Separatist tendencies in Canada: Their origins, development, and future (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
Outside Quebec, separatism has never been a major tendency. Although the Western Canadian province of Alberta, and Western Canada in general, has felt a great deal of alienation from so-called "Central Canada" (i.e., Ontario and Quebec), its dissent has rarely taken the form of outright separatism. There were indeed small marginal parties calling for a "Western Federation" – but anti-federalist sentiment in the West mostly took the form of the Reform Party – a party which existed only at the federal level and hoped to win power in Ottawa in order to change the federal system.
Although there have been occasional expressions of separatist feelings in the Atlantic region, the Atlantic provinces are recipients of large amounts of federal aid, and as a result are rather strongly behind the federal government.
During the period of the right-leaning Mike Harris government in Ontario (1995-2002), there was some talk among the Left, which largely dominates the city of Toronto, that Toronto should secede from Ontario, and be recognized as Canada's "eleventh province." However, once the Liberal Party won the Ontario election in 2003, this talk has mostly subsided.
It is unlikely that such large immigrant groups as the Chinese or the South Asians are going to seek separatist solutions – they are more likely to work within the federal system for their own benefit. However, the claims of some Muslim immigrants for shari'a law in Canada could be seen as amounting to a non-territorial separatism.
It could be argued that the federal government has today mostly become a vehicle for regnant left-liberalism in Canada. For example, Canada was the third country in the world (after Holland and Belgium) to recognize "same-sex marriage." It could be argued that some kind of "regionalization" or "provincialization" or "cantonization" may be the most natural solution to Canada's various separatist and regionalist dilemmas – where the provinces or regions would have jurisdiction over most issues at the local level. Stephen Harper's brief talk about "Belgian-style federalism" and the sentiments expressed by Mario Dumont, the leader of a smaller, centre-right party in Quebec (the Action democratique du Quebec – ADQ) -- that he would want Quebec to be called "the autonomous state of Quebec" may be attempts – however clumsy – to try to give voice to a "regionalist scenario" future for Canada. Gilles Duceppe, the leader of the BQ – though blatantly ignoring the reality of the new European "superstate" – had also invoked the older European Common Market idea of an "economic union of sovereign states" as a possible model for the Americas.
Should Harper's Conservative majority in Ottawa manifestly fail to make headway in enacting major reforms of the Canadian system, devolutionist scenarios will likely make an appearance among disenchanted Conservative voters. Ironically, increased decentralization is probably what the Quebec nationalists want as well, so these scenarios may point the way to a path where Canada might actually become a more "rooted" federation in its constituent parts.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.