So, what are we first – Canadians or British Columbians? Not a question to be answered in a hurry – and not easy to answer honestly, even after due and ponderous consideration.
It was Dave Barrett back in the early 1970s who first posed the question to me while sitting in the lobby of some obscure motel in the Interior chatting about nothing in particular and everything in general. “How do you think of yourself? As Canadian first and British Columbian second, or the other way ‘round?”
When I opted for Canadian first he said he did too, but that it was sometimes difficult when talking to Ottawa about things that could be of benefit to Canada, but not so good for British Columbia. His predecessor, W.A.C. Bennett, had run into the same problem once lamenting that BC was a goblet being drained by a ruthless federal government. But, complaining loudly, he never wavered in his loyalty to the greater good.
I’ve been thinking about that old conundrum since new BC Premier John Horgan announced his government would use every tool available to deny Kinder Morgan and Alberta oil access across BC to a Pacific port outlet. The federal government – Canada – has already approved the project, and next door neighbour Alberta and its NDP government are begging for the project’s economic boost in the toughest of times.
But, political brother and sisterhoods notwithstanding, British Columbia’s New Democrats are saying that while they understand the benefits that could accrue elsewhere, the project presents a serious threat to British Columbia’s rugged, but beautiful coast line. They argue that First Nations’ rights have not been fully addressed and increased oil tanker traffic in the relatively confined waters from Vancouver to the open ocean would be a clear and present danger to BC.
Andrew Weaver, leader of the three Green hitchhikers who promised Premier Horgan a road map to power if he would guarantee them a say in key environmental matters, has categorically forecast the result with the boast: “The pipeline will never be built.”
With Weaver’s sword of Damocles (the Green Party’s controlling votes in the Legislature) hanging over his head, Premier Horgan is seemingly being instructed that Green desires will take precedence over national government policy – or else!
When Canada became a country 150 years ago, our First Prime Minister John A. Macdonald told new Dominion of Canada statesmen: “Let us be English or let us be French – and above all else let us be Canadian.” It was advice we all heeded a few years ago when a few Quebec politicians decided they wanted out of Confederation, but the people of Quebec – with rest of Canada pleading with them not to break our country apart – rejected the separatists’ plea. They were Canadians first, Quebecers second.
Premier Horgan has said his aim is to get the best deal for British Columbia. That is an objective to be praised and supported as long he remembers, as should we all, “above all else” to be loyal to the province we call home, but remain Canadians first.