The following is a full-length guest feature by University of Calgary professor Barry Cooper.
Part 1. The Significance of the 2019 Election
Part 2. Canadian Geopolitics
Part 3. Challenges to Western Independence
Part 1. The Significance of the 2019 Election
The 2019 election reminds one of the several elections of the 1980s insofar as the results emphasized the regional divisions of Canada. The West is more or less Conservative; Quebec is a mixture of Liberals and nationalists; Ontario and the lower mainland of British Columbia are Liberal and NDP. The major parties conducting the election embodied a regrettable combination of mendacity on a national scale by the Liberals, with timidity by the Conservatives, especially regarding Quebec and its odious “secularist” legislation that banned public servants in positions of authority from wearing religiously required clothing – hijabs, kippahs and turbans. As might be expected with such an electoral combination, nothing decisive emerged from this trip to the polls. Indeed, it simply postponed some serious decisions and guaranteed that the circumstances under which several well- known and long-standing problems must eventually be faced will make a moderate compromise much more difficult. The most significant consequence of 2019 was that the Liberals returned to office with the smallest share of the vote of any government in Canadian history. Previous and precarious minorities all had greater popular support. And the Conservatives? Despite the remarkable series of (once again) Quebec-centred corruption scandals and the Prime Minister’s bizarre personal behaviour, the Liberals were still able to take advantage of the Conservatives’ many shortcomings, especially their questionable leadership.
The result was deeply disappointing to Westerners. Worse, the manner of the Liberal victory was especially insulting. Rather than attempting to defend a questionable and likely indefensible record, the Liberals attacked Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as a continuation of the Liberally-detested Stephen Harper. They claimed Scheer and the Ontario premier, Doug Ford, were northern Trumpians, neither of which charge was remotely plausible to normal people. The Liberals added to their sanctimonious virtue-signalling by claiming they would ensure that Canada remain a “progressive” northern bastion against nativism,polarization, authoritarianism, and the demonization of enemies, all evils they attributed to the Trump Administration. That is why they expended so much energy (and who knows how much money?) to lobby Barack Obama to endorse Justin Trudeau. That kind of election interference by foreigners is perfectly acceptable to the progressive left.
The data summarizing the October 21st results are clear, even eloquent. The Conservatives won 68 percent of 104 seats in the West. The Liberals won 60 percent of 234 seats in the non-West. As one insightful observer put it, Canadian elections have become opportunities for Ontario to decide how much money the West will send to Quebec.Several commentators recalled the advice of the Liberal campaign manager of the 1980s, Keith “The Rainmaker” Davey and his 35-year-old advice: “Screw the West; we’ll take the rest.” It worked for the first Trudeau and now it has worked for his son, who (along with Kathleen Wynne) then had the temerity to accuse Alberta premier Jason Kenney of fomenting national division, disunity, and Alberta independence. As Trudeau’s then environment minister, Catherine McKenna, famously tweeted from a St. John’s bar: “if you say it loud enough and often enough, people will believe you. For sure.” Thank you, Dr. Goebbels.
Looking back, the 2019 minority is quite unlike, the Conservative minority of 2006. Following the 2004 Liberal minority, the Harper conservatives tailored their policy to appeal to Quebecers – cancelling their plan to end corporate subsidies to Bombardier, for example. When Westerners have endured Liberal minorities, as in the present, there is no pressure for the government to appeal to Westerners. On the contrary, we can look for the Liberal Laurentians to double down on the damage they have imposed on the West. Westerners know this, which is why there has been a spike in media chatter reflecting increased support for Western independence.
The actual public opinion data have in fact been pretty stable. About a year ago an Angus Reid poll found that nearly three out of four Westerners thought that Ottawa doesn’t treat them fairly. Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, told Global News that the West “does not see itself reflected or represented in our so-called national institutions” and suggested that the data reflected the position of the Reform Party in the late 1980s and cited their slogan: “The West Wants In.” Westerners are still not represented in our so-called national institutions. The difference this time is that increasingly the West wants out.
The response of the Laurentian media, particularly in Toronto’s national newspaper, has been entirely predictable. On October 24, 2019 in the Globe and Mail, Eric Reguly said Westerners, particularly Albertans, were punishing themselves. They should have been “sophisticated” like the admittedly “cynical,” which is to say, corrupt electorate of Quebec, and voted strategically to “keep the federal favour-train running.” Instead, masochistic fools that we are, Alberta “rendered itself totally defenceless in Ottawa” and now must “prepare itself to take a few lashings.”
The next day, Reguly’s colleague, Marcus Gee, revealed to an expectant nation that “Toronto and the dynamic communities in its orbit have become the key to winning elections in the country.” This, of course, is good news. “Whether Canada succeeds depends on whether its biggest city succeeds.” Accordingly, “Toronto deserves every bit of its growing influence. Sensible Canadians will cheer it on.” For those miscreants suffering from a regrettable lack of enthusiasm for Toronto and all for which it stands, and thus who have no reason to cheer, his advice was brutally clear: “Get used to it.” Like it or lump it, the shining sun of Laurentian triumphalism rises and sets on TO the Great.
Even Andrew Coyne, who is often sensible, writing in the National Post on October 26, 2019, half- endorsed Reguly’s notion that the Government of Canada is really a “national protection racket.” He certainly starts off, like his Globe colleague, on the wrong foot. Evoking The Sound of Music, he begins: “How do you solve a problem like Alberta?” He asks with indignation not irony: whatever are they complaining about now? The Liberals just bought them a pipeline. They have “one of the highest standards of living on earth” and the highest of all the provinces. And yet they claim the federation “does not work for them.” Ottawa, which passed Bills C-69 and C-48, is not to blame for the destruction of the Alberta economy (low world oil prices are, he says; but then why is the American oil and gas sector doing well?).4 The carbon tax, Coyne avers, is “good policy in the national interest.” The courts and activist groups, not the Government of Canada, are responsible for the absence of pipe. But who other than the Liberal Government of Canada has encouraged them both with poisoned rhetoric about social licence? Coyne did, however, condescend to observe: “But for goodness sake, it is hardly unreasonable for Albertans to feel themselves besieged.”
Thank you, Andrew. But for goodness sake, get a grip. Albertans do not feel themselves besieged, they are besieged. Indeed, they have been under attack for the past four years. Have you not noticed? Probably not. It is so hard to see past Mississauga. Nor have you noticed that the only significant question discussed nowadays in this province is: how deliberate, how calculated, and how malicious has the attack on Alberta been? And what are the dark motives of the Laurentians? Coyne has since departed the Post for the presumably more congenial Globe and Mail.
