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Was a Saskatchewan premier responsible for east/west political discord?

Ron Walter discusses western separation and the viability of such a movement
Bizworld by Ron walter

From current political outrage in the three Prairie provinces arises a matter pursued seemingly by a few on the fringe of reality – separation of the West into one country.

That thought gains credibility when Brad Wall, the former premier of Saskatchewan, acts as a ranting mouthpiece for an Alberta-based political action committee called the Buffalo Project.

Another former Saskatchewan resident, multi-millionaire philanthropist Brett Wilson, has taken to ranting about the matter, pointing out the potential for separatist sentiment.

Wilson’s net worth declined from $1.5 billion in 2012 to $300 million. Is there a poor house for billionaires? His financial decline is never mentioned by media airing his rants.

The name Buffalo Project leads observers to wonder if the underlying goal is separation from Canada. Before Saskatchewan and Alberta became provinces in 1905, the territorial governor recommended one province called Buffalo.

Prime Minister John A. MacDonald told him out of fear that one day Buffalo’s growth would outweigh Ontario and Quebec clout in the federation. Over 114 years later, that clout still can’t outweigh the eastern power. 

Combined Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have 18 per cent of the nation’s population and 19 per cent of income.

On paper, a split by these three provinces seems viable. The new country, according to 2017 data, would rank 47th in the world for GDP, (national income) behind Hong Kong and ahead of Chile.

That supposes the new country’s national income would remain at that level. No guarantee there. Buffalo, or whatever it would be named, would need to export about one-third of its production to maintain prosperity.

In a landlocked new country, that can’t get approval from a neighbouring province, B.C. for a pipeline, how will it export goods? Outside of a seasonal port at Churchill, there is no way to move goods unless the United States helps — for a price.

Taxes would increase to renegotiate trade agreements, develop foreign diplomatic posts, police and military presence as well as a central bank and new currency.

The new currency would be even more subject to oil price fluctuations than the loonie.

A new Buffalo country could be viable once a generation of residents has sacrificed personally and financially — unless American influence dominated, and prosperity reigned.

In any such provincial union, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are destined to be poor country cousins, subject to the whims of Albertans. Saskatchewan has 18 per cent of the population, 16 per cent of GDP. Manitoba is no better off.

Next time time-ranters suggest separating the West into one country, let them know the reality.

Rapid population growth is the only way for the West to remove political grievances with the East.  A western prime minister, Stephen Harper, was unable to change western clout. He had to cater to Eastern voters.

Population growth outstripping the East would require massive immigration – not a situation lots of westerners desire.

The West is destined to political deadlock unless significant numbers of voters join ranks with the dominating political party as in the1940 election when the West sent 33 Liberals out of 60 MPs to Ottawa. Eleven Liberals were elected from 62 MPs in 2016.

The West has been ticked off at Ottawa, and at the Liberals, ever since federal equalization payments were formally discussed in 1957. Ironically, a Saskatchewan premier James Gardiner started the struggle for this shared cash to bail out his near-bankrupt province in the 1930s.
Ron Walter can be reached at


The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Moose Jaw Today, the Moose Jaw Express, its management, or its subsidiaries.

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