Friday, August 9, 2013

Vancouver Islanders Hope to Be Canada’s 11th Province, and Its Greenest

Some residents of Canada’s southwesternmost flank, British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, are hoping to make their large, lush land mass the newest province, to accompany the 10 others and the three territories of the Arctic.

This June, two environmental activists, Laurie Gourlay and Scott Akenhead launched something called the Vancouver Island Province Initiative.  (Akenhead is president of the Mid-Island Sustainability and Stewardship Initiative, of which Gourlay is also a member.)  At the moment, it is merely a website (see it here), but petitions to the federal Parliament in Ottawa and the B.C. provincial parliament in Victoria are already being prepared.  They aim to establish the island as its own province by May 16, 2021, which is the 150th anniversary of B.C.’s accession to the Canadian federation.

... and maybe to Canada’s 11th province, as well.
Unlike, say, the movement for the vast northern reaches of Ontario to secede as a separate province, the Vancouver Island provincehood movement comes from the left of the political spectrum, not the right.  In particular, the environmental movement in B.C. in particular and in Canada generally has been galvanized of late by plans by Enbridge, Inc., to build a Northern Gateway Pipeline to bring natural gas from Alberta’s tar sands to the ecologically and economically sensitive inlets around Kitimat, B.C., in the province’s northern mainland coast.  Vancouver Island itself, which is often called simply “the Island” by British Columbians, is no stranger to environmental activism either.  It was here, at Clayoquot Sound in the 1990s, that environmental groups and multi-national timber corporations held a standoff over the very survival of the Island’s vast temperate rainforests.  On both the coasts and the mainland, First Nations people have also been at the forefront of this kind of activism.

Vancouver Island used to be separate, as students of Canadian history know.  Before there was a Canada, in 1849, the British Colony of Vancouver Island was created, as part of the resolution of the long-simmering question of who—the Americans or the British—would control the Oregon Country and points north.  In 1866 it was merged into the Colony of British Columbia, which was then just the mainland, with a capital at New Westminster, now a suburb of the mainland’s largest city—also called, confusingly, Vancouver.  Vancouver Island’s capital, Victoria, became the capital of the new amalgamated colony, which joined the four-year-young independent dominion of Canada in 1871.

The old Oregon Country (not too dissimilar in its boundaries from today’s “Cascadia”)
Over the years there have been several attempts to redraw the region’s boundaries.  In the 1950s and ’60s, B.C.’s far-right premier, W. A. C. “Wacky” Bennett, wanted B.C. to leave Canada, and to take the Yukon Territory with it.  Starting very seriously in the 1990s, B.C.’s First Nations people began challenging the legitimacy of the Canadian and B.C. state structures by pointing out that no treaties had ever been signed for the vast majority of the province’s territory, thus making it, according to constitutional-level documents like the Royal Proclamation of 1763, unceded Indian territory illegally occupied by Canada.  And a mostly symbolic environmentalist movement to create an independent nation of Cascadia, consisting at the very least of Oregon and Washington, often includes B.C. in its aspirations as well.  (The idea is far more popular in Oregon and Washington than in B.C.)

The flag of Cascadia
If Vancouver Island did secede, it would be Canada’s second-smallest province, after Prince Edward Island, but, with more than a quarter-million people, it would just nudge past New Brunswick to become the eighth-most-populous.  It would also have more than six times as many people as Canada’s three territories—Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon—put together.  After the loss of Vancouver Island, B.C. would still retain its position as the third-largest province, behind Ontario and Quebec.

More significantly for its prospects, it would become one of the most left-leaning and environmentally-minded provinces.  It would probably take a far more aggressively line in enhancing First Nations sovereignty and protecting natural systems from corporate pillage.  In line with that, it would be able to be far more dependent on tourism than on the resource-extraction industries like mining, pipelines, and especially timber that characterize the mainland economy.  Vancouverites—people of the City of Vancouver, that is, on the mainland—are likely to fight the secession if it ever becomes a serious concern.  Without the Island, the left-leaning city will need to work harder to push progressive policies past the conservative interior of the province.  Much of the arid southern interior is ranchland, with a Wild West feel and more in common with Alberta (“the Texas of Canada”) than with the coasts.

Wet’suwet’en environmental activists in northern B.C. last year
As indicated, it is already confusing that the City of Vancouver is not on Vancouver Island.  Without Vancouver Island and Victoria, what remains of B.C. would be tempted to make Vancouver its new capital, but just to avoid further confusion it might make sense to give New Westminster its day in the sun.  Then again, Vancouver Island might choose an indigenous name for itself.  But that would mean deciding which of the island’s many indigenous Salish and Wakashan languages would be so privileged.  A linguistically hybrid name, like that of Burkina Faso, is one possibility.

There is also the question of who else might decide to join the new province.  The Queen Charlotte Islands, now renamed Haida Gwaii, whose indigenous Haida nation is often at the forefront of environmental activism, is one candidate.  So might be a number of the smaller islands, from the Georgia Strait near Vancouver and Victoria all the way to the large islands of Tsimshian territory to the north.

Would Haida Gwaii, for example, be better off in B.C.,
in the Province of Vancouver Island, or even on its own?
Since it used to be its own colony, Vancouver Island already has—or had—its own flag.  With its prominent Union Jack in the canton, it would need revising.

Vancouver Island’s flag when it was a separate colony, from 1849 to 1866.
I recommend some sort of First Nations design—the route chosen by Nunavut with its flag (see below).  After all, Vancouver Island’s indigenous people, and those of the B.C. and Alaska coasts more generally, have one of the most robust and distinctive graphic-arts traditions in the world.

Nunavut’s flag
But it would be very hard to top the stunning design that British Columbia itself chose for itself in 1960.

British Columbia’s current flag
That flag alone might be worth staying in B.C.  Eh?

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]

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