February 27, 2008

Stitching the fibres of democracy

Since 1971, Alberta has been under the Tories' iron fist - a total of 36 years. There have been Albertans who have grown up under one government. It may be time for a change, an infusion of new personalities and ideas.

Once upon a time, the Dominion of Newfoundland was a highly polarized society. Roman Catholics vs Protestants, Liberals vs Conservatives, rich merchants vs poor fishermen, St. John's and the Avalon Peninsula against the rest of the Dominion's districts. These conflicts often erupted in volatile and even violent elections.

Reforms in the 1860s and 1870s simmered the hostility down a few degrees. Irish Catholics tended to support the Liberal Party and English Protestants tended to support the Tories.

Newfoundland's economy was crushed by the Great Depression. The pressure culiminated in a explosive riot at the Colonial Building which Prime Minister Richard Squires just narrowly escaped. The Dominion assembly under recommendations of the Amulree Commission voted itself out of existence the following year in order to be replaced by an appointed Commission of Government, which consisted of six commissioners from both Britain and Newfoundland.

Newfoundland began to thrive during the Second World War due to an influx of foreign soldiers and the boost to industry.

Shortly after WWII, a Newfoundland National Convention was created to draft the constitutional future of the country. Two referendums took place in 1948. The first asked voters to choose between joining Canada as a province, return to independence under responsible government, or continue under the Commission. The Commission failed with voters, so the second referendum asked voters to choose between independence and Confederation. The movement for independence was weaker in rural areas, and was divided because many of its members supporting a union with the United States. Confederation won, by a narrow margin (51 per cent to 49 per cent), and on April 1, 1949, Newfoundland joined Canada.

Since that day, Newfoundland has been under alternate control of Liberals and PCs (later renamed Conservatives). I've read that it has been coined as a "two-and-a-half" party system, with Grits and Tories being large enough to be capable of forming government, and the NDP unable to due to having two members.

As Newfoundland's story illustrates, sometimes the course has to be drastically altered in order to get results. Does Premier Steady Eddy Stelmach have what it takes? It ultimately took a non-politician to get things done in Newfoundland as from out of the blue came lawyer and media tycoon Danny Williams. The foundations of prosperity are being laid. Maybe Alberta needs a similar shake-up, if it wants to maintain control of its rich resources. A firm grip needs to be at the helm - one who is not afraid of surfing tidal waves - as the Big Oil trickles. Otherwise, being a non-renewable resource, it'll run dry as the offshore oil industry in the North Atlantic is bubbling. Albertans could very well be taking their turn to migrate East. We will surely make you welcome, because that's how our society is. All the jokes made about our people over the decades may be forgiven, but never forgotten.

Good luck to all the candidates, in particular the ones contesting for the Lloydminster-Vermilion seat.