A few weeks later, Gary Mason, based in Vancouver and Toronto’s eye on the West, weighed in with his own interpretation of the post-election political landscape. He was indignant that Jason Kenney “would like to see Alberta carve out almost the same level of independence that Quebec has.” Quoi? Quel scandale! “For students of history,” such as the estimable Mr. Mason, it is all redolent of the notorious Firewall Letter of a couple of decades ago. “And so here we are today,” Mason opines, “with conservatives in the province once again upset about the outcome of a federal election, once again stoking divisions because they don’t have a government in Ottawa that reflects their ideological leanings.” All the talk about pipeline expansion, Bills C-48 and C-69 and so forth, is “tedious to the point of being irrelevant.” And he ended by quoting Rachel Notley, clearly an unbiased observer of Alberta politics, who uttered the old canard that Kenney was “intentionally stoking the fires of Western alienation.” A few weeks later, as talk of independence increased in Alberta, Mason observed that such talk was “hurting Alberta.” The whole thing, evidently, was “backward … patently ridiculous” and “just dumb.”
The Laurentian journalistic consensus is something like this: Alberta and Saskatchewan have only themselves to blame for whatever adverse policies Laurentian Canada imposes on them because they were stupid enough not to vote Liberal. Who knows why, but they just refuse to go along to get along. Trying to change things by asserting provincial powers and provincial jurisdiction is (somehow) a dangerous threat to the great Laurentian bugaboo, “national unity.” In order to avoid having to specify just what the danger might be, these deep thinkers quickly invoke the spectre of “Western alienation.” The term has been around since at least the 1980s.
The great problem with using the phrase is that it forestalls further thought and categorizes the injustices of Confederation in a way that serves both the interests and the moral certainty of Laurentian Canada. Alas, it is entirely bogus. Ask yourself: what would it take not to be alienated in the eyes of Laurentian Canada? What policies would Westerners embrace to show the rest of Canada they had overcome their alienation and were once again normal, smiling, and healthy? At the very least, they would have to acknowledge that Quebec and Ontario are the real Canada. Our job in the boonies is to support the real Canada by providing whatever real Canadians want, no questions asked. To show our good faith we will become enthusiastic supporters of the CBC and especially of Radio- Canada. We will also petition – nay beg – for a local edition of the Toronto Star to keep us properly informed. Of course, we will heartily cheer on the growing influence of Toronto. Torontonians deserve nothing less. Indeed, they deserve much, much more. We will also gratefully support the shutting down of the oil and gas industry on the Prairies, particularly the filthy tar sands. Why? Because we must save the planet by reducing to zero our nearly1 percent contribution of global CO2 production, which (unquestionably) causes global apocalyptic climate change. Here we show our good faith by applauding in unison the tanker ban on the north coast of BC, and the shutting down of any expansion of Trans-Mountain pipeline that would have released a shocking additional 0.6 percent of oil production into the global market. Of course Westerners will embrace joyfully the wisdom of Bill C-69 to ensure no other pipelines get built, ever. Also, we will, as a Liberal MP from the Lower Mainland put it, support our Prime Minister come what may. Here our non- alienation will be reflected in the public approval we accord the dear leader for his great and wise actions on behalf of all Canadians, especially middle-class Canadians and those who are working so hard to join the middle class. As he so often reminds us.
One hopes such a thought-experiment conveys the degree of nonsense embedded in the notion of Western alienation, particularly when uttered by the spokespersons of Laurentian Canada, wherever they may reside. In a word, alienation-talk is just another insult to Western pride. One way or another, the use of the terms means more “lashings” are in order. They will be delivered with a stern sense of justice and a good conscience until we come to our senses. It’s for our own good, too.
Ted Morton provided a very moderate Western appraisal of the significance of the election in the Calgary Herald on October 26, 2019. The spike in support for independence has moved a long way past anger, to say nothing of alienation, he said. The difference between the response of Westerners, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, in 2019 and the response, say, to the National Energy Program of Pierre Trudeau a generation ago is that many Westerners see a pattern, even if they don’t remember first-hand the devastation caused by the NEP. As Morton observed, “our vulnerability to federal politics and policies is structural not temporary.” Very simply, Keith Davey was right: “the Liberal party doesn’t need any votes from the West to form a government.” This “demographic vulnerability,” as he calls it, is not episodic but historical and, so to speak, permanent. Moreover, the political consequences are “compounded by our very different regional economies,” namely that efficient resource extraction has made the West, with around a quarter of the population, a major element in the Canadian economy, contributing nearly a third of Canada’s GDP. The result, as Morton also pointed out, is a net fiscal transfer from Alberta in particular of $611B since 1961. Since 2010 Alberta has provided Ottawa with over $20B a year, even when the province was running budgetary deficits. In contrast, Quebec, which contributes under 20 percent of Canada’s GDP now receives two-thirds of every equalization dollar. “The electoral math is that simple,” Morton concluded.
A few weeks after the election an exchange took place between Premier Kenney and Monsieur Yves- François Blanchet, leader of the Bloc Québécois. After a pleasant meeting with the Prime Minister, Monsieur Blanchet announced there was no national unity problem because of the election. Coming from the leader of a party that advocates Quebec sovereignty, at least as a vague future hope, he was indicating quite clearly that the sovereigntists in the Bloc are not serious. In fact, they never have been. The current crop of separatists are just a contemporary version of Robert Bourassa’s fédéralisme rentable, profitable federalism. Westerners have known this for years.9
In a speech in Calgary a couple of days later Kenney said: “If you are so ‘opposed to’ the energy that we produce in Alberta then why are you so keen in taking the money generated by the oilfield workers of this province and across Western Canada? You cannot have your cake and eat it. Pick a lane.” To which Monsieur Blanchet replied: “You know what? I like my cake and I will do what I like about it.” The miraculous option of having your cake and eating it too, the absence of any need to “pick a lane,” was made possible, as Monsieur Blanchet perfectly well knew, because next year another $13B cake is on its way from Alberta.10 Bon appétit. Monsieur Blanchet’s condescending remarks, to say nothing of Monsieur Trudeau’s comments on how fortunate we all are to have so many Quebec francophones in cabinet, indicate the main contextual problem: the never-serious threat of Quebec sovereignty excuses every insulting remark from the mouths of Quebecpoliticians. Any criticism, especially from Alberta, is met with serious and sombre admonitions to pipe down and quit endangering “national unity.”
Shortly after the exchange between Kenney and Blanchet, Campbell Clark, also writing in the Globe and Mail, reminded his readers that Monsieur Blanchet “is not trying to promote national unity.” Just in case we didn’t know: “He is a separatist. When it comes to the parts of Canada getting along, he’s not here to help.” Once again, a sophisticated Laurentian journalist seeks to instruct the Western rubes who clearly were unaware of how dangerous Monsieur Blanchet truly is. “And when he shoots off his mouth, Mr. Kenney should not treat the Bloc leader as he does. Because he’s not rooting for Canadian unity.” Across the West we are enjoined not only to root for Canadian unity but to do sowith the same enthusiasm we are to show for the “growing influence” of Toronto. Really?
