Friday, February 7, 2014

“Western Canada” Separatists Throw in the Towel

It ended quietly.  On January 28th, Canada’s electoral commission officially delisted the Western Block Party (W.B.P.) as a registered political party after it failed to raise the 250 necessary signatures.  Originally founded in the 1980s as the Western Concept Party, the Western Block advocated the secession of Canada’s four southwesternmost provinces—British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba—as a separate nation, generally envisioned under the name West Canada or Western Canada.  A Republic of Western Canada, with under 10 million people, would be the 12th-largest country in the world and an oil-exporting giant.

Doug Christie, wearing his trademark 37.85411784-liter hat
The W.B.P.’s founder, who died in March 2013, signaling the decline of the movement, was Doug Christie, a Winnipeg-born attorney in Victoria, B.C., who became notorious for defending neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, and others in free-speech cases.  In the United States, this would be considered a moral stance, but in Canada, where most citizens are content to have their government decide which kinds of political speech are acceptable, the public presumes that only those with actual far-right sympathies would take on such a case.  Christie, though he swore up and down he was not a neo-Nazi, was indeed an ultra-conservative, and he tapped into many of the resentments rural western Canadians tend to have for government, urbanites, East Coasters, indigenous people, and, of course, French Canadians.  In fact, Western Canadian separatism has tended to rise and fall with separatism in Quebec.  But now, even though Québécois nationalism is on a bit of an upswing, with the Parti Québécois (P.Q.) in power in that province, it has taken on an intolerant, Islamophobic tinge (as discussed in this blog).  Maybe it is harder to rouse Francophobia on the prairies when Canadian sovereigntists tack hard to the right.  Or maybe it turned out to be only Christie that was holding the W.B.P. together, and that Western Canada never really made sense as an idea for a separate nation.  It’s also true that the rise of western-based Tea Party–style movements like the Reform Party in the 1990s stole a lot of votes from western separatists.

One proposal for a partitioned Canada.
Something tells me Newfies won’t like this plan.
Another separatist party, the Western Canada Independence Party (W.C.I.P.) (a.k.a. Western Canada Party, or W.C.P.), fizzled out in the late 1980s, though it still has some branch operations at the provincial level.  Its vision was a new nation consisting of the four western provinces listed above, plus the territories of Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.  This would leave nothing in Canada but Quebec, Ontario, and the Maritimes.  The W.C.I.P. plan made even less sense than the W.B.P.’s.  If Christie and the W.B.P. had erred in thinking that the liberals of Vancouver and Victoria, B.C., would share the conservative views of Albertans and Saskatchewanites, it was a bigger error to think that the indigenous voters who dominate Canada’s north would be a good fit too.

The current flag of Alberta
There have been other separatist movements in western Canada.  The Separation Party of Alberta (S.P.A.) changed its name last year to the Alberta First Party and no longer makes independence a major part of its platform.  Alberta, with its oil riches and large religious conservative population (including communities of Mormons descended from those fleeing persecution in the U.S. in the 19th century), has earned it the name “the Texas of Canada.”  Its natural resources guarantee that it would be economically viable on its own, though landlocked.

The flags of Vancouver (the city), Canada, and B.C.
And in the 1950s and ’60s, British Columbia’s far-right-wing premier, W. A. C. “Wacky” Bennett, wanted to make B.C. its own nation—and take Yukon with him when he pulled out of the union.  Today, B.C. is politically divided between its liberal coastal rainforests and cities and its conservative interior deserts and tundra.

The sun finally set
on W. A. C. “Wacky” Bennett
What is left of active separatism in western Canada is actually mostly left-wing, not right-wing.  Last year (as reported at the time in this blog) saw the emergence of the Vancouver Island Province Initiative (V.I.P.I.), which aims to make the large island that contains B.C.’s capital, Victoria, into Canada’s 11th province.  Another group, the Sovereign State of Vancouver Island Party (S.S.V.I.P.), wants to take the island, which has long been ground-zero of the environmentalist and indigenous battle against clearcut logging, into its own republic.  In some ways it is an outgrowth of the quixotic, ecology-based movement to create an independent Cascadia from (in one common version) B.C. plus the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington.  But these movements are even more fringe than the W.B.P. once was.

This was the flag of Vancouver Island,
when it was a separate British colony in pre-Canada days.
For now, at least, whatever happens in Quebec, Canada’s western flank is likely to stay in one piece.  A regional feeling of nationhood never really did gel.  There was never even an agreed-upon flag.  Look at the “Republic of Western Canada” swag pictured at the top of this article.  The only flag shown is a Union Jack.  It’s as if all the movement could come up with as a distinguishing cultural feature was: “French not spoken here.”

Related articles:
“Quebec Cracks Down on Crimes against the State—Like Playing Hopscotch in English” (November 2011)
“Which Part of Wet’suwet’en Territory Don’t They Understand?” (November 2012)
“Vancouver Islanders Hope to Be Canada’s 11th Province—and Its Greenest” (August 2013)
“Separatists Challenge Canadian Tolerance with Proposed Islamic-Headscarf Ban” (September 2013)

[You can read more about West Canada, Vancouver Island, and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

1 comment:

  1. A number of us westerners feel the 4 western provinces and western territories should separate, as its tiring to hear how we have to support the so called have-not Provinces. The west has enough natural resources to be able to establish a very diverse and profitable economy.


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