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It behooves westerners to stop complaining and fix the problem Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 05 July 2004

Rage over the election is rolling like seismic tremors across the West from an epicentre situated roughly in Calgary.

People are spluttering, "How could Ontarians be so stupid? This country doesn't work--but what can we do about it?"

But are Ontarians stupid? Not at all. They stand to lose something very precious if they switch to the Conservatives. They lose that smug assumption emanating from Toronto that they are politically and morally superior to western Canadians, Americans, previous generations, and the rest of the world. By preserving a centralist party in government, they (in partnership with Quebec) preserve Canada in their own provincial image.

The fact that they have already reduced Canada to a somewhat corrupt, narrow-minded dictatorship--an unproductive, defenceless, sanctimonious, irrelevant, irresponsible global backwater--is not something enough of them are ready to accept. Not yet, anyway, and maybe never.

Thus, the onus lies on westerners to force Ontarians to confront reality, and we haven't done it.

It requires us to do two things at once.

The first is to establish by intelligent argument that Canada went wrong forty years ago or more, when we decided to abandon the constitutional system that had lifted Canada to a place among the world's first-tier nations--a status we have long since lost.

The successful formula instituted by the Fathers of Confederation was to leave only a few important responsibilities to the central government.

All the really serious stuff that affects daily life--language and property rights, social and economic development, education, administration of justice--they assigned entirely to the provinces. Each province set its own rules and paid its own bills. Nobody hitchhiked.

In the 1950s and '60s, Canadians disastrously allowed Ottawa to start national programs for pensions, bilingualism, multiculturalism, medical care, unemployment and regional economic development. It was assumed, wrongly, that these would be more equitably and efficiently delivered on a national scale, and that they would unite us politically.

Instead, the opposite happened. By siphoning tens of billions each year from successful areas to failing ones, they fostered regional envy, irresponsibility and resentment. We saw once again in this election how Martin invoked these "Canadian values" to turn east against west.

Robbed of incentive to succeed on their own, recipient regions like Quebec and the Atlantic remain stagnant, and so they demand even more. This is hopeless. It's like trying to live on a block with 10 houses and no property titles.

The second thought westerners must act upon, led by Alberta, is to take back all the provincial duties they needlessly and unwisely loaned to the federal government. Instead of continuing with the Canada Pension Plan, Alberta should institute an Alberta Pension Plan. Instead of using Ottawa's RCMP, it should establish (once again) an Alberta Mounted Police. And it should collect its own provincial income tax.

Much more can and must be done, but these three are all decisions Ottawa can't veto.

Whether they are the first steps towards independence or the first steps toward restoring Confederation as it was designed to work is something Ontarians can decide.

Getting angry at Ontario won't change anything. From now on we'll be measured not by our complaints but by our actions.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.

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