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Danielle Smith: Is there Going to Be a Central Bank Digital Currency? Almost Certainly


29 minute read

This newsletter was distributed by Danielle Smith.

I started my Western Standard show last week in the same week I was moderating a two-day conference for the Canadian Blockchain Consortium. So my shows last week were centred around trying to educate people as to what is cryptocurrency and Bitcoin, in particular, and how it is being used by regular people: such as when governments hyperinflate their currencies – like this story in Venezuela where people use it to buy food – or when countries fall apart like in Ukraine – where this man used the Bitcoin in the wallet on his phone to escape from the country before conscription came in.

As a side note, I can tell you I haven’t missed the cesspit of social media commentary. Part of the agreement with Western Standard is they broadcast on the social media channels so I get social media trolls shit posting me through the entire show. Delightful.

But I do take seriously those in our community who write me emails and approach me at events to express concerns.

Amanda is an example. She thanked me for the primers and said, “I was just chatting with a friend who said Poilievre needs to tone it down on that (cryptocurrency) because he is losing people like her because it is not well understood.” Others told me they wanted me to stop talking about Bitcoin also because they don’t understand it and they said I should just talk about freedom instead.

My dears…

I wish I could stop the world so we could all get off.

I’d probably get off in the year 2005 – just when we had all the advantages of technology but none of creepiness. I could easily live in a world before iPhone. I loved my blackberry. My husband would probably choose the 1950s when we still had passenger rail service and men wore hats. He can do without technology completely.

But we are in the world of the Technocreepy (to borrow the phrase coined by professor Thomas Keenan) and, ironically, it is one where you will soon be able to fully immerse yourself in whatever world you choose. I’m just learning about the Metaverse, but the concept of it is to use virtual reality goggles to enter into a world of digital avatars and artificial intelligence to meet up with others in a constructed environment. “Meet you for a wine on the train from Calgary to Toronto in 1950” may one day be a weekend date for my husband and me.

Central Bank Digital Currency vs Cryptocurrency…

But the biggest uneasiness I’m hearing is around the concept of a central bank digital currency. Pierre Poilievre has said he is absolutely opposed to a central bank digital currency at the same time as he says he wants to make Canada the blockchain capital of the world and make it easier to receive payments in cryptocurrency. That should tell you right there that a digital currency (issued by a central bank) and a cryptocurrency (not issued by a central bank) aren’t the same thing. More on that in a minute.

I’m hearing from many of you who are feeling unease that you don’t want either one. You say you want to move to bartering or stay in cash.

Two things…

You will always be free to barter goods but I would put it to you that it will be pretty limiting. There a remains a problem that most employers will still want to pay you in cash and most businesses will want to receive cash for your purchases. Anyone who has success in trading their baked bread and jars of chutney at the automechanic should let me know so I can be corrected. But I suspect you won’t find many takers.

I also don’t want our old dears thinking that the safest way to hold money is to withdraw cash from the bank and put it under their mattress. Holding cash in an environment where we have 10 to 15 per cent annual inflation is positively the worst advice anyone could give. Your money just loses its value year after year. That’s no way to preserve wealth either.

People say they want politicians to level with them. But now that I’m levelling with you about what is coming and how you can counter it, you are telling me you are too afraid to listen so I should just shut up about it.

I acknowledge your fears.

But I would ask you to soldier on and try to understand how the world is going to change. Because the World Economic Forum compendium document on digital currencies released in November 2021 shows a central bank digital currency is where the central bankers of the world are moving and it is has already started in China and Russia.

Here’s some background on where we already sit…

Bahamas was the first, but China rolled out its central bank digital currency called the renminbi last year and Time Magazine wrote about it last August in advance of the Beijing Olympics. The Chinese already have 96 per cent of their transactions taking place digitally with private options through Alipay and WeChat. Citizens like it. They simply flash a QR code on their smartphone screen to pay for everything they need: commuter tickets, lunch, convenience store items.

Chinese citizens are now voluntarily switching to the digital central bank renminbi – there are already more than 260 million individual users of the central bank digital coin. Also, 86 per cent of world’s central bankers (according to a survey by the Bank for International Settlements) are actively researching adopting their own.

Why do governments like the idea so much? Oh, so many reasons.

The biggest change of money since the gold standard…

According to Time, “It’s the biggest change in money since the end of the gold standard.”

The reason political leaders like digital coins is because there are “tremendous new functionalities.” For example:

Transfer “tokens” could be created to instantly transfer homes and property. You could own a “token” for a fractional share of any asset including vacation property, precious gems, art or other collectibles. It will reduce cross border transaction fees and costs to the financial services industry, which currently amount to $350 a year for each person in the world. It will make the SWIFT banking system – the one the Americans have used to cut off Iran and Russia – obsolete. And governments will be able to see all financial transactions rather than having to ask banks to provide it. It will also allow 1.7 billion people who have no bank accounts to get access to money.