The centrality of Quebec in Canada, which constitutes the foundational myth of Laurentian Canada, was reiterated the same in the pages of the Calgary Herald. Don Braid, who has lived here for a while and really ought to know better, advised Kenney to “brush off Blanchet as a separatist crank who’s poking a stick into Canadian divisions. That’s only the truth.” The “truth” it seems to me, is that there are and always have been “divisions” in Canada but that Quebec and Ontario, and their government in Ottawa, are on one side and the West is on the other. This brings us to the perennial problem of Canadian geopolitics.
Part 2. Canadian Geopolitics
Historically, the largest resource deposits have always been in the West – apart from cod, nickel, and white pine. This has been so since before Confederation. Since 1867 the population has been centred in the St. Lawrence valley, mostly downstream from Lake Huron. Fur, especially beaver, was replaced by grain, mainly wheat, then potash, uranium, oil, and gas. That is, the resources are still chiefly in the West. Federalism was supposed to reconcile population and resource wealth, and for many years Westerners believed it. That is why, as David Smith observed, Westerners initially worked within the dominant parties to get their interests acknowledged. Then they tried third parties – Social Credit, the CCF, the Progressives, Reform. Westerners have engaged with every party under the sun and deployed strategies from balance-of- power to disruption. None of them worked.
The reason is simple: Laurentian Canada has never seen the West as part of a federation. The Canadian federation, so far as they are concerned, is made up (as was implied by all the Laurentian journalists cited in the previous section) of Ontario and Quebec. The Maritime provinces were sidelined during the nineteenth century within a generation of Confederation. Newfoundland managed to hold out until 1949. The important thing to notice is that the West was never considered part of the deal. So what were we?
For an initial hint, consider the Latin motto on the Canadian coat of arms: a mari usque ad mare. The text is from the Vulgate translation of Psalm 72:8. It does not include the rest of the verse: et a flumine usque ad terminos terrae, nor does it contain the opening words, et dominabitur. The King James version translates the entire verse: “He shall havedominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” The Latin dominium and related words referred to a territory that was mastered and was used in its English form by the British to refer to their colonies and possessions. Before the American Revolution the colonies were often referred to as the Dominion of New England.
When, out of fear of offending the United States, the British Foreign Office objected to the name Kingdom of Canada, which the Canadian colonials preferred, Sir Leonard Tilley of New Brunswick suggested the term Dominion. It has remained the formal title of the country ever since though it is hardly used today. More interesting for present purposes are the additional implications: the Canadian Dominion shall extend from the river to the ends of the earth. There is no question that the river is the St. Lawrence and the contemporary West is their terminos terrae, the ends of the earth, excluded from Confederation in order to be dominated by it. Hence the expression “out”West.
When the ends of the earth were transferred from the Imperial Crown to the Crown in right of Canada – and it is important to remember that Rupert’s Land and the Northwest and Northeast Territories were not purchased by Canada from the Hudson’s Bay Company the way the Americans purchased Alaska from Russia – the Northeast Territories were given to Quebec and some of Rupert’s Land was given to Ontario. The rest was administered from Ottawa “for the purposes of the Dominion.” It is important for understanding the current relations between the West and Laurentian Canada to recall that 180 years ago Canadians were oblivious of the fact that the inhabitants of Rupert’s Land and the Northwest constituted a distinct society.
However, contemporary historians of Rupert’s Land and of the “distinctive regional way of life” achieved by the fur-trade society that lived there have recalled for contemporary Westerners as well as Laurentian Canadians that a sense of distinctiveness was central to the inhabitants of the contemporary West whatever their nineteenth-century ethnic composition was. For a generation after 1821, with the amalgamation of the Hudson’s Bay Company of London and the Northwest Company of Montreal, Canada showed no interest in Rupert’s Land. As with the New England settlements a century before, this neglect enabled something like a political self- awareness to develop at the Red River Settlement.
When Red River looked towards Canada at all it was in order to find political allies, not because the inhabitants sought to become Canadians. For their part, Canadians – that is, the inhabitants of the old colony of Canada – seem never to have understood this, not in the nineteenth century, not now.
Meantime, the inhabitants of Rupert’s Land and the Settlement underwent the more or less futile experience of petitioning Imperial Parliament for redress of such familiar imperial abuses as taxation without representation and rule without consent. In 1845-6 the inhabitants of Red River even petitioned the U.S. Congress for help. In 1861, following yet another unanswered petition to Parliament, the inhabitants raised the possibility of forming a Crown colony at the Settlement. To state only the most obvious and significant consequence: by its failure to attain the status of Crown colony, Red River and the whole of the North-West could never join Confederation. The inhabitants of the Settlement could only be annexed. And in the event, annexed by force of arms. The consequences of the failures of the 1860s constitute an important structural feature of Canadian federalism to this day.
Thus, when Red River was transferred to Canada, neither the Imperial government nor the Canadian government saw any reason to consult the inhabitants of the Settlement. When, in 1869-70 the rebellion, resistance, or insurrection erupted, this showed, in the understated words of W.L. Morton, that “there was . . . little active sentiment for union with Canada.” As Ted Morton (no relation to W.L.) has often said, it is unlikely in the extreme that Alberta and Saskatchewan today would join Canada under existing economic circumstances or legal and political conditions. In this respect contemporary critics of the relationship between the West and Laurentian Canada echoed Alexander Kennedy Isbister, a London barrister and opponent of the Company born in Cumberland House, in present- day Saskatchewan: the pretensions of Canada to Rupert’s Land and the Northwest degraded his homeland into “a colony of a colony.” The inhabitants of Rupert’s Land and of Red River were, in contrast, determined to enter Canada, if at all, on their ownterms, as did British Columbia.
So far as the understanding of the West in Laurentian Canada is concerned, where better to look than the founder of Laurentian School of Canadian Historiography, Donald Creighton? The opening words of his first (and to my mind his best) book are worth recalling: “When in the course of a September day in 1759, the British made themselves the real masters of the rock of Quebec, an event of apparently unique importance occurred in the history of Canada.” French power in North America collapsed and the basis to achieve the empire indicated by the title of his book was established. As he remarked a few pages later, “The whole West, with all its riches, was the dominion of the river …. The dream of the commercial empire of the St. Lawrence runs like an obsession through the whole of Canadian history and men followed each other through life, planning and toiling to achieve it.”18 The great problem with empires, whether commercial or political, particularly in the context of British political culture, is that the inhabitants of them tend to look upon themselves as self- governing citizens rather than as quiet subjects fit only to be ruled from lands far away. The British first discovered this with respect to their North American colonies in 1776. Laurentian Canada seems to be discovering the same reality today.
