Search this site powered by FreeFind

Quick Link

for your convenience!


Human Rights, Youth Voices etc.

click here


For Information Concerning the Crisis in Darfur

click here


Northern Uganda Crisis

click here


 Whistleblowers Need Protection



Twelve: Whither Reform

The West in Canada's Future

Earlier this year, I flew from Ottawa to Edmonton with a senior official from one of the larger federal departments. We had gone to university together, so I showed her a speech I was to give later that day entitled "The West in Confederation." It focussed in part on the dismal record of the federal procurement of services and products in the four western provinces. She came by later to say that while essentially she agreed with me about the injustice, there was nothing to be done about it.

"Why not?" I asked.

On further reflection, she recalled that an earlier minister of her own department had not only insisted that all purchases for the ministry be done on a regionally fair basis, but had actually made it happen.

In short, with enough political will at the top, present habits can be changed. All ministers and crown corporations, if directed by their political masters to begin making regional fairness an important part of their mandates, could achieve as much.

In my view -- to paraphrase the late Frank Scott -- a rendezvous to force Canada’s national institutions to fairly represent all regions will become the most important issue of national unity in the 1990’s. If, for example, government members continue the long-established practice on second reading of bills in the House of uttering speeches prepared by unelected officials, public respect for Parliament and possibly for Canadian democracy itself will decline. Changes to end this and a host of other practices inherent in "executive democracy," under which Westerners and others have chafed needlessly for decades, must occur with considerable speed.

The discipline applied by all three parties represented in the House of Commons is similar to that which existed in tiny Britain three centuries ago, when only a small portion of the population was represented in Parliament. One inevitable consequence of this discipline -- combined with prevailing notions of cabinet and caucus solidarity -- is that MPs from all parts of "Outer Canada" frequently end up defending cabinet or caucus decisions which virtually always favour Ontario and Quebec. In the case of the CF- 18 contract, we had the bizarre spectacle of western MPs from all three political parties defending Montreal as the best location for the work.

One means of reducing party discipline in the interest of greater fairness for every province would be to write into our constitution, as the West Germans have done in their Basic Law, that MPs and senators shall "not [be] bound by orders and instructions and shall be subject only to their conscience." Party discipline has certainly diluted this principle in West Germany, but when combined with another feature of their constitution -- that no chancellor can be defeated in their equivalent of our House of Commons unless a majority of the members simultaneously agree on a new person to become chancellor -- there appears to be a more independent role for members of West Germany’s Bundestag than for our Members of Parliament. An amendment to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons might remedy this but, given the major change this would entail for our parliamentary institutions, an amendment to the House of Commons Act would seem preferable.

Reforming the practices of our national political institutions could enhance the political equality of the ten million of us who live outside Ontario and Quebec. The key issue here is the confidence vote in the House of Commons because federal cabinets can still declare, following any lost vote, that they regard it as a confidence measure. Most observers agree that a government which loses a vote on an amendment to its Throne Speech, its budget, or any motion which specifically mentions non-confidence, has no real choice. In practice, however, a cabinet can still deem any lost vote, on even such a frivolous opposition motion as adjourning the House for a day, to have been a confidence issue. The result is a climate in which government and opposition MPs alike vote with their party leaders like sheep, as they have done for decades. The three party leaders could in effect today cast proxy votes on behalf of all of their Commons members for virtually all matters arising in the House other than private members’ bills.

Long overdue reform in this area would allow MPs to vote according to their constituents’ interests on all but genuine confidence matters, knowing that a defeat would bring down only the measure and not the government. It would reduce the suffocating nature of present discipline in all parties. Apologists for the Canadian status quo will counter, of course, that tight party discipline is necessary if the fused legislative and executive branches of government in Canada are to function effectively. In fact, the most important reason for this vise-like habit is that it makes life easier for the leaders of opposition and government parties in Canada. If discipline on votes were relaxed all MPs from all political parties, including those from all parties in Western Canada. would have an opportunity to put their constituents’ interests first in Commons votes.

Experts attest that Canada now has the most extreme party discipline among the world’s 55 or 56 genuine democracies. What a distinction for a country with our size, diversity, and regional pride!

