June 5, 2003
George Bush wants Alberta’s oil but, if it were up for grabs, he’d want Alberta even more. With Alberta as America’s 51st state, the U.S. would secure 300 billion barrels of recoverable oil reserves, more than exist in Saudi Arabia. U.S. oil imports would plummet and America’s great dependence on foreign oil would vanish.
Whenever loose talk arises of Canada becoming the 51st state, as it does from time to time, wise heads scoff at the notion. Getting into the Union isn’t easy. No one has made it in almost a half century: Hawaii and Alaska, the last two to win acceptance, had to work long and hard at it. More importantly, many doubt that the U.S. would even want Canada. The U.S. idealizes unbridled free-enterprise, rugged individualism, and a cultural melting pot; Canada more leans to public-private partnerships, a welfare state, and multi-culturalism. A United States that swallowed Canada, holus-bolus, would invite a host of problems.
But Alberta, on its own, holds none of Canada’s liabilities for Americans. Canada’s most conservative province – anti-Kyoto, anti-gun control, hostile to national health care, receptive to plebiscites and Bible-belt Christians, free of provincial sales tax – is in some ways more American than Canadian. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien turned his back on President Bush’s plan to invade Iraq; Alberta Premier Ralph Klein forthrightly embraced it. A Crawford Ranch North would clash not at all with Republican values.
Because U.S. democrats would balk at adding a Republican state to the Union, they would want a second, more left-leaning state to be added at the same time, to maintain a balance of power – this was part of the bargain that had to be struck before Democratic Alaska and Republican Hawaii could be ushered into the Union. The likeliest running mate for Alberta is British Columbia – a lush and largely liberal urbanized province that has much in common with the west coast states of Washington, Oregon and California. The Vancouver-Seattle-Portland economy is already so integrated that books extol “Cascadia,” as the cross-border city-region is sometimes called. To add to America’s receptivity to a State of British Columbia, B.C.’s Premier Gordon Campbell, like Premier Klein, also supported the U.S. after our federal politicians attacked it over Iraq.
With B.C. in the U.S. fold, Alaska would be linked to the lower 48 states and, more importantly, the U.S. would have uninterrupted control over the west coast, allowing it to control the border against terrorists and simplifying its desire for National Missile Defense. National defense figured in America’s decision in the 1950s to admit both Hawaii and Alaska. The military imperative is no less great today. And behind all the practical reasons for the U.S. to welcome Alberta and B.C. into the Union lies Manifest Destiny, an almost Messianic conviction that all of North America is fated for America. Manifest Destiny, central to American thought from the nation’s very foundation, would legitimize any movement to extend the American flag north into what are now Canada’s Rocky Mountain provinces.
To Americans, making Alberta and B.C. the 51st and 52nd states would be a no-brainer: It would augment America’s security and its economy and fulfill its destiny. To British Columbians and especially Albertans, switching to the U.S. rather than fighting Canada’s federal government, though currently on no one’s political agenda, could one day become compelling. Many Western Canadians covet the low U.S. taxes and the high U.S. standard of living – in Canada, only the urban swath between Calgary and Edmonton achieves U.S. levels of affluence. Should the federal government or a central province outrage B.C. or Alberta through a policy or a slight that spins seriously out of control, the stage would be set for the breakup of Canada. Albertans and British Columbians may well reason that they could hardly lose in the bargain. Depending on the outrage – say, another egregious resource grab such as the National Energy Program of the 1980s – they may well be right.
But Canada would lose grievously should it lose either of these great provinces, making it imperative that events never be allowed to reach that stage. Keeping the provinces inside Canada by force is no longer an option – the Supreme Court of Canada has already endorsed a province’s departure if its citizens speak clearly on the matter. And neither can we keep Canada together by granting the provinces more powers, as Alberta demands through its proposal for a Triple-E Senate. Alberta’s plan would give have-not provinces the great majority of votes, creating a block that would soon pillage the great wealth of wealthy provinces and hasten the day that they leave.
There is only one way to ensure that Alberta and B.C. stay within Canada: To make Canada worthy of Albertans and British Columbians. In my concluding column in this series, I will describe the road to worthiness.
Lawrence Solomon writes: “Keeping the provinces inside Canada by force is no longer an option – the Supreme Court of Canada has already endorsed a province’s departure if its citizens speak clearly on the matter.”
This is a gross and dangerous misrepresentation, even though it appears frequently in the news media. The issue is not keeping a province inside Canada by force. We are a society ruled by law rather than force, and Mr. Solomon has misrepresented the law.
What the court said is that a clear answer to a clear question in a referendum would precipitate negotiations on secession. But those negotiations would not automatically end with the secession of the province. The court was absolutely clear on this.
The court reasoned that negotiations must follow a clear referendum vote in favour of secession, not because secession is a special case, but because all the partners in the federation – the two houses of Parliament and the 10 provincial legislatures – have the constitutional power to initiate an amendment to the Constitution. So the partners would have the obligation to negotiate any amendment on any subject proposed by any province or house of Parliament following a clear answer in a referendum.
By analogy, Alberta could hold a referendum on amending the Constitution to enshrine a Triple-E Senate. Following a successful outcome, the other partners would be obliged to negotiate. Does this mean that they must grant Alberta a Triple-E Senate? It does not. All the rights of all the partners would have to be taken into consideration. Quebec and Ontario, for instance, could legitimately refuse consent to a Triple-E Senate. And, the court said clearly, the failure of negotiations on secession would not confer a right to secede.
The Supreme Court was unequivocal. Secession (or a Triple-E Senate) could only be brought about legally by an amendment to the Constitution, which itself would follow an agreement on the terms of secession (or a Triple-E Senate). If the partners could not agree in accordance with the formulae for amending the Constitution, there would be no legal secession (or no legal Triple-E Senate).
In other words, under the terms spelled out by the Supreme Court in August, 1998, a legally obtained secession is most unlikely. To suggest that a mere clear result in a referendum would result in secession is to propagate dangerous illusions.Whether in Quebec or Alberta, it would be prudent to study the Supreme Court’s advisory opinion before suggesting the province can simply hold a referendum and secede.
William Johnson, Gatineau, Que.
I enjoyed Lawrence Solomon’s column, The 51st and 52nd States (June 5), and look forward to subsequent pieces.
I would consider things a little differently, at least to start. My first step would be to set the three Western provinces on their own, a nice little country of about eight million with all the resources necessary to succeed. If Eastern people only realized how much we loathe being told how to act and what to do by those representing mainly Quebec interests.
Norm Walsh, Kelowna, B.C.
My daughter’s Grade 8 class was recently given topics for debates. She was to argue against the proposition “Canada should become the 51st state.” She did not take the expected position, defending Canadian independence, etc. Her argument instead was that Canada could not be the 51st state as the U.S. Congress would never allow it. Instead, Ontario, which would vote Democrat and become the 51st state. Alberta, which would vote Republican, would be the 52nd. British Columbia would be absorbed by Washington, and likewise Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia would be absorbed by the states to their south. Finally, Quebec and Newfoundland would get the independence they crave.
Joseph Shier, Toronto.
As a once proud but now repeatedly embarrassed to be Canadian, my only question is, “How soon can I vote to support making Alberta the 51st State?”
Ron Dutcher, Calgary.
The Canadian farmer has already been separated from his country. He works exclusively for foreigners at home and abroad. What we are learning now is how to rediscover North America – from the inside out. Stay tuned.
John Paul Jacobson, Brandon, Man.