One of the first authoritative looks at the struggle over resources with the Rest of Canada that has plagued the West since the mid-nineteenth century. This is an important book that explains so much of today’s debates.
The Honourable Peter Lougheed, former premier of Alberta
Progressive Conservative Alison Redford wins the Alberta election with the promise of forging a new energy strategy with the Rest of Canada.
The Constitution recognizes the provincial right to “exclusively make laws” for the exploration, development, conservation and management of its resources.
The National Energy Program creates a blended price for old and new oil, and slaps new taxes on gas at the wellhead, the refinery and the pump.
As oil prices rise, Ottawa clamps an export tax on Western crude and freezes the domestic price.
After 133 dry holes, Imperial Oil hits black gold at Leduc.
The Alberta government defaults on its bonds.
The United Farmers of Alberta lose power to Social Credit. King defeats Bennett in the federal election.
Anderson loses power to Gardiner’s Liberals. Alberta Premier Brownlee resigns amid a sex scandal.
King loses the federal election to R.B. Bennett’s Conservatives.
The British Parliament approves the Constitution Act 1930, which transfers resource control to the West and the unused railway lands to British Columbia.
King and Anderson agree on a deal to transfer of resource control.
King signs deals with Brownlee and Bracken.
Conservative James Anderson becomes the new Saskatchewan premier.
The British Columbia Royal Commission calls for the return of the railway lands along with continued subsidies.
At a pivotal First Ministers’ Conference, King secures general agreement to resolve regional grievances, including the transfer of resource control.
Calgary lawyer R.B. Bennett replaces Meighen as Conservative leader.
In response to the Maritime Royal Commission, King raises subsidies. He asks a Royal Commission to examine British Columbia’s grievances.
The Conservatives lose a vote of non-confidence, and call an election. King campaigns against Byng, and wins.
King asks Governor-General Lord Julian Byng to dissolve Parliament to avoid a motion of censure. Byng refuses, and asks Meighen to form a government.
King appoints a Royal Commission to examine Maritime grievances.
King and Brownlee finalize their deal for resource transfer. King wins a vote of confidence. James Gardiner becomes Saskatchewan Premier.
Meighen wins more seats than King in the federal election – but King waits to test the will of Parliament before resigning.
The UFA caucus replaces Greenfield with Attorney-General John Brownlee.
King and Greenfield do a deal that includes a cash settlement.
Prince Edward Island claims a share in the West as “an asset of the partnership.”
Bracken rejects the deal that Norris endorsed.
Norris loses power to John Bracken of the United Farmers of Manitoba.
Charles Dunning replaces Martin as Saskatchewan premier. King meets with the three Prairie Premiers – but he can only reach a deal with Norris.
William Lyon Mackenzie King’s Liberals win the federal election.
Alberta Premier Stewart loses power to the United Farmers of Alberta. Herbert Greenfield is the new premier.
Meighen fails to resolve the transfer of resource control.
Borden steps down in favour of Interior Minister Arthur Meighen.
William Lyon Mackenzie King wins the federal Liberal leadership.
Borden convenes a First Ministers’ Conference – and then leaves for Britain. The talks on resource control deepen the rifts between the West and the Rest of Canada.
At a First Ministers’ gathering, the Maritime premiers refuse to discuss the transfer of Western resource control.
Borden introduces conscription, splitting the Liberal Party. In September, the PM forms a Union government that includes Arthur Sifton; Charles Stewart replaces Sifton.
Former MP William Martin replaces Saskatchewan Premier Scott.
Conservative Roblin resigns, and Liberal T.C. Norris replaces him. British Columbia and Ottawa get nowhere on the commission to study its special needs.
With Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, Canada is at war.
The Gang of Three is born: Alberta Premier Arthur Sifton, Saskatchewan Premier Walter Scott and Manitoba Premier Rodmond Roblin demand resource control along with continued subsidies in lieu of those resources.
Borden sets conditions on any transfer of Western resource control.
Borden extends the boundaries of Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, increases Manitoba’s subsidies in lieu of resources and offers to study British Columbia’s special needs.
Laurier loses the federal election to Robert Borden’s Conservatives.
Alberta and Saskatchewan separately demand resource control.
As their clout within Canada wanes, the Maritime Provinces fail to secure their existing allotment of House of Commons seats as a basic minimum.
Laurier introduces bills to create Alberta and Saskatchewan: Ottawa retains resource control but the new provinces receive subsidies in lieu of resources.
After Laurier calls an election, he promises to open negotiations for provincial status after the vote.
Frederick Haultain secures responsible government for the North-West Territories.
The Liberals under Wilfrid Laurier win a majority government.
Manitoba Premier John Norquay secures a precedent-setting subsidy in lieu of resources.
Parliament ratifies a deal to build the Canadian Pacific Railway for $25 million and twenty-five million Western acres.
British Columbia joins Confederation. Ottawa promises a trans-continental railroad and a subsidy in return for the use of B.C. land for the railway.
Macdonald agrees to create the province of Manitoba – but he refuses demands for resource control.