As a final contextual citation, consider the words of James R. Mallory, a serious and distinguished political scientist of an earlier generation. Jim Mallory taught for many years at McGill, where I knew him briefly. In his contribution to themulti-volume deployment of (mostly Laurentian) intellectual power to the study of Social Credit in Alberta and other untoward Western eruptions such as the Progressive Movement, he wrote a balanced and fair appraisal of Social Credit and the Federal Power in Canada. I first read it as an undergraduate in a course on Canadian federalism directed by Alan Cairns where I came across Mallory’s description of the new (1905) provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. They “were provinces not in the sense as were Ontario and Quebec, but in the Roman sense.” Because Mallory’s readers today are unlikely to be familiar with the implications of the Roman sense of the meaning of “province” a brief elaboration is required. The Latin word, provincia carries with it the implication of rule on behalf of (pro) the vanquished or conquered (vincia). A Roman province, Trans- Alpine Gaul, for example, was a territory where imperium, administrative power, was exercised by an agent of Rome, a governor. In addition, unlike the Roman inhabitants of Italy, those of the “provinces” paid tribute – taxes – to the imperial capital. Mallory’s meaning therefore was clear: the West was ruled by the new Rome on the Rideau as conquered territory; in return for such a favour, the West was granted the right to pay taxes to Ottawa. Such a deal!
The context of the 2019 election, as interpreted and understood by the Laurentian media is continuous with the historical understanding of Canada’s (and Britain’s) involvement in the West, which long antedated 1867. The problem for Westerners today is that we see ourselves as part of a federation, not the vanquished members of a Laurentian empire; we see ourselves as living in provinces like Ontario and Quebec, not Roman provinces. We have forgotten that from the start Sir John A. Macdonald referred to the West as a Crown colony, the nineteenth-century British version of a Roman province, or that Isbister warned that the West would soon become “a colony of a colony.” Stupid us.
Part 3. Challenges to Western Independence
Having sketched the enduring context for Western political action, the challenges or obstacles to independence can be specified easily enough.
In the Declaration of Independence the authors acknowledge that “all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, which evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Such is certainly the position of contemporary Western politicians. On October 26, 2019, Brad Wall wrotean op-ed in the National Post setting out his views for a “new federal deal with the prairies.” That is, a new deal between Laurentian Canada and the West. He drew attention to Justin Trudeau’s post- election words in favour of reconciliation, which he characterized as “nice.” Wall suggested it would be a good idea to have Western representatives in cabinet, but he also pointed out that when there actually were Western cabinet ministers, such as the “formidable” Ralph Goodale, they were members of a government that brought us to the present situation of endlessly sufferable evils: no Northern Gateway, no KXL, no TMX, the disastrous attacks embodied in C-69 and C-48, all of which injuries and abuses are quite familiar. Wall concluded by suggesting that this time, Canada might be serious in its desire for “reconciliation.” He gave no reason why Canada might desire reconciliation nor any evidence that Canada had entertained such a notion, not recently, not ever.
A second example of a politician endorsing sufferable evil is, of course, Premier Kenney. In response to a letter from Peter Downing, founder of Wexit Canada, which urged the premier to introduce legislation to hold a referendum on independence from Canada, Kenney said: “We should not let Justin Trudeau and his policies make us feel unwelcome in our own country … I’m not going to let Trudeau push me out of my country.” As with Brad Wall, Premier Kenney apparently believes Canada will eventually be persuaded to give Alberta a “Fair Deal.” That at least is the premise of the “Fair Deal Panel” tasked with “consulting Albertans on strategies to secure a fair deal in the Canadian federation,” and the trip of the “Fair Deal” delegation to Ottawa in mid- December 2019. As with Wall’s op-ed, Kenney gave no arguments as to why Canada would be interested in a genuine fair deal nor did he provide evidence that such a notion had ever crossed the minds of Canadian politicians and bureaucrats.
A third example is Scott Moe, Premier of Saskatchewan. Despite a meeting with Justin Trudeau where the Prime Minister provided, in Moe’s words, “more of the same,” namely nothing, not on the carbon tax, equalization restructuring, or promoting market access for Western resources. Moe nevertheless declared that independence is not“the way forward.” As with Premier Kenney, his was an ex cathedra pronouncement, not a plausible argument.
Consider these remarks together: with all due respect to former premier Wall, his is nought but wishful thinking. There is zero possibility of a new deal with Canada. As for Premiers Kenney and Moe, they are cautious politicians, not risk-taking incendiaries or even reforming statesmen. Ralph Klein used to joke that politicians like to see which way the parade is going so as to take up a position at the head of the line – and look over their shoulders to see they are still being followed. This may not be an edifying spectacle, but it does mean that if the parade gets large enough the two premiers will seek the front rows and pretend to lead. Nevertheless, the first obstacle to independence is that, to use the language of the Declaration, the “long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object” has not yet persuaded these two political individuals to abolish the evidently adverse political forms to which they are accustomed. To Laurentian Canada and Alberta alike, the Fair Deal Panel looks like a timid effort at postponing action.
The real question facing Western politicians is actually quite plain and simple: how much more abuse will it take to persuade Westerners that serious action is required? How many times must polite petitions be answered with repeated injuries?
As in eighteenth-century America, so in twenty-first century Canada, these are not theoretical issues but practical ones. Westerners will determine in practice what the outcome will be. If the first and, in my opinion, the major obstacle to independence is therefore clearly political, there are also a number of minor and merely legal ones that can be discussed in a more summary fashion. I will endeavour to show that these so-called legal problems and obstacles are really political as well.
In recent weeks, as Gary Mason reported with evident disdain, there has been considerable discussion of resurrecting the policies outlined in the “Firewall Letter” or “Alberta Agenda” first articulated in early 2001. At the Alberta United Conservative Party convention in late November, 2019, a series of straw votes endorsed several of these proposals and Premier Kenney has indicated he was interested particularly in withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan. Withdrawing from CPP was a no-brainer in 2001 and it remains so today. In 1966, under S.94A of the Constitution Act, 1867, Quebec established its own pension plan. With a relatively young population, higher than average wages, and greater participation in the workforce than the Canadian average, Alberta could provide the same benefits to pensioners with lower premiums to contributors. And it would hurt the rest of the country. And to be clear, that is precisely the idea: to inflict a little pain on Canada, and especially on Ottawa. The same effect would follow from leaving the Employment Insurance scheme. Leaving the supply-management of milk and milk products would target Quebec, which supplies Alberta and Saskatchewan with inordinate amounts of expensive and inefficiently produced milk and milk products. Alberta and Saskatchewan could also immediately give notice to the RCMP that their contracts would expire in two years and announce to Canada that they would be replaced with a new Northwest Mounted Police.
