of Thunder Bay. Both the Constitutional Act of 1791 and the Union Act of 1840 put the Ontario boundary at an identical location, a little west of Thunder Bay: presumably at Lac des Mille Lacs. In short, the eventually successful Ontario claim to the large territory reaching to the present location of Manitoba-Ontario boundary was anything but firm at the beginning of the dispute.

The completion of the CPR rail line to Lake of the Woods and the discovery of gold near the present site of Kenora brought an influx of approximately 1,000 miners and rail workers to the region by the late 1870’s. Premier John Norquay of Manitoba was moved by the resulting liquor-induced violence in 1881 to incorporate the disputed area as far east as Kenora (then known as Rat Portage) as part of Manitoba with Prime Minister Macdonald’s blessing. A more determined Manitoba premier would have sought to include most if not all lands as far east as Thunder Bay, especially given that the federal Dominion Act passed the same year said, in effect, that the western boundary of Ontario was the eastern boundary of Manitoba.

In any event, as of 1881 the governments of both Manitoba and Ontario were policing the Kenora district. A general riot erupted in the summer of 1883 when constables representing the two provincial governments attempted to arrest one another. Norquay himself went to Kenora with his provincial police to arrest the persons who had broken into Manitoba’s local jail. Both governments held provincial elections on September 28 that fall and the same voters elected two representatives for the same district, one going west to the legislature in Winnipeg, the other east to Queen’s Park in Toronto. Finally, a truce was called and a joint Manitoba-Ontario Commission attempted unsuccessfully to administer the region for a period before the boundary issue was sent off to Britain for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to resolve.

Mowat won the case for Ontario in 1884 before the Committee, whose members knew little or nothing about the issues or terrain. More accurately, the counsel for the governments of Manitoba and Canada lost it through lack of preparation and incompetent advocacy. Mowat, who was familiar with both British legal circles and the issues of the case, prudently had a map prepared which was very favourable to Ontario’s position. Even counsel opposing Ontario fell into the trap of referring the jurists to it. Once the map was in effect accepted by everyone, Ontario’s case was all but won. In 1889, Macdonald reluctantly confirmed the Privy Council decision and extended Ontario to Lake of the Woods and James Bay. The final Manitoba-Ontario boundary to Hudson’s Bay was finally set in 1912. The entire issue ended Manitoba’s historic ties with Thunder Bay and plainly constituted another put-down of Manitobans. In Morton’s words, "It ended, moreover, the possibility of Manitoba’s becoming a great central province in Confederation with an east to west orientation... the developing tradition of grievance was reinforced."

Once again, Ottawa had let down the West on a matter of major importance. Even today, many Kenora residents consider themselves residents of Western Canada.

More Than Full Term Babies

The births of Alberta and Saskatchewan are inseparable from that of Frederick Haultain, who has been portrayed earlier in this book as a Western Canadian giant. One of his major goals in public life was to achieve provincial status for the vast North-West Territories lying between the present western boundaries of Manitoba and British Columbia. As chairman of the territorial assembly based in Regina from 1892 to 1905, he was both premier and the region’s most respected elected politician for all of that period.

The pressures for provincial status within the North-West came from every direction and group in the region. The regional population had grown enormously in the 1890’s. The territorial treasury was severely strained by new demands for all manner of services, including roads and schools. Only provincial status could provide residents with a chance to obtain larger federal grants; the existing government lacked even the power to borrow money. Once the issue managed to catch the attention of the national political parties, real progress was made: Robert Borden committed his Conservatives to establishing provincial status in 1902; Laurier his Liberals in 1904.

Haultain favoured one strong and large province for the region and became convinced that the movement for two provinces stemmed mainly from the ambitions of some Edmontonians and Calgarians to have a provincial capital. The proposal of his cabinet to Prime Minister Laurier in 1901 was for one province going as far north as the 57th parallel. When four years passed without even a reply from Laurier, Haultain went to the capital for a conference in early 1905. The re-elected Laurier indicated to Haultain a preference for two provinces and rejected his demand that crown lands and natural resources must belong to the new province or provinces. Friesen suggests an explanation: "The decision to retain the lands in 1870 may have been prompted by Macdonald’s distrust of the Métis; no such excuse was available in 1905. Presumably, the wishes of [Interior Minister Clifford] Sifton and his federal bureaucracy had prevailed over British constitutional practices."