Louis Riel and the Red River Métis resist Canada’s purchase of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The Constitution of the new Dominion of Canada foresees the entry of Rupert’s Land and the North-western Territory.
Q. You are not a writer based in the West, so what drove you to tackle this theme, which we hear about primarily in the West? OR How did you become interested in this subject?
A. I have always wanted to know why Westerners were so edgy and so suspicious during any resource discussions with Ottawa and the Rest of Canada. When former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion adopted a poorly designed carbon tax in 2008, the explosive reaction across the West was fascinating…. it seemed so over the top. Clearly those visceral reactions had deep roots in the past. They were entwined in the regional identity. I wanted to know why. It was a natural research topic when I went back to university. I learned that this is not a Western story. Nor is it simply a story of the West versus Ottawa. It is the story of Canada – if only because other regions staked claims to the West and its resources. This is a Canadian saga.
Q. Your book starts in 1867 and includes a sweeping and detailed historical vista of Canada’s political landmarks. What were the critical dates that were turning points in the resources struggle?
A. 1869-1870. When Canada secures title to Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Métis in the Red River Colony around modern-day Winnipeg resist the transfer. In response, Sir John A. Macdonald carves out the tiny province of Manitoba, but he retains control of the lands and the resources to ensure that the Métis cannot block a railroad or the giveaway of free lands to new settlers. Manitoba eventually receives subsidies in lieu of those resources.
. Summer 1905. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier carves the new provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta out of Rupert’s Land and the North-West Territories. Ottawa keeps resource control – but offers subsidies in lieu of resources.
. October 1913. The three Western Premiers meet privately with Prime Minister Robert Borden in Ottawa to demand resource control. When Borden sets conditions on any transfer, the Gang of Three is born: the Westerners demand resource control and the continuation of their subsidies in lieu of resources.
. November 1918. At a disastrous First Ministers’ Conference in Ottawa, the rifts between the West and the Rest of Canada deepen disastrously as other regions and Ottawa set conditions on any transfer of resource control.
. 1930. After carefully buying off the other regions, Mackenzie King transfers resource control to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
. February 13, 1947. After 133 dry holes, Imperial Oil hits black gold at Leduc, twenty miles south of Edmonton. The promise of resource control finally comes true.
Q. Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark vividly profiles some of the great personalities of Canadian politics, including Prime Ministers and Premiers. Do you have a favourite story about one of these men?
A. An historian once told me that he came to like Robert Borden, and I share his view. Borden could be quirky. In his memoirs, he usually chronicled his exhaustion and ailments when he was at home. Abroad, he was a far more energetic. He relished his discussions of great global issues with dignitaries, he visited wounded soldiers in hospitals and spent a night with British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George at the dangerous Front. At home, although he was dutiful, he was always worn out: he hated the pettiness and problems of domestic politics.
I also admired Frederick Haultain: you could actually chart how the frustrations and the casual federal dismissals over the years prompted this principled politician to lose control. When I realized that his family motto was “He who commands himself, commands enough”, I knew just how far he had been driven when he abandoned his political neutrality and campaigned against Wilfrid Laurier in the 1904 federal election.
Q. You make a strong case for the root of the current resource struggle being ingrained in the founding of the country in 1867. Do you see a resolution in sight today, after so many years?
A. No, actually. There remain hugely difficult areas of constitutional ambiguity in Canada. Both Ottawa and the provinces can set out environmental regulations. Both Ottawa and the provinces can slap taxes on carbon emissions. Constitutions are living documents – so we will never be able to put a complete end to these conflicts. But if we don’t know the past, if we don’t recognize that other provinces once claimed that they had bought the West and owned its resources, if we don’t understand that Western identity is partly rooted in provincial resource control, we are going to blunder badly. Although a federal carbon tax would be a sensible way to curb greenhouse gases, we would run the risk of too much conflict in the near future. Governments must tread with great sensitivity, ensuring that all Canadians are engaged and the burden does not fall too heavily on the producing provinces.
Q. How did the late Peter Lougheed assist you in your book?
A. On my first trip to Calgary for the book, he took me to lunch at Lougheed House – and talked about his amazing grandparents, Belle Hardisty Lougheed and Senator Sir James Lougheed who was in the Borden and Meighen cabinets during the Western fight for resource control. It was an inspiration. As I researched, the book sprawled beyond Sir James’ time, back to the mid-19th century and forward to the recent Alberta election. I came to regard the book as Peter Lougheed’s story: the reason why he fought so hard and, in retrospect, so rationally, over the last four decades. Throughout these last four years, he always had an encouraging word.
Q. What is your next project?
A. I have a theory that we are bumping up against the limits of sharing with each other through federal transfer programs such as equalization. How did Ottawa come to redistribute so much federal tax revenue to the Provinces? Why did the richer provinces let Ottawa divvy up so much of their taxpayers’ money among the poorer provinces? What happens when the gaps between the wealthier provinces and the poorer provinces grow so huge that the wealthier provinces draw a line in the sand? We used to talk about limits to growth. Now we are talking about limits to benevolence. And I would like to start with a wartime Conference that fell apart in 1941.