More serious changes would involve court challenges and perhaps even constitutional amendments. These are obviously significant obstacles, but they are also political, not legal or constitutional ones. And always in the background is the real possibility of independence. It goes (almost) without saying that, for Westerners independence is not a bargaining position. As with the Thirteen Colonies, the serious consideration of independence entails some additional and existential political measures, as we shall see.
Several groups have urged Premier Kenney, perhaps in conjunction with Premier Moe, to hold a referendum on the need to amend s.36.2 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which governs equalization payments. There are several constituent-elements to this proposal that need to be distinguished. Referenda are not unknown in Canada but they, like another populist measure, the Initiative, are rare and the language involved must be crafted with care.
In the first place, however, s.36 is about as far from the black-letter law of the Constitution as one can get. It is a statement of commitment by the several governments to promote “equal opportunities,” to further “economic development,” to reduce “disparities in opportunities” and to provide public services “of reasonable quality to all Canadians.” On the basis of such desiderata Parliament is committed “to the principle of making equalization payments to ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation” (Constitution Act, 1982, s.36). Section 36.1 speaks of the well-being of Canadians, which seems to imply that individual citizens would benefit from the promotion of opportunities and so on; section 36.2, however, speaks of recipient provincial governments getting revenue to provide public services. The connection between individual opportunities and government-to-government transfers is never discussed or accounted for. Accordingly, several analysts have observed that it may easily happen that income may be taxedfrom poor citizens in wealthy provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan to pay for services in poor provinces such as Newfoundland and Quebec to benefit the rich citizens of those provinces. Finn Porschmann found in 1997, for example, that an Alberta family making between $30K and $40K contributed 9 percent of their income to federal programs but a family in Newfoundland making over $100K received benefits equal to 1.2 percent of their income.
Section 36.2 on its own is a tissue of ambiguities. The several governments are committed to the “principle” of equalization payments but nothing is said about the actual practice. Nor is the meaning of a “reasonable” or “comparable” level of public services or taxation defined or discussed. If Alberta has a lower level of taxation than other provinces does this imply that Alberta should have higher taxes or the other provinces have lower ones? The question practically answers itself, which is why equalization has been called a welfare trap for provinces. For these reasons alone legal scholars (to say nothing of ordinary common sense) have reached a rare consensus that s.36 is non-justiciable. That is, in the view of these experts, no court can legitimately determine that s.36 imposes any obligations on any of the governments that have pledged their “commitments.” This means that the actual working out of equalization is entirely political. The law of the constitution is simply irrelevant. In the language of the Declaration of Independence, how can this be anything other than a usurpation? In this instance, it is a usurpation of the foundational principle of what we now call responsible government. Since the days of the First British Empire and, for example, the representative institutions of 1619 Virginia, the problem has always involved limiting executive power and especially instituting financial controls over the executive.
Simply raising the foundational question of responsible government introduces another question of principle: from where did the central government gain the constitutional authority to collect federal revenues and give them to the provinces? Of course, under s.91 of the Constitution Act, 1867, the central government can raise “money by any mode or system of taxation” but whether Ottawa can spend money as it sees fit is a distinct question that once received a distinct answer. In the Unemployment Insurance Reference of 1937, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council observed that “it by no means follows” from the power to raise money by any mode of taxation “that any legislation which disposes of it [money] is necessarily within Dominion competence.” Accordingly, federal expenditures made in areas of provincial jurisdiction under s.92 of the Constitution Act, 1867, were prohibited.
Apart from the explicitly limited and very specific provisions of s. 118 of the Constitution Act, 1867, what has come to be called the federal spending power was clearly circumscribed. Nothing was changed by the amendment to s.118 in the Constitution Act, 1907. The point, very simply, is this: given that the expression “spending power” does not occur in any judicial decision or statute, and given that the only jurisprudence in defence of the spending power is the very odd view of Frank Scott that the Royal Prerogative under the common law does not prohibit “generosity” nor the giving of gifts to real and legal persons, including provinces. The fact that the legality of the equalization clause depends for its constitutional validity on the legality of the spending power, would it not seem imperative to litigate the legality of that power? It is practically self-evident to the taxpayers of Alberta and Saskatchewan that the equalization or transfer payments formula and program are unjust. Indeed, equalization is a major element in the long train of abuses that sustains the current support for independence. If the current equalization program is also beyond the jurisdiction of Ottawa, its inclusion in the Constitution Act, 1982, was invalid. Unless the unconstitutionality of s.36 of the Constitution Act, 1982, is acknowledged, its questionable continuation in force and effect will simply make independence more attractive. Once again, therefore, we are dealing with questions of politics and political leadership, not constitutional law. In fact, the whole problem is political, all the way down.
The argument has occasionally been made that the Clarity Act might be enlisted on behalf of Alberta and Saskatchewan to challenge s.36 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The theory is that, under the terms of the Clarity Act, a clear majority on a clear question would oblige the Government of Canada to engage in good faith negotiations regarding amendments to the Constitution. However, the Clarity Act was passed as a specific response to the 1998 secession reference to the Supreme Court of Canada and the content of the Act was based on the question of the secession of Quebec, which would require a constitutional amendment. Let us first look upstream to the Reference re Secession of Quebec.36 The Supreme Court of Canada was given three questions to decide, only the first of which bears on the present issue: can the Quebec National Assembly effect unilateral secession from Canada? The short answer is “no,” but the Court’s reasoning was more interesting than their answer. The first question contemplates “a clear expression of a clear majority of Quebecers that they no longer wish to remain in Canada.” Such an expression of the popular will is required in a democratic system of government, the Court said. Such a government, they went on, must consider “dissenting voices” and seek to acknowledge those voices “in the laws by which all the community must live” (¶68).
The Constitution Act, 1982, gives expression to this democratic principle “by conferring a right to initiate constitutional change on each participant in Confederation.” That is, each province, including Alberta and the central government, can initiate constitutional change, including secession as well as to provisions of s.36 of the Constitution Act, 1982 (¶ 69). To be clear: the reference decision applied to all provinces, not just Quebec, and it covered all constitutional issues, not just secession. Paragraph 69 was confirmed in Paragraph 85.
Later in the decision, the Court wrote that a clear majority on a clear question “dictates that the clear repudiation of the existing constitutional order,” including secession, “would give rise to a reciprocal obligation on all parties to Confederation to negotiate constitutional changes to respond to that desire.” This ability to initiate the process of constitutional amendment “is the responsibility of democratically elected representatives of the participants in Confederation,” which once again, is to say the provincial and national governments. “The corollary of a legitimate attempt by one participant in Confederation to seek amendments to the Constitution is an obligation on all parties to come to the negotiating table” (¶ 88).