Haultain found it unthinkable that the entire jurisdiction for education, a very sensitive issue, would not be transferred to the new provincial government by the British North America Act. Laurier’s bills provided for separate schools, which did not then exist in the North-West. Clifford Sifton, one of Laurier’s stronger ministers and a Westerner, resigned from Cabinet over the issue.

Two weeks of unsatisfactory negotiations ended when bills providing for the creation of Alberta and Saskatchewan north to 57 degrees, essentially in their present form, were introduced by Laurier. Each contained about 6% of the total land mass of Canada because the national government felt that one big province of 506,985 square miles would have been too large. This was nonsense, of course, as Haultain’s biographer Grant MacEwan pointed Out, because Ontario and Quebec at the time already respectively had 10.7 and 15.4% of our total land area and "the senior government had no such hesitation some years later in authorizing extensions of provincial boundaries for both Quebec and Ontario." Gerald Friesen concluded that Laurier simply did not want to grant Haultain, who had supported Borden’s Conservatives in 1904, the premiership of a single, large western province. Friesen writes: "Far better, the prime minister reasoned, to create two provinces of equal size divided by the fourth meridian, and to ensure that the Liberal party controlled at least one of the governments."

Haultain put his objections to the proposed legislation in a letter to Laurier before he left Ottawa. He objected strongly to the formation of two provinces because of the "consequent duplication of machinery and institutions. The provincial machinery is elaborate and expensive and is more suitable for large areas and large populations. The Territories have for a number of years been under one government and legislature, performing most of the duties and exercising many of the more important powers of provincial governments and legislatures. There has never been any suggestion that the territorial machinery was in any way inadequate for the purposes for which it was created." He was particularly concerned about the provision for separate schools because, as he wrote, "your proposition was not laid before my western colleagues and me until noon of the day on which you introduced the bill. Up to this time, the question had not received any attention beyond a casual reference on the previous Friday."

The outrage of the western representatives at Laurier’s refusal to turn over natural resources and crown lands to the two new provinces was equally acute. MacEwan quotes Haultain as saying on his return to the West, "The Government has been acting like a big pig trying to keep the little pigs from the trough." The new provinces were to be denied even the right to control water running across their territory. Haultain had warned the federal government that its policy would cause division in Western Canada. MacEwan notes that his warning came well ahead of a time in which some Westerners would even talk about political separation.

More abuse from Ottawa was still to come even as the seventh and eight provinces opened their new eyes. A few days before the inauguration ceremonies in each, Ottawa announced that the lieutenant governor of Saskatchewan would be A.E. Forget; Alberta’s, G.H.V. Bulyea -- both friends of Laurier and having Liberal leanings. In the presence of Governor General Earl Grey, the prime minister and approximately twenty thousand instant Albertans, Bulyea took his oath of office in Edmonton. The same process was repeated with Forget three days later in Regina. There were plenty of flowery speeches in each new capital but as MacEwan, himself a one-time federal Liberal candidate in Manitoba and leader of the Alberta Liberal party, writes: "In the list of speakers on that historic day there was one amazing omission: the name of the long-time premier of the North-West Territories, the man with the best claim to statesmanship was conspicuously absent." It was true that Haultain, who believed in non-partisan governments in the territorial and provincial legislatures, had attended a Conservative convention at Moose Jaw in 1903, but this display of malicious and petty partisanship by the prime minister in 1905 was thought outrageous by many Western Canadians.