Our unloved Senate will either have to be reformed through the Meech Lake process or abolished altogether. It no longer meets the needs of all the regions in our federal parliament. In any self-respecting industrial democracy, 104 appointees-for-life cannot pretend to fulfil a legislative role jointly with an elected House of Commons. Senators having no electors represent either themselves alone, or more often in practice their political parties in Parliament. The argument that an elected Senate with equal representation from each province would give us two elected houses and thus be incompatible with the principle of responsible government is superficially persuasive. On balance, however, I prefer the view that only an elected Senate, with the political clout to dispute when necessary the decisions of a government supported by the House of Commons, can satisfy the original intent of the Fathers of Confederation: a second chamber must counterbalance the weight of the Commons by safeguarding the legitimate interests of Canadians in the less populous provinces.

I support the concept of a Triple-E Senate: an elected body with effective powers and equal representation from each province. If this proves unacceptable to the legislatures of Quebec and Ontario on the grounds that six senators from each province would give to each resident of Prince Edward Island the same weight as 51 Quebeckers, or 72 Ontarians, a compromise suggested by the Ottawa philosopher Theodore Garrets seems reasonable. He proposes a Senate of 132 elected senators broken down as follows: Western Canada, Yukon and Northwest Territories -- 44, Ontario and Quebec--44, Atlantic Canada-- 34, Native peoples-- 10. Our western and eastern provinces would thus have more senators than representation proportional to population would provide, and the third "E" would mean "equitable" instead of "equal." Even such a senate would improve Canadian federal democracy significantly.


Over the decades and around the world, Canadian government officials have given stirring speeches about justice in North-South relations, peace-keeping, human rights and a host of other issues. At the same time, the national policies of federal governments in our own country since Sir John A. Macdonald have fostered anything but a regionally just community in Canada itself.

Consider the following illustrations which strike me as unacceptable practices of successive national governments, the bodies from which all Canadians should expect scrupulous regional fairness:

Regional Development

The 1986/87 figures for Ottawa’s Industrial and Regional Development Program (IRDP) indicate that our four western provinces received only 77 of 850 projects across the entire country. This amounted to $18.8 million, which was 9.1 percent of the total spent on major programs. On both population and regional unemployment bases, this was outrageous. The figures for 1987/88 evidently show a considerable improvement for the West, but reform is long overdue for all the regions outside the Windsor to Quebec City corridor. The Western Diversification Strategy and Atlantic Development Corporation are steps in the right direction, partly because they are placing more economic decision-making in the hands of people in the two affected regions. Left to themselves, generations of Ottawa policy-makers have all but forgotten that some parts of "Outer Canada" exist.

Federal Procurement

The various federal departments spent approximately $8.1 billion during fiscal year 1986/87 on goods and services. The four western provinces, with about 30 percent of the national population, received only about 11.5 percent of these procurements by total dollar amount. Only about 12 percent of Canada Post Corporation’s goods and services, for example, were purchased in Western Canada.

Atlantic Canada, with about 10 percent of the population, received only about 7 percent of all federal dollars spent on goods and services in 1986/87. Ontario and Quebec received fully 76 percent of the dollar totals of these procurements.

This state of affairs, which appears to have persisted for many years, was defended on the basis that Western and Atlantic Canadians just do not produce the right kind of goods and services. According to the best information I can obtain, between 45 and 55 % of federal procurements now consist of services. In the case of Western Canada, a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study indicated that well over 50 percent of us are employed in the service sector (B.C. 66%; Alberta -- 54%; Saskatchewan -- 59%; Manitoba -- 66%). Westerners are thus entitled to a fairer share of federal procurements both in services and in products. Only the political will to make it happen is missing.

Again, the procurement situation has reportedly improved for the West from 11 to 13 percent in 1987/88, but there is much room for additional improvement. If the West received 30 percent of federal procurements of $8 billion instead of even 13 percent, another $1.4 billion annually would be spent in Western Canada. Basic fairness in this area would of course help get a lot of unemployed Western Canadians back to work.