But there is a dark side too…

There is also a reason authoritarian regimes like China like it too. From the Time article:

“In the Chinese pilot program, money has an expiration date of a few weeks because authorities are hoping to drive consumption in an economy trying to recover from the pandemic. Cash can be customized for other purposes. If the government is trying to stimulate the hospitality industry in a certain area, for example, it can program money to be used for meals and drinks but not for, say, petrol or power tools… Linked to China’s social credit system, it could see citizens fined in a split second for behaviors deemed undesirable. Dissidents and activists could see their wallets emptied or taken offline.”

So why does Poilievre oppose central bank digital currency and yet support cryptocurrency, the most important of which is Bitcoin? This article in the National Telegraph describes the differences well.

“Bitcoin as a currency functions as an anti-CBDC in a lot of ways. Where CBDCs are completely controlled by a central authority, Bitcoin is 100 percent decentralized, no one can mess with the system. CBDCs can have built-in controls so they can discriminate based on age, sex, wealth, race, or whatever other categories the government wanted, Bitcoin, on the other hand, has no control built-in so discrimination is impossible. While every CBDC transaction can be tracked and recorded Bitcoin transactions can be done peer to peer and are untraceable to a specific person. CBDCs are a windfall for bankers who love to print money and run up inflation, Bitcoin is a deflationary asset that less and less of can be mined every four years.”

Bitcoin is essentially an antidote to central bank coins.

A new geopolitical realignment…

There is a law of the universe: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The Americans throwing their weight around by excluding countries from the SWIFT system has accelerated the move from using the US dollar as an intermediary for global transactions and contracts. This will change the US dollar from being the de facto international currency and all the geopolitical shifts that implies.

Will it be good for us, tied as we are to the Americans?

I’m not sure yet, which is why I am following this closely. This article in the Algora blog site believes the change signals the end of Western domination and that we are going to find ourselves isolated from the rest of the world. According to them we are witnessing the end of globalization and the world is being split in two with the US, Europe and its allies (10 per cent of the world population) in one corner and the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – BRICS partners – representing 90 per cent of the world population on the other side.

“Reacting swiftly, Russia has convinced its BRICS partners to stop trading in dollars and to eventually create a common virtual currency for their exchanges. Until then, they will proceed in gold. This currency should be based on a basket of BRICS currencies, weighted according to the GDP of each member state, and on a basket of commodities listed on the stock exchange. This system should be much more stable than the current one.”

So if I were a guessing person, I would imagine this is going to be the model for how a new common digital currency will emerge for us.

Canada would develop its own central bank digital currency. Then we would opt in to a common virtual currency that includes the US, Europe, Australia and anyone else who wants to join us based on a basket of our currencies weighted according to GDP and (maybe?) a basket of commodities on the stock exchange.

The reason I think this is inevitable and that it will happen before Pierre Poilievre gets elected in 2025 and gets a chance to stop it, is because the momentum to do something to address our damaged currency is already too great.

The Great Money Printing Crusade of the last two years has rendered western currencies increasingly valueless. Printing money only works in the short term. Eventually you outpace the ability of the economy to keep up with producing goods and it causes inflation. Canadian inflation was 6.7 per cent last month – the highest it’s been in 30 years.

The Central Bank has already started raising rates to rein in spending and rate hikes are expected to continue.

I can imagine a few ways that shifting to a central bank digital coin could bail the government out of the mess it has created.

As we’ve seen in China, if it were implemented as a pilot project I suspect a large number of Canadians would simply sign up. We saw through COVID that at least 90 per cent of the public (or more) will do whatever the government tells them to do. So I suspect there will be a high uptake of the digital coin.

So yes, while I think we have reason to be gravely concerned that the federal government will want to use our transactions to micromanage our affairs, nudge us, monitor our ESG profile, and potentially punish us, I think we should also consider that the real reason for the global desire to suddenly go digital is so government can profit from the digital coin.

How Debt Jubilees Work…

Lyn Alden has done a wonderful write up of the historical experience with debt jubilees, which date back 4000 years. It began because farmers would be severely indebted to their lenders after a harvest failed and to avoid debt servitude, slavery or land seizure, the rulers from time to time (every 50 years or so) would just declare a debt jubilee so that all was forgiven. In the absence of this periodic forgiveness, more and more money would concentrate in the hands of the few, more and more would be pushed into poverty and there would be a popular uprising that would result in more than a few beheaded leaders.