More pettiness was still to come when Bulyea chose as first Alberta premier Alexander Rutherford of Strathcona. All four of his choices for provincial cabinet ministers were, like himself, Liberals. In Saskatchewan, Forget outrageously chose Walter Scott as provincial premier instead of the man who had served as premier for 13 years, doubtless for the reason that Scott was first, last and always a Liberal. The two new premiers were victorious in the subsequent elections. Friesen notes that an "army of Liberal homestead inspectors and highway supervisors no doubt assisted the two Liberal governments to convincing victories in the 1905 elections...." Before the Saskatchewan Liberal juggernaut, which won 16 seats, Haultain’s provincial rights’ group only managed to win nine. A bad taste was left in many Western mouths by the political tactics Ottawa had sent West. Indeed, W.L. Morton noted that two decades later it was precisely this sort of "machine politics which the Progressives hoped to destroy, politics rendered noisome by the corruption arising from the scramble for the resources of the West, and the political ruthlessness of the professional politicians of the day."

Regional Political Parties

A number of political parties have emerged in the West in recent years, most to disappear quickly without trace. Many if not all of them were inspired by the spectacular, if short-lived, success of the Progressive party in the West during the 1920’s. The movement deserves a closer look.

The leading authority on the Progressive movement in Western Canada, W.L. Morton, concluded that it was both an economic protest to Macdonald’s National Policy of 1878 and a political revolt against the two old parties, both of which were perceived by many Western Canadians to be equally committed to maintaining the high tariff and other basic features of the Old National Policy. Many prairie wheat farmers who had begun by clearing trees and breaking the soil felt engulfed by railway charges, interest rates, elevator rates and crop costs by the 1918-1921 period. The tariff was the most visible feature of the National Policy and, as Morton noted, "it became the symbol of the wheat growers’ exploitation and frustration, alleged and actual." When the Laurier government, elected in 1896, repudiated the Liberals’ earlier low tariff policy and appeared to appropriate all of Macdonald’s National Policy for itself, many western wheat growers decided that both national parties were "organized hypocrisies dedicated to getting and holding office."

The climate in the West for both old national parties deteriorated even further when a three-level tariff was completed by Laurier’s government in 1909. When the prime minister returned to his party’s low tariff position in the reciprocity election of 1911, the strain, as Morton notes, was "too severe for a party which had become committed as deeply as its rival to the National Policy." The defectors to the Conservatives included Clifford Sifton who had until 1905 been the second most influential Liberal in the entire country. In the West, the Conservative party in both Alberta and Saskatchewan was wrecked by its high tariff stance in 1911, and in fact began a long-term decline in all three prairie provinces. Agriculture dominated most aspects of life in the prairie West during the first third of the twentieth century, and in the decade after the 1911 setback, many grain farmers still wanted Ottawa to accept Washington’s offer of reciprocity, which remained on statute books there until 1921.

Another factor favouring the creation of a new party on the Prairies was the arrival after 1896 of thousands of Americans from the Midwest who were well versed in third parties and the influential farmers’ organizations south of the boundary. Immigrants from the United Kingdom who were well schooled in protest politics provided both a language and much of the organizational effort toward an occupational and doctrinal, but thoroughly democratic, third party. Morton believed that the Progressive Movement was an authentic expression of "Jacksonian, Clear-Grit democracy, reinforced by American populism and English radicalism," and based on a difference between the political temper of Central Canada and that of the Prairies. The first, he wrote, "is Whiggish. Government there rests on compact, the vested and legal rights of provinces, of minorities, of corporations. The political temper of the West, on the other hand, is democratic; government there rests on the will of the sovereign people, a will direct, simple and no respecter of rights except those demonstrably and momentarily popular." Morton’s view of western politics is probably equally true today.

Laurier’s hold on the support, if not the personal affections, of many Western Canadians collapsed during the 1917 national election. It was the first since 1911 because of the outbreak of World War! in 1914 which had caused an extension of the Parliament elected six years earlier. Virtually its sole issue was whether conscription was necessary to win a grisly war. Certainly, the win-at-any-cost philosophy of the all-party Union government of Robert Borden, including its War-Time Elections Act, which both enfranchised the female relations of soldiers on active service and disenfranchised many citizens of foreign birth or first language, helped create the Unionist majority of7l MPs. Unionist candidates won 57% of all votes cast across the country. Some Liberal MPs supporting conscription both joined Borden’s cabinet and ran as Union candidates in the election.