The Court’s decision looks to be pretty clear. However, they also said that it was up to “political actors” to determine what constituted a clear majority on a clear question. The courts thus have no “supervisory role” in that political negotiation (¶ 100). The Clarity Act was supposed to provide some guidance in these matters. It did not, however, discuss amendments to any other parts of the Constitution except amendments dealing with secession. As a result, the Clarity Act does not provide a legal mechanism by which Alberta and Saskatchewan, even after putting to a referendum vote their desire to amend s.36, might oblige the other provinces and Ottawa to negotiate. Moreover, since the actual terms of the formula used to calculate payments have changed over the years, the argument would be made by Ottawa and the recipient or “have-not” provinces that no constitutional issues are involved anyhow. One might anticipate that Ottawa and the have-not provinces would be joined by Ontario – all in the name of “national unity, of course.
On the other hand, if a referendum on s.36 were linked to a referendum on secession in the (likely) event that initial negotiations regarding the equalization formula went nowhere, we can easily anticipate further political complications. Let us make a couple of simplifying assumptions: if there were no meaningful negotiations to change s.36 within arelatively short period, say three months, a second referendum, on secession, might be held. Such a constitutional two-step would be rather complex, but the threat of secession might be sufficient to inspire some serious negotiation for changes in the funding formula or even the spending power, which sustains it. Again, much would depend on the political leadership of Alberta and Saskatchewan and, while modifying the formula or amending or repealing s.36 might go some distance to restoring a sense of justice in the West, it would obviously not meet the requirement of independence.
Even if a referendum on independence were held, either in connection with an equalization referendum or not, there are further obstacles to consider. The first is that, under the Clarity Act, the House of Commons, not the province orprovinces holding the referendum, decides before the referendum whether the question is clear. The House of Commons also decides, after the vote on a notionally clear question had been held, whether there was a clear majority in favour of secession. Whatever the vote and whatever the question, and however clear the question and the vote may be to common-sense or to the voters, the House canalways “deem” things to be otherwise. Moreover, the Government of Canada can disallow or reserve any provincial legislation. That disallowance and reservation have not been used since 1943 and 1961 respectively suggests only that by convention these provisions of the Constitution are no longer in force and effect. It may be politically unwise for the Government of Canada to disallow a referendum on equalization, particularly if it were coupled to another referendum on secession, but that would be a political choice not a question of legal capacity. So: what then?
Then all bets are off because it would be clear as can be that the legal path to independence is a fraud. If Alberta and Saskatchewan and, for the sake of the argument, Manitoba as well, held referenda anyway they would be illegal and Canada would have no duty to negotiate. Such an impasse reinforces the contention made several times already that the problem of Western independence is political, not legal. So let us propose the following hypothetical: following an intensive and effective educational campaign detailing the long train of abuses suffered by the West, Alberta and Saskatchewan vote overwhelmingly (say, 95 percent) in favour of a straightforward question: do you wish Alberta and Saskatchewan (and perhaps other parts of the existing country of Canada) to be independent of Canada? Then what?
Let us be clear: this is uncharted territory and these observations are both speculative and hypothetical. The major assumption is that, for reasons already outlined, Canada will not negotiate any significant changes, either negative ones, such as changes to equalization, or positive ones that would encourage resource development, such as pipeline construction, withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, and so on. Under such circumstances, let us then consult Niccolo Machiavelli, the greatest modern political philosopher. One of his still pertinent observations, which was echoed in the Declaration of Independence, is that the experience of lengthy injustices by necessity leads to political action. More to the present point, in Chapter 12 of The Prince he argued that good arms make for good laws. This is the existential question alluded to above: where are our arms? Not in the Edmonton Garrison or the Alberta Sheriffs. In the absence of any agreement on how to divide the Canadian Forces along the lines contemplated with regard to Quebec secession, it is evident that the great weakness of the West is its lack of an army. This means that if Westerners are serious about independence we must have American assistance for the same reason that the Thirteen Colonies required the assistance of France. The implications of this Machiavellian necessity are significant. From the oil sands as a strategic North American petroleum reserve to the use of the third largest air base in the world at Cold Lake, Alberta, Westerners certainly have military bargaining chips to offer the Americans. Why wouldn’t we?
The penultimate paragraph of the Declaration of Independence recalls how often the Colonies had warned their “British brethren” against their extension of unwarrantable jurisdiction by Parliament. The colonists had by 1776 often appealed to the “native justice and magnanimity” no less than the anticipated pain of disrupting the close connections across the North Atlantic, but always to no avail. Since before the Confederation of Canada, Westerners have done the same regarding their imperial masters in London and then in Ottawa. Westerners may yet await their own Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or James Madison, and there can be no guarantee that one such will arrive. On the other hand, as the alternatives to independence are, by anticipation, successively forestalled by Laurentian Canada, the likelihood increases that Westerners will not resign themselves to the endless experience of “sufferable evils.” It seems to me that one way or another, the windows of opportunity to avoid the acceleration of sentiments in favour of independence are, one by one, shutting.
Barry Cooper is a professor at the University of Calgary
Unconditional: The Japanese Surrender in World War II
Clayton Trutor reviews “Unconditional”, dealing with the American/Allied politics in how to deal with Japan after the war.
Oxford University Press. 288 pages. $27.95.
As the Allied Powers approached victory in World War II, the foremost questions on their leaders’ minds centered on the particulars of the postwar settlement. These questions included the nature of surrender by the Axis powers, how would governments in these countries be constructed, and who would oversee their creation. This litany of concerns persisted well after the conclusion of hostilities. It was a source of intrigue both on the international front as well as inside the beltway in Washington. In Unconditional, Marc Gallachio describes in detail the intense debates within Washington’s corridors of power on how the United States ought to end its war with Japan.
Unconditional is a particularly timely account, published to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II—the response to this milestone anniversary has been decidedly muted in both the United States and Canada. It is also timely considering the shifting winds of foreign policy in Washington. The traditions of liberal internationalism (as embodied in this book by Truman and his allies) and conservative anti-interventionism (as embodied by his political opponents) have once again become the standard positions of the Democratic and Republican Parties, respectively. Gallachio, quite clearly, aligns himself with the interventionist tradition of Woodrow Wilson, which, at least until Election Day, will be the consensus view of foreign affairs among American progressives.
Gallachio focuses on the final two years of the war in the Pacific, tracing a path from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s promise at the January 1943 Casablanca Conference to bring about the unconditional surrender of the Axis Powers to Japan’s final surrender on the decks of the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. In this briskly-paced narrative, the author delves both into the debates within the White House as well as those on the editorial pages of the nation’s newspapers.