No one in power ever wants that to happen.

And so we find ourselves in a familiar debt trap.

As Alden says, now that we have divorced our currency entirely from gold, we have created a banking ouroboros that makes it (nearly) impossible for central banks to forgive debt. In the past you could simply rebase your currency relative to the price of gold. Now we have a circular system: “Commercial banks store their cash at the central bank, which are assets for the commercial banks and liabilities for the central bank. In turn, the central bank holds government debt as its primary collateral assets. Government debt is backed up by the government’s ability to tax its citizens, and in practice, by having the central bank create new bank reserves to buy its government debt when needed. We can’t just remove one piece of it, like government debt from the central bank balance sheet. The monetary base is collateralized by government debt, and government debt is supported by expanding the monetary base when needed. It’s basically an ouroboros.”

So with inflation kicking in, interest rates rising, private debt in the stratosphere, government debt in the mesosphere, and no ability to cancel it all, what is a central banker to do?

One, they can do some “debt restructuring” and convert government bonds into 100-year zero coupon bonds, making the debt no longer relevant but allowing the central bank to raise rates for you and me while protecting themselves.

Two, they can hold interest rates below inflation, and let high inflation rates “burn debt away”, even though it will affect you and me in our purchasing power for the goods we need to buy on a daily basis. You can pay off your debt more easily then, but it will cost more to buy food and electricity.

Three, they could just steal it directly by doing a bail in, like they did in Cyprus in 2013, where the government taxed bank deposits up to 9.9 per cent and issued worthless equity certificates in exchange for the theft.

I’m wondering if a central bank digital coin offers a fourth way?

What about a Financial Transactions Tax?…

If it is indeed the case that the financial services industry costs $350 per person per year, it seems to me a digital currency is a way for the government to capture some of this revenue.

If you consider that the dollar from 1971 until today has been a petrodollar based on the flows of oil and natural gas denominated in the US currency, if we are moving to a digital dollar based on the amount of GDP and flow of financial transactions, what new revenue generating possibilities does that open for government?

I remember reading years ago about a proposal from Green Party Leader Elizabeth May for a financial transactions tax. The idea was to levy a tax on all sales of stocks and bonds and other financial holdings, to stick it to the rich but to also discourage speculative trading. In the US, they calculated charging 0.2 per cent ($2 on every $1000 in trade) would generate $777 billion over 10 years. Canada, with half the size, might expect to generate a $77 billion over 10 years.

But what if the concept was expanded to generate a fee for all transactions in Canadian dollars, equivalent to the transaction fees already being paid in the cryptocurrency markets? And what if all governments collaborated to make sure everyone charged the same tax so it couldn’t be avoided?

In Bitcoin, transactions under $10,000 carry a fee of 0.5 per cent. Canada’s Gross Domestic Product is $1.643 Trillion compared to a world GDP of $84.71 Trillion.

So if $1.7 trillion Canadian digital dollars trade hands each year, and the government could generate $5 for every $1000 spent, that would be $8.5 billion a year. But why stop there?

Banks often charge etransfer fees of $1.50 a transaction. At the top end, Visa and Mastercard charge 3.4 per cent on transactions. If the Bank of Canada were to charge rates that high on all Canadian dollar transactions they’d generate $58 billion a year.

Now we are talking some real money…

At the Blockchain conference this week, the keynote fireside chat was with Jeff Booth, author of The Price of Tomorrow: Why Deflation is the Key to an Abundant Future. In the video below he talks with Real Vision Finance about the pattern of inflation we have seen throughout history and how it creates a predictable pattern of behaviour in government to keep getting elected.

First they create internal division to distract people to stay elected, and when that stops working they blame another country. We have a structural change that is happening in the country, he says, and everything we are talking about is two orders of magnitude away from the first principles we should be talking about.

So I know this is uncomfortable. I know you don’t want me to talk about it. But we must. Because money affects everything.

So now you are thinking, if Canada is moving toward a central bank digital currency, and the WEF is championing central bank digital currencies, and if governments can use it to develop social scores (like China) to punish and reward its citizens, how can you escape the system?

How can you get the equivalent of cash that can’t be centrally controlled, monitored, devalued or turned off?

Now you understand why so many of us are interested in Bitcoin and cryptocurrency.

How you can help…

If you want to support me personally there are three ways to do it.