Crown Corporations

As of 1986, there were 53 federal crown corporations thought important enough to be "scheduled." Only 16 of the 53 have their head offices outside the two central provinces. Why, for example, does the federal Farm Credit Corporation, which evidently does most of its business west of Ontario, continue to have an Ottawa head office? Why is a good deal of the Energy Department not located in Alberta? Or the Energy section of the Canadian International Development Agency? Why isn’t the Asia-Pacific section of the Canadian International Development Agency located in B.C.? And why isn’t part of our federal environmental department located in the environmentally vulnerable provinces of Prince Edward Island and British Columbia?

Telefilm, our so-called national film and television production agency, is located in Montreal. When I telephoned its head office in 1987, I was told that Telefilm had financed 22 films in the previous twelve months, 14 in English, 8 in French. How many of these were done outside Ontario and Quebec? One - in Halifax. It is possible that no-one else applied from outer Canada, but is that likely? The chairman of Telefilm indicated that the current administrative budget for the organization’s western office was $185,214, which was 1.6 percent of its national administration budget.

Our larger federal crown corporations which spend an estimated $14 billion yearly on goods and services should show exemplary national fairness. In late 1987, I wrote to the chief executive officers of most of them inquiring what portion of their employees lived in Western Canada and what percentage of their goods and services purchases were made in the region. Some disturbing information came back from those who replied Twenty-five percent of Air Canada’s employees lived in Western Canada, compared to our roughly 30 percent share of the national population. During 1986, Air Canada bought only 12.7 percent of its goods and services in the region. Canadian National conceded that two-thirds of its freight business originated and/or terminated in the West, but only about 37 percent of its employees lived in the region, and that overall it made only 25 to 28 percent of its purchases in the West. It contends that railroading in Western Canada is somehow less labour-intensive than it is in the East. VIA Rail, while admitting that 17 of its 22 Canada tours now featured western and northern destinations, said that only 19 percent of its employees were Westerners. Only 23 percent of Ports Canada employees lived in the West, although 42 percent of its overall operating expenses and 46 percent of its capital expenditures originated in the region.

The Federal Business Development Bank founded to assist business in every part of Canada is clearly not fulfilling its regional mandate. Its 1987 annual report indicates that the prairie provinces received much less of the bank’s money than their populations would warrant. Alberta received only 4.9% of $862 million disbursed by the FBDB, Saskatchewan 2.4% and Manitoba 2%, while Quebec received 35.7% and Ontario 23.3% of the money.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is doing reasonably well in the West in employment (26 percent of total employees live here), but less impressively in procurement (only 13 percent of its furniture and equipment are purchased in this region). The National Research Council has a dismal record. Seven percent of its employees are living in the West and it made only 16 percent of its entire 1986/87 expenditures here. Defence Construction Canada locates 25 percent of both its employees and expenditures in the West. The Export Development Corporation has only 13 of its approximately 500 employees living in Western Canada, all 13 living in either Vancouver or Calgary.

The Canadian Commercial Corporation, on the other hand, is now making more of an effort to be national in perspective. Western suppliers of goods and services to foreign governments through the CCC amounted to only 8 percent of the total number of Canadian suppliers in 1983/84, but by 198 6/87 were up to 19 percent. The dollar amounts of the purchases by region would, of course, be a more meaningful indicator. The agency admits that its recent improvement might be linked to adding a number of western suppliers to its source list since 1983.

Ottawa’s Dollars

Fortunately, regional justice is a growing concern of academics who have come to realize that an unemployed British Columbian, Newfoundlander, or northern Ontarian must have more justice from Ottawa than has been the practice over the decades. Western and Atlantic Canadians paid for the old national policy in considerable measure and we believe it is now our turn to be its net beneficiary. More affirmative action is needed for all unfavoured regions.

Robert Mansell of the University of Calgary brings some disturbing statistics to public attention. In the period between 1961 and 1985, the difference between what different provincial residents gained or lost from Ottawa per capita can be expressed as follows:





British Columbia










New Brunswick


Nova Scotia


Prince Edward Island




As a result of all federal taxation and spending during the 1961-85 period, each Alberta resident, adults and children included, contributed $1,956 more to the wellbeing of fellow citizens in other provinces than that resident received.

