Monday, September 29, 2008

Know Your Fringe Parties IV -- Western Block Party

Fred Johns wrote, in "The Truth About the Western Block Party" (Something Cool News, 28 March 2005): "It’s no secret that many Western Canadians feel a little bit alienated from the rest of the country." No, Mr. Johns. Say it isn't so. I hadn't clued in to the overwhelming evidence of this. The Progressive Party in the 1920s. The United Farmers of Alberta, also in the 1920s. The Social Credit Party in the 1930s. The C.C.F. in Saskatchewan, also in the 1930s. The anger of farmers over the C.P.R. rates, the grain elevators and the Wheat Board. The backlash to Trudeau's National Energy Programme in the 1980s. The Reform Party in the 1980s and '90s. And it goes way deeper than any of this, doesn't it?

And so, in western alienation's latest manifestation, we bring you The Western Block Party. On the surface, it sounds like there should be lots of good food, good music and good times. And maybe there is all of that. What's a block party without it? But, there's something more serious afoot here too. There's doin's a-brewin'.

The Western Block Party is, avowedly, a western separatist party. Championing the cause of a west-of-Ontario secession, is the party's leader, Doug Christie. The wellspring of this movement, however, is not (as an easterner might suspect) Alberta, but rather British Columbia. Already removed from Canada geographically (by the Rockies), Christie imagined a day when it might be removed politically as well. Or, to quote from Fred John's 2005 article again:

Christie believes B.C. would be better off on its own and is capable of making better decisions for itself than those in Ottawa can. Unfortunately, he has run into an obstacle or two, like people who have written him off as a “kook” and a “weirdo”. And, of course, even mentioning the word separation in certain circles is going to make some people very, very angry. But Christie vows to push on towards what he hopes will one day be a new dawn for the province of British Columbia – if he can endure all the bitterness.

In fact, Christie has been riding this hobby horse since 1975, and has broadened his vision to include all four provinces west of the Canadian shield. Disenchanted and disengaged since the Trudeau years, Christie insists, westerners have seen Confederation hijacked and dominated by the "liberal homogeny" of Ontario and Quebec.

In his interview with Doug Christie, Fred John's posited the 'sine qua non' of the Canadian self-perception -- the 'best county to live' bromide, but Christie was having none of it:

Johns: What about those who believe you would be breaking up one of the greatest countries in the world that is internationally recognized as one of the best places in the world to live?

Christie: Canada is not one of the best places in the world to live. We have higher per capita taxation than the U.S. We have no freedom of speech because of the religion of multiculturalism, we have no opportunities to develop our secondary industries, no opportunity to keep enough money to develop a secondary economy. It’s a farce and fallacy perpetuated by liars to say that Canada is the best country in the world to live in. They must be living in never-never land.

In the current election campaign, in spite of the fact that Canada has a western-based Prime Minister, and the west enjoys a prosperous economy and a greater presence at the Cabinet table, Christie sees little to dissuade him. Political coalition-building has meant that an Albertan PM must still play to Quebec and Ontario. And the thought of a return of the Liberals is just frightening, since the Liberal party to him seems to be inherently beholden to eastern interests. Christie needs to look no further than the Liberals' proposed "Green Shift" plan, which he sees as having two purposes -- to redistribute money from the west to the east, and to "shift political power back to Central Canada."

Christie understands that there are many people, yes even many in the West, who view this western separatist idea as absurd, alarmist, extreme, maybe even treacherous. Christie answers:

To those who reject Western separatism as divisive, ask them to tell you what Ottawa does for the West that we couldn’t do better, quicker and cheaper for ourselves. Ask them to tell you one thing Ottawa has ever done for us that didn’t take more than it gave.

Well, as any student of Canadian history knows, there's nothing new here. And I suppose that's the problem, isn't it?

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