Book me to speak at your event: If you want me to do an event or coffee party in Livingstone Macleod I am happy to line it up. Just email [email protected] and my executive assistant will book it. If you are not in the constituency of Livingstone Macleod and want me to speak about The Future of Alberta and The Alberta First Initiative, my fee is $500 and you can book me by emailing me at [email protected]

The Danielle Smith Show: The Danielle Smith Show launched April 18. I did three 30 minute news monologues on Bitcoin during the week and a weekend long form interview on Saturday with Gord Tulk on health care spending accounts and radical idea to reform confederation. You can tune in live at 9 am or listen on podcast. Send me an email at [email protected] if you want to discuss sponsorship or advertising.

Subscribe to my Free Weekly Newsletter: Subscribe to this newsletter by going online to I will continue to write to you weekly.

See Previous Newsletters Online: Go to and enter password Liberty.

Sign up on Locals: For Subscribers Only I will be doing a one hour livestream call in/text in so you can Ask Me Anything on Friday at 11 am as well as posting my thoughts on the issues of the day. I’ve set the minimum subscription fee very low – $2US a month – because I don’t want to create a barrier but I don’t want to content with anonymous bots and trolls either.

The Livingstone Macleod campaign …

My campaign website is

You can donate online (sorry no tax receipts unless I am the nominated candidate!) to a maximum individual donation of $4000. This money will be put to use to pay for my campaign manager, scheduler, web designer, social media, signs and literature. I would be grateful for your contribution. I also need the gift of time, so if you can volunteer I will need that too! There is a portal on the website to sign up for campaign specific emails and to buy a UCP membership.

Donate by Mail: Make Cheques out to the Danielle Smith Campaign and send to 5548 Station Main, High River, Alberta, T1V 1H2.

Upcoming Events and Appearances…

April 25 Seminar to the CPAA on The Future of Alberta
April 27 AEG Calgary Event
April 27 Zoom telephone town halls for Livingstone Macleod
April 28 Crownest Pass Responsible Coal Association town hall
April 30 Civitas
May 4 Lethbridge Event with UCP Members
May 7 Airdrie Event with UCP Members
May 12 Canada in Question with Peter McInnon
May 18 High River Event with UCP Members
May 19 Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre Gala


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Free Alberta Strategy petition demanding PM Trudeau fire Steven Guilbeault passes 13,000 signatures

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News release from Free Alberta Strategy 

Are you tired of watching elected officials flout the law and disregard public concerns with impunity?

Are you frustrated by a federal government that prioritizes arrogance over accountability?

If so, you’re not alone.

Over 13,000 people have signed our petition calling on Justin Trudeau to fire Steven Guilbeault.

Once one of Greenpeace’s most disruptive forces, Guilbeault has spent enough time in an orange jumpsuit to build up a reputation for deliberately ignoring both law enforcement and the courts.

Since then, his career has been marked by a troubling disregard for both legal boundaries and public sentiment.

In 2001, Guilbeault was found guilty of mischief for scaling the CN Tower in Toronto and displaying a banner.

He received a sentence of one year’s probation, was mandated to complete 100 hours of community service in Montreal, and was ordered to pay $1,000 in restitution.

The incident incurred approximately $50,000 in costs for the tower operators.

Shortly thereafter, Guilbeault orchestrated another audacious act, leading a Greenpeace team in a demonstration at the Calgary residence of then Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and his wife, Colleen.

They erected a banner, positioned ladders against the house, and ascended to the roof to install a solar panel.

The intrusion deeply unsettled Colleen Klein, who was alone at the time and feared a home invasion – she resorted to grabbing a broom for defense.

Despite his controversial background, Justin Trudeau’s decision to appoint Guilbeault as Minister of Environment and Climate Change raised eyebrows and elicited criticism.

Jason Kenney, then premier of Alberta, accurately predicted the consequences of Guilbeault assuming a significant role in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.

“His own personal background and track record on these issues suggests someone who is more an absolutist than a pragmatist when it comes to finding solutions,” Kenney said.

It’s perhaps no surprise then that Guilbeault’s response to legal setbacks in his political career, such as the Supreme Court’s ruling on the unconstitutionality of his Impact Assessment Act, has been dismissive, indicating a stubborn adherence to his own agenda rather than a willingness to heed judicial guidance.

Instead of accepting that he was wrong and repealing the law, Guilbeault wants to pass minor amendments and pretend like the Supreme Court ruling never happened.

Worse, the amendments – buried 552 pages into a 686-page budget implementation bill – don’t fix the problem.

Guilbeault still has the power to control projects that fall under provincial jurisdiction.

Consequently, tensions between the federal and provincial governments have escalated, with Alberta poised to immediately challenge the amended legislation in court once again.

This charade is getting old.

This pattern of defiance and disregard for legal constraints has become wearisome, eroding public trust in the integrity of federal institutions.