In Western Canada, Laurier’s view that voluntary enlistment would work, if given a genuinely fair choice, was unacceptable to many despite the warm welcome he received during his western tour in the dying days of the election campaign. His promise to remove duties on farm implements was largely swamped in the West by the manpower issue, especially when, as Murray Beck reminds us, the Unionist Minister of the Militia and Defence asserted that he would himself see to it that "farmers’ sons who are honestly engaged in the production of food will be exempt from military service." All four premiers in Western Canada, each a Liberal, had become Unionists. When Arthur Sifton, premier of Alberta, Thomas Crerar, president of the United Grain Growers, and J. A Calder, a Saskatchewan cabinet minister, entered the Union cabinet, Laurier’s low-tariff commitment lost most of its impact. In Saskatchewan, for example, Calder took the entire Liberal organization over to Unionists. Inconsequence, only two of 57 western constituencies returned Liberals in 1917.

How did the Progressive party manage to elect 39 of its 64 MPs from Western Canada in the 1921 election? W.L. Morton’s answer is probably the best: the Union government created the necessary conditions for an independent political party. "The electorate of the West," wrote Morton in 1950, "came out of the election of 1917 purged of old party loyalties. It had undergone a political emancipation, and thereafter the old traditional ties of party were to remain permanently weak across the West." It is, of course, unclear whether this analysis is applicable in the remaining years of the twentieth century.

Morton concluded that the serious price-inflation across Canada following the conclusion of the 1914-18 war, which had been fought without price or wage controls, was another major cause of the Progressive Movement. Rising post-war prices, he wrote, were the root of the "general unrest of the day, and the influence of the Russian Revolution, the radical tone of many organizations and individuals, the Winnipeg strike, and the growth of the labour movement are to be ascribed to inflation rather than to any native predisposition to radical courses." A second factor, according to Morton, was the revocation during 1918 of the order-in-council exempting farmers’ sons from military service, which invoked "a bitter outcry from the farmers, the great delegation to Ottawa in May, 1918, and an abiding resentment against the Union government and all its works Two further nails in the coffin of the Unionists in Western Canada were the severe prairie drought in the years 1918 to 1921 and the refusal of the Borden government to continue the Wheat Board beyond 1920, an element of national policy designed, for once, to assist prairie farmers.

During 1918, a number of farm organizations adopted "The New National Policy" which rejected the National Policy of 1878 and demanded large reductions in tariffs. In mid-1919, when the Borden government refused to reduce tariffs, T.A. Crerar and ten other farmer MPs broke ranks with the cabinet and in early 1920 formed the National Progressive Party. Arthur Meighen, a Westerner by adoption but protectionist by conviction, succeeded Robert Borden as prime minister for the 1921 general election, but all of these factors ensured a Progressive near-sweep in the West when Meighen in effect attempted to make protection the sole issue in the campaign. In Morton’s words, "Prime Minister Meighen, first of those western men with eastern principles to be called to head the Conservative party, put on the full armour of protection and fought the western revolt in defense of the National Policy.... His party attacked the Progressives as free traders seeking to destroy the National Policy for selfish class advantage. Mr. W.L.M. King stood firmly on the Liberal platform of 1919, which, marvelously contrived, faced squarely all points of the political compass at once." The Progressives, with 64 seats, beat Meighen’s Conservatives by 14 and would have become the Official Opposition in the House if they had opted to do so. Thirty-nine of 57 western and northern seats were won by the party.

It is interesting that the Progressives on the Prairies chose to root out the old parties at the provincial levels as well. Partly, says Morton, it was out of the conviction that defeating machine politics in Ottawa required beating the old parties in their citadels in the provinces. In both Alberta and Saskatchewan, Liberal governments had ruled since 1905 but the Progressives regarded them, in Morton’s words, as "examples of the machine politics which Progressives hoped to destroy." In Saskatchewan, the Liberal administration of William Martin survived the Progressive tide of 1920-21 by severing its tics for the time being with the federal party. In Alberta, however, the United Farmers of Alberta under Henry Wise Wood won a majority of the seats in the Alberta legislature in 1921 as a farmers’ only party. In Manitoba, the United Farmers of Manitoba won the largest number of seats, if not a majority, in the 1922 provincial election.


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