Alberta knocking on Saskatchewan’s door? What might have been and what might be.
Story by Jacques Krzepkowski
There was talk 100 years ago of creating a new province in Western Canada. Some thought
one province would serve the interests of the regions, while eastern politicians were worried
about the power one big province would wield. Then-prime minister Wilfred Laurier was nervous
about creating one big western province — so he created two. He had good reason.
Today, Alberta is swimming in oil profits. The province is sitting on the largest underground
oil reserve in Canada and, combined with the northern oil sands, possibly the world. Though
many Albertans are happy to spend the revenues themselves, money can’t buy political
acknowledgment from Ottawa. Alberta doesn’t have the representation in the House of
Commons to protect its interests and doesn’t carry much weight at first ministers’ conferences.
Saskatchewan, on the other hand, is in serious trouble. Several summer droughts and the
BSE crisis of 2003 have hurt the province. Saskatchewan is nursing an $11-billion debt, and
it doesn’t look like it’s going to get paid off anytime soon. Without money from
natural resources or manufacturing, the province is finding itself in hard times despite
federal equalization payments that exceed $1-billion.
Knowing this, Albertans would probably not be convinced that a merger with Saskatchewan
would have been in their best interests. Oil revenues would have been divided between two
provinces, and they would have to get along somehow with an NDP provincial government. Unlikely.
But think of the future.
Scientists are confident the oil is going to run out. Albertans have deluded themselves
into thinking they will be populating a "have" province for the rest of eternity.
Though there isn’t accurate data on the amount of oil in Alberta, the wells will inevitably
run dry. Energy companies will have to turn away from fossil fuels and to other methods of
energy production. The many alternative energy sources currently in development would be
the obvious choices. Perhaps energy companies would look for a large, flat windy area in
which to set up wind turbines; or a similar flat area for solar panels; or perhaps just acre
upon acre of cornfields from which to produce ethanol.
Where in Canada could one find flat, windy farmland?
Saskatchewan would be Canada’s new energy supplier. No longer would young men and
women leave small-town Saskatchewan for Calgary. Regina would become a sprawling new metropolis,
with gold-plated skyscrapers and luxury Mercedes flying-pod dealerships (you didn’t
think we’d still be driving in 2205, did you?).
But if one big province had been created, none of this would be a problem. Big Province
(if we Albertans had a say, we’d probably call it Big Province) would still have the
largest oil reserve in the country and would be Canada’s "(alternative) energy
province" of the future. It would also contain the best farmland in Canada and the best
stage for a transition to cleaner sources of energy. The new region would have enough seats
in Parliament to have a stronger voice and its premier would have more power at first ministers’ conferences.
Big Province would be perhaps the only region in the world where the transition from fossil
fuels to clean energy would occur without financial loss. It would be one of the most powerful,
if not the most powerful, regions in Canada.
Of course, none of this was Laurier’s intention. And though Alberta and Saskatchewan
turned out to be two different provinces geographically and socially, they are certainly
aligned politically: against the Liberals.