This has been a crazy couple of weeks in our politics and let’s face it, we’re in a very fraught time. There are lots of tensions out there, lots of angry words being shared and many fault lines coming back to the surface. Many of the responses to that haven’t been constructive, and really our political leaders own a lot of that at the moment. This hasn’t been our brightest moment, that’s for sure.
In the past we’ve seen documents come out that express the frustrations that some are feeling, declarations that start conversations. Sometimes they are constructive, other times not. We can point to older examples like the Firewall Letter or one of the most recent ones on the progressive side of the fence, the Leap Manifesto. Yesterday we saw another document come out that falls in that historic vein from Alberta, one that has gotten some people talking at least:
I know that many people on social media are having a good chuckle at this document, those who are proposing it and alike. I get that, I do. Some of the comments in this document are over the top and really this is much more of a political statement than a workable path forward. There are some ideological inconsistencies of note that jumped out at me, the big one of those being their suggestions around the Parliamentary Press Gallery. The four Conservative MPs who are moving this forward have spent the better part of the last year attacking the Trudeau Liberals for trying to save the national media, saying they are meddling in an independent press. Yet now they are suggesting, directly, meddling in the independent press. There are threads of that kind of logic running through out this.
There are also some rhetorical statements in here that are not much more than recycled Conservative talking points, like the statement about acknowledging “in the House of Commons, the devastation the National Energy Program caused to the people of Alberta.” That is a bit of histrionics there for sure, but more to the point, that isn’t a serious suggestion or request. It’s just not, period.
Frankly, it’s hyperbolic statements like that one that actually undercut what are some actual, serious points for discussion that are suggested in this document. While this declaration is dripping in partisanship, there are issues raised in there that are worthy of discussion, some which have been around for a long time. The longest standing of those would be the Senate and its structure. I agree the idea that this chamber is so heavily weighted towards one region of the country over another is not workable in 2020, that’s a legitimate point of debate. I would argue the solution is just to do away with it, if we’re going to be dabbling in constitutional matters anyway, but the point does stand and is worthy of serious discussion.
There are other points in there too that are valid. The point about the location of the civil service, and how Ottawa-centric it is, is a very valid one. In this age of the internet and virtual workplaces, why can’t more government departments be spread out across the country? Why can’t some of these people who make these decisions be closer to the communities they serve or the industries they oversee? That is another legitimate point of discussion. The current structure of the Equalization program is another, and the current government is looking at that and acting on that very idea.
But while there are ideas worthy of discussion in that document, they are drowned out by the partisan hyperbole in its language and tenor. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising in this day and age, but it is what it is. I would also argue that this document is hurt by another of its features; while it is about western concerns & wants understanding for western issues, it shows no sympathy or understanding for those in the rest of the country. I’m not saying I don’t understand why that would happen, but I’m saying that if you’re wanting to have a conversation about the very structure of our democracy and government, it can’t simply be a discussion about meeting the needs of only one region. I would argue that a greater discussion should take place about our structures across the board.
While I agree that concerns about the concentration of political power around two provinces is legitimate, I would also argue that within those provinces power is very concentrated too. I know many people in Northwestern Ontario who would describe Ontario in the same way that this group describes Canada, and I’ve met some in Northern Quebec who make the same arguments about their province. If we’re going to start a conversation about what our country looks like, why not have a bigger discussion? Think of this fact; Canada is geographically bigger and more diverse than our American neighours, but while they are divided into 50 states, we are divided into 10 provinces and 3 territories. Are some of our provinces chopped up too big? Maybe we don’t need 50 provinces, but would our country work better if the provinces were smaller and better able to respond to their regional needs? Would the Greater Toronto Area be better off as its own province? As this declaration points out, the lines that make up our provincial borders were not drawn to suit the demands of the locals but the needs of others, so if we’re going to go into this discussion, why not put that on the table too?
Now I’m not arguing for or against any of those things, but that just makes the point about where I believe this declaration leaves things short. Yes the declaration is about their specific regional demands, but if you want to have a conversation about structural changes & aren’t willing to talk about the whole, I would argue it doesn’t really address the issues, or at least not in the most effective ways.
In the meantime, I wouldn’t expect the Buffalo Declaration to go anywhere. Really, I expect it to become more like the Conservative version of the “Leap Manifesto”, which I don’t think is a comparison those moving it would want. I make it because like Leap, while there are some worthy ideas worth discussing and looking at, the hyperbolic statements, strong language and lack of wider vision makes it so very hard for the wider public to take it as seriously as they would like. As it is written right now, this is more of a venting declaration than a constructive document that could offer solutions, which I think is sad. There are some concepts and ideas in there that are worth discussing as a nation, but those are taking a back seat to the political language of the moment. And because of that, it’s likely not going to get the result that they want.