To be sure, prairie Canada was helped a great deal by other Canadian provinces during the Depression. Dollars and cents do not make a great country, nor should they, but we should not ignore them in seeking greater regional equality in the future. What I, Mansell, and so many others seek is a new national policy which for once will recognize the problems of regions, problems that were peripheral to the old national policy which was so successful in strengthening and diversifying the central economies. As Mansell puts it, "For over one hundred years, national policies have on balance served to strengthen the centre; it is now time for a fundamental shift to national policies aimed at strengthening the regions." I agree completely.

Our private sector, including the print and electronic media, is obviously much more difficult to deal with than government is in a free society, and one can hardly condemn its members when agencies of the national government can get away for so long with blatant regional discrimination. Two executives of a large Canadian company came to my office in early 1988 as part of a campaign to enlist the support of Western MPs for a defence contract on which they were tendering. The presentation included their excellent record in the West, and it was convincing in other respects as well, until I happened to ask how many of their 12,000 or so employees lived in the region. "Six hundred," was the limp reply. If moral suasion, common sense and a sense of fairness will not produce change here, a new criterion for awarding large federal government contracts might be the bidder’s record as a corporate citizen from a regional performance standpoint. Companies such as the one cited would then lose points until their regional acts were cleaned up.

A better remedy is obviously more goodwill by individual decision-makers of all national firms. A consequence of changing some public and private mind-sets here would be a better and fairer Canada in which Canadians everywhere felt their opportunities to be approximately equal, regardless of where they happen to have been born or chose to live. A stronger and more stable "Outer Canada" would be one which could buy more goods and services from Central Canadians. If Toronto were not the centre of so much of our public, private and voluntary sectors, its stratospheric living costs would cease to be a "national crisis" for corporations and institutions transferring employees there.

The western region’s overall experience in Confederation to date can be described as buoyancy and confidence encountering continuous disappointment at the hands of outsiders. Full economic and political equality with Ontario and Quebec continues to elude the region even as the twentieth century rapidly disappears.

This book was written in order to provide a basis for an understanding of the West, and to give a clear picture of the causes underlying our regional discontent. The events and issues outlined here will give, I hope, a better focus to the West’s perception of itself and of our place in Confederation. History shows that Westerners have attempted within the framework of existing institutions to make our voices heard in Ottawa, yet have failed to achieve political and economic equality with Central Canada. Western alienation is, alas, alive and well.

What is the remedy? Major institutional changes are clearly required, but the major obstacle is probably the ongoing indifference of government and private sector policy-makers in Central Canada. Westerners seek major changes on both the attitudinal and institutional fronts. We believe strongly that our region is vital to Canada. Our experience indicates that democratization of our national institutions is long overdue. We have developed a truly multicultural and confident society. We wish neither to dominate nor to be dominated as a region, and we ask nothing that we don not also seek for our fellow citizens in every part of the country.

How long can a large bloc of Canadians continue to feel alienated, frustrated and impotent? This question is not rhetorical; it demands answers now. The West wants changes and insists on being heard. Its voice is growing stronger, its discontent is becoming more visible and articulate. The time has come to address a long-standing injustice and bring the West into equal partnership with all other regions of the country. Political, economic and cultural equality is the means of ending western alienation.

Western Canadians from Kenora to Nanaimo are seeking only fair play for everyone from our national government and institutions. We want every Canadian to be treated as well as those in the Central Provinces, but we need full recognition of our region’s contribution and potential. We expect to be full players. The old national policy created diversified, stable and strong communities in Central Canada; a new national policy must do the same thing for the rest of the country. Western Canadians have achieved much for Canada and we can, if given a fair chance, help make it a place where every young person from sea to sea will believe that opportunities in life are equal regardless of where one happens to be born. Could not this be a goal of Western Canadians generally for the final years of the 20th century?

Western and other reformers across Canada cannot afford to be short of either wind or goodwill. Indifference is the real enemy of those seeking regional justice. To quote Nobel Laureate Eli Wiesel’s words in another context, indifference is "the worst disease that can contaminate a society; evil is not the worst; indifference is the worst....indifference is the end." Combatting this form of inertia in all of its manifestations is a cause worthy of the best efforts of Western Canadians. It is the purpose of this book.


Home Books Photo Gallery About David Survey Results Useful Links Submit Feedback