Conservatives within Truman’s administration, in Congress, and in the American press corps discouraged the new president from occupying Japan, removing the Emperor from power, or dismantling his Empire. In Truman’s cabinet, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson, a veteran of several Republican administrations, argued that the preservation of the emperor and a semblance of empire would serve as a stabilizing force in Japanese society. Moreover, he argued that the acceptance of a conditional surrender would enable the remains of the Japanese Empire to serve America’s interests as a counter to the Soviet Union’s suddenly aggressive pursuit of territory in the far-east.
New Dealers within the administration helped shape Truman’s approach to winning the peace with Japan. Then-assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson and U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall persuaded Truman to push for an unconditional Japanese surrender, which would serve as the starting point for full-on nation-building in the former empire. The author is clearly sympathetic to Truman’s decision. While empathizing with the gravity of the new president’s decisions to drop the atomic bombs, Gallachio endorses Truman’s choice to seek unconditional surrender, which kickstarted a process that remade Japan into a democratic county and durable American ally. Gallachio has little time for historians of the anti-interventionist left which arose in response to the Vietnam War, particularly those who have in retrospect called into question the wisdom of Truman’s approach to finishing off Japan. He even calls out Oliver Stone for having the gall in The Untold History of the United States (2012) to invoke Herbert Hoover’s assertion in May 1945 that Japan was ready to negotiate a settlement to the war, dismissing the former president as a mere “Roosevelt hater.”
Gallachio, who won the prestigious Bancroft History Prize in 2018 for co-authoring Implacable Foes: War in the Pacific, 1944-1945, is the perfect author for this account of the defeat of the Japanese Empire and its aftermath. He navigates the web of military and diplomatic maneuvering in this densely-packed historical moment with great know-how. Gallachio has a genuine knack for turning the secrets of the archives into a story.
Unconditional also offers a window into the making of Canada’s postwar foreign policy. Canada’s own nation-building, peacekeeping, and internationalist impulses are in large part a product of the historical moment described in Gallachio’s book. The decisions by the Liberal governments of Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent to ally strongly with the United States and play an active role in global affairs reflects their shared vision with Truman and his allies. Through active participation in pro-democracy international institutions, both America and Canada’s leadership class sought to bring to stability to the emerging Cold War world. It also makes more striking in retrospect the nerve shown by the subsequent Diefenbaker government in asserting Canadian sovereignty and independence from the United States in its foreign relations.
Clayton Trutor holds a PhD in US History from Boston College and teaches at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. He’d love to hear from you on Twitter: @ClaytonTrutor
Cabinet Sizes: Which provinces & parties have the biggest?
Germany has a cabinet the size of Manitoba’s, and the United States’ is smaller than those in Ontario, Quebec, B.C., and Alberta.
When it comes to cabinet size, biggest doesn’t always equal better. Truth be told, it appears to have little to do with public policy outcomes, and mostly to do with pure politics.
The Western Standard has compiled the cabinet sizes of all 10 Canadian provinces, the current Trudeau federal government, the previous Harper and Martin governments, and several other comparable countries.
The smallest cabinet in Canada – by several orders of magnitude – is Prince Edward Island. With Just 157,000 residents, it shouldn’t come as a shock that Islanders have fewer cabinet members than the City of Calgary has councillors: just 10. Because PEI’s population makes it such an outlier, we have excluded it from the provincial averages when comparing across Canada. This isn’t a dig at our green-gabled friends, but a compliment.
Small government ≠ small cabinets
First off, lets disabuse ourselves of any notation that “Conservative” governments – ostensibly believing in small government – practice small cabinets. Quite the opposite in fact.
The average provincial cabinet in Canada (less PEI) has 21 members sitting in it, driven by the two largest provinces, Ontario (28) and Quebec (27). This puts “conservative” governments exactly on the average, at 21, or 22 if we include the ill-defined Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ).
Liberals by contrast, have markedly smaller cabinets at 16 member. However this is due in large part to the only two nominally “Liberal” governments in Canada residing in relatively small Nova Scotia and Newfoundland (and Labrador).
Technically, the NDP score the largest average cabinet size at 24. But with just one provincial government, and located in populous BC, this is a difficult indicator to use as any kind of broad trend.
And again, technically the Conservatives have both the largest cabinet in Ontario (28), and the smallest in Prince Edward Island (10).
A more useful comparison than among parties is among regions and comparable populations.
Among the four largest provinces, cabinets average 26 members, putting Alberta and B.C. slightly below Ontario and Quebec. By that comparison, the “conservative” large provinces (including Quebec’s CAQ), score at the top, while the B.C.’s NDP comes in below at 24.
Among the mid-sized provinces (everything smaller than Alberta and larger than PEI), the cabinets average 17 members. In this club, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia all come in above, while Newfoundland is the outlier at just 14.
Conservatives also tend to score large cabinet numbers at the federal level as well, compared across administrations.
Justin Trudeau’s federal cabinet has a massive 36 members. What they all do, is anybody’s guess. But while Conservatives regularly define the Trudeau government as bloated, the last Harper cabinet totalled an eye-watering 39 members. While it was short-lived, Paul Martin’s final cabinet was – by Canadian standards – a trim 26 bodies.
But this is less about party, and more about a strange Canadian tradition. Canada’s cabinets – regardless of party – are traditionally out of all proportion compared internationally.
U.S. President Donald Trump manages his country – with 10 times Canada’s population – with just 21 cabinet members. Put another way, The United States of America functions with a smaller cabinet than Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta.
U.S. Presidents – unlike Canadian prime ministers and premiers- cannot simply conjure up new ministerial portfolios on a whim. New cabinet departments in the U.S. require the express consent of both houses of Congress, and so are much more stable in their number. Additionally, U.S. cabinet members are not drawn from the House of Representatives, and so there is less of a need to pay debts, placate factions, or satisfy troublemakers.
But even when compared with other similar parliamentary systems, Canada’s cabinets are bloated. The U.K. – with a population twice Canada’s – has a cabinet of 22 (or 26 depending on how it is counted). Germany – with two and a half times Canada’s population – has just 16 members of the cabinet. In Germany’s case, their government is made up of a grand coalition of three parties (centrists, moderate socialists, and Bavarian conservatives), which would create the political conditions for a larger cabinet to keep all sides happy. Even with such a larger population, a coalition government, and a parliamentary system, it’s cabinet is less than half that of Canada’s. Put another way, the most powerful nation in Europe makes do with a cabinet the size of Manitoba’s.
Bringing it back
The most remarkable conclusion to be gleaned from comparing Canada’s federal and provincial cabinets is their incredible size when compared with others outside of Canada. This goes back to the very foundations of confederation as Sir John A. MacDonald built his first cabinet.
When criticized for the weak composition of his front bench, he famously quipped, “Give me better wood, and I will make you a better cabinet.”
But MacDonald likely didn’t mean this. His cabinet – and all since – have had political necessity – not competence – as their primary determinant. In the political patchwork that was the early Dominion, MacDonald built his cabinet almost entirely based on ethnic, religious, and geographic considerations. A few spots for Upper Canada loyalist WASPs. A few spots for French Catholics. A little English-Catholic here, and little Irish-Catholic there. And don’t forget the regional kingpins.
Cabinet’s in Canada may look different today, but they are built the same way. Despite having a clear male-majority Liberal Caucus after being elected in 2015, Justin Trudeau appointed half of his cabinet to be women. When asked why, he did not say it was because the women in his caucus were proportionately more competent than his men. He said only, “Because it’s 2015.”
Liberals might read this as meaning that because it’s 2015, women should have equal representation as men. Conservatives mostly read into it that it was because the prime minister is an avowed feminist. More historically attuned critics would see it as the natural evolution of Canada’s hyper-demography focused cabinets.
Progressives regularly argue that Canada’s parliament should be a near-perfect demographic representation of Canada at-larger. That is, 50 per cent women, X per cent of Religion A, Y per cent of Race B. Ect.
While parties of all stripes manipulate nominations to achieve some level of artificial diversity, ultimately voters decide who goes to parliament, at least outside of safe seats. This leaves it to party leaders to fashion the demographically representative focus groups that we call cabinets.
The growing diversity of Canada has required prime ministers and premiers to concoct an ever greater list of ministerial portfolios to meet the demand of demographic mirroring. This often happens by splitting large ministries with clear mandates into much smaller ministries, often with little real power.
The political necessity of demographic mirroring also exists in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and most of the democratic world, but Canadian leaders make it an obsession.
In Alberta’s case, the social policy ministries could easily be folded into a single role. Instead, we have ministers for: Community and Social Services, Seniors and Housing, Children’s Services, Indigenous Relations, Culture, Multiculturalism & Status of Women, Mental Health & Addictions.
Less extreme, but still relevant, is the Minister of Natural Gas, despite already having a Minister of Energy, or the positions of Red Tape Reduction, Jobs, Economy and Innovation, when there is already a Minister of Finance.
The list is even longer at the federal level, but you probably get the point.
In short, cabinets in Ottawa and in the provinces have little to do with party, a bit to do with population, nothing to do with parliamentary system, and everything to do with the political necessity of demographic mirroring.
Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard and President of Wildrose Media Corp. firstname.lastname@example.org
McCOLL: Canada’s airforce replacement program getting it half right, half wrong
Alex McColl on how the very mixed bag of Canada’s airforce replacement programs.
On June 6, the Department of National Defence (DND) announced that the two oldest 1980s-era Bombardier VIP jets (the Challenger 601) would be replaced with a pair of new sole-sourced Bombardier Challenger 650 jets. The old Challengers no longer meet international civil aviation standards nor could they be affordably upgraded.
While some have criticized the Challenger fleet, Canadians should be proud of how much money the affordable Challengers have saved the taxpayer.
The United States Air Force (USAF) spends more on a single 8-hour Air Force One (a Boeing 747) flight than the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) spent on the governor general’s 109 Challenger flights between April 2011 and February 2014. That said, the Liberal government has taken a step backwards on the VIP jet file by missing an opportunity.
The Bombardier Global VIP jet can carry more people, can fly farther (over 11,000 km), and is a proven military platform. Finland is currently evaluating the new Bombardier/Saab GlobalEye as a component of Saab’s bid to replace Finland’s F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets. The Global is also the basis for the Bombardier/Saab Swordfish maritime patrol jet that is the leading contender to replace Canada’s aging CP-140 aircraft.
Canada needs to keep RCAF operating costs affordable while adding capabilities. A proven way to save money is to reduce the variety of jets in service. It would be better to replace all four Challengers with new sole-sourced Bombardier Global jets and six Bombarder/Saab GlobalEye airborne radar jets. The government should also announce that the CP-140 maritime patrol aircraft will be replaced in the 2030s by Bombardier/Saab Swordfish jets. This would both enhance our military capabilities while reassuring potential export customers that militarized Global jets are a safe investment.
On Tuesday June 16, the United States Government announced the approval of a foreign military sale to Canada of approximately $862.3 million (USD) worth of CF-18 upgrades and weapons. Phase one of Canada’s Hornet Extension Project will upgrade avionics and mission systems to extend the life of up to 94 CF-18s until 2032. Phase two will use the upgrades to enhance the combat capabilities of up to 36 CF-18s.
The upgrades quote includes fifty of the latest AIM-9X sidewinder missiles, twenty AGM-154C glide bombs, thirty-eight APG-79(v)4 AESA radars, thirty Improved Tactical Air Launched Decoys (ITALD), and a host of other upgrades to bring Canada’s CF-18A jets to an equivalent standard with the United States Marine Corps (USMC) F/A-18C Hornets. The Marines plan to upgrade 98 of their Hornets – 7 squadrons worth – with these systems between 2020 and 2022. The new radar is nearly identical to the APG-79 AESA radar found in the Super Hornet.
Phase one and the addition of the AIM-9X missile should be considered the bare minimum required to keep the CF-18 fleet flying to 2032, when Canada’s next fighter is scheduled to reach full operational capability. Phase two will offer significantly enhanced combat capabilities and give RCAF pilots some valuable experience with modern radars. The Department of National Defence (DND) released a budget estimate of $500 million for phase one of the Hornet Extension Project and a total cost – including phase two – of $1.3 billion.
All four of the candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada have promised to increase military spending. During the June 18th leadership debate, Dr. Lewis – the only candidate to not commit to a 2 per cent of GDP spending target – questioned the commitment of MacKay and O’Toole by pointing out that the Harper Government didn’t get it done despite its own commitment.
Even proponents of sole sourcing the F-35 – like Peter MacKay – should support the CF-18 phase two upgrade. The May 2020 United States Government Accountability Office report on the F-35 outlined issues and cost overruns that have delayed the availability of fully capable Block 4 F-35s until 2026.
This delay – combined with the fact that allied nations are already in the order queue – casts serious doubts on if Lockheed Martin could even meet Canada’s CF-18 replacement timelines. Lockheed Martin could deliver Block 3 aircraft, but that would impose considerable future upgrade costs on Canadian taxpayers. The rational course of action would be to delay an F-35 purchase until Block 4 jets are available.
If Conservatives are serious about rearming the RCAF and reaching Canada’s NATO spending targets, then they should demand that phase two of the Hornet Extension Project is fully funded and delivered on time. Conservatives should also push the Liberals to do more and replace the aging Challenger and CP-140 aircraft with a combined fleet of Bombardier Global based VIP, airborne radar, and maritime patrol jets.
Canada’s airforce fleet replacements – and the fighter replacement in particular – have been a morass of bureaucrat inertia and political interference, but the there is finally a glimmer of hope that they might get it right.
Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist with the Western Standard and a Canadian military analyst
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