The rotation of headlines proclaiming federal overreach and constitutional breaches underscores a troubling trend within the governing party, where arrogance appears to have supplanted prudent governance.

Guilbeault, with his checkered past and continued ignorance of the law since becoming Minister, are crippling public confidence.

A few months ago, we launched a petition calling on Justin Trudeau to see the light, and fire his most controversial Minister.

Since then, things have only gotten worse.

If you agree, and think Guilbeault should be fired, please sign our petition today:



Then, send this petition to your friends, family, and every Albertan so that they can sign too!


The Free Alberta Strategy Team

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Fortis et Liber: Alberta’s Future in the Canadian Federation

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From the C2C Journal

By Barry Cooper, professor of political science, University of Calgary

Canada’s western lands, wrote one prominent academic, became provinces “in the Roman sense” – acquired possessions that, once vanquished, were there to be exploited. Laurentian Canada regarded the hinterlands as existing primarily to serve the interests of the heartland. And the current holders of office in Ottawa often behave as if the Constitution’s federal-provincial distribution of powers is at best advisory, if it needs to be acknowledged at all. Reviewing this history, Barry Cooper places Alberta’s widely criticized Sovereignty Act in the context of the Prairie provinces’ long struggle for due constitutional recognition and the political equality of their citizens. Canada is a federation, notes Cooper. Provinces do have rights. Constitutions do mean something. And when they are no longer working, they can be changed.

Mahatma Ghandhi was once allegedly asked what he thought of Western civilization. “I think it would be a good idea,” he is said to have replied. One could answer the same about Canadian federalism: it would be a good idea.

Not too long ago I was interviewed by a CBC journalist from Toronto regarding the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act, which upon its introduction by Premier Danielle Smith’s UCP government in November 2022 was attacked as needlessly provocative, deeply unconstitutional, legally unsustainable and shamelessly populist. “What is your vision of Canada?” the CBC reporter wanted to know. I told her the following: that Canada might be a federation. The implication was obvious: Canada is not a federation at present and, arguably, never has been. Many Canadians would find such a remark not arguable but outrageous. So here is my argument. My focus is on the Prairie West, not Laurentian Canada, the Maritimes, Newfoundland or B.C., each of which retains the story of its connection to Canada.

For 200 years Rupert’s Land (its flag shown on top left) along with the Northwest and Northeast Territories were the exclusive commercial domain of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), granted by the British Crown; Great Britian officially transferred these vast lands to the Crown in Right of Canada in 1870. (Source of map: Golbez, licensed under CC BY 2.5)

Before Canada became a country in 1867, the vast tracts administered by the Hudson’s Bay Company – Rupert’s Land and the Northwest and Northeast Territories, including what became Labrador – were governed from London under Imperial orders and statutes. In law, Rupert’s Land was a plantation – a cold-weather plantation, to be sure, but a plantation nevertheless. The transfer of Company lands from the Imperial Crown to the Crown in Right of Canada took place by means of an Imperial Order-in-Council (passed under appropriate statutory authority) on July 15, 1870.

This all-but-forgotten history is important for understanding our present discontents. Not only was Rupert’s Land a territory politically distinct from the colony of Canada, but the manner of its acquisition by Canada underlined its distinctiveness. In 1868, a year after Confederation, the British Parliament passed the Rupert’s Land Act, specifying that the Hudson’s Bay Company would surrender its “lands, rights, privileges, liberties, franchises, powers and authorities” under certain terms and conditions to be negotiated by the Company, the Colonial Office and the Canadian government.

The negotiations were protracted and the specification of the terms and conditions took years of haggling among all the parties, some of which erupted into lawsuits. In the background there remained the unacknowledged claims of the inhabitants of the Red River Settlement (in what later became the Province of Manitoba), who were decidedly cool about the prospect of being incorporated into Canada. Neither they – whether of British, French, Métis, “country-born” or Indian stock – nor the other natives of Rupert’s Land were consulted about their new status.

Obscure but legally important: Canada is often said to have “purchased” Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company, but Canada did not actually pay for the land, only for the company’s capital improvements such as Lower Fort Garry in the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews (aka the Stone Fort, top), Fort Edmonton (middle), depicted here after construction of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly building, and the Hudson’s Bay Brigade Trail (bottom). (Sources of images: (top) Gordon Goldsborough, 2014-0038; (middle) Peel’s Prairie Provinces)

Rupert’s Land was not, therefore, on the market the way Alaska had been in the 1860s, when it was purchased from Czarist Russia by the United States for US$7.2 million (or 2 cents per acre), a transaction that took place in March 1867 through a signed treaty. True, many Hudson’s Bay Company stockholders similarly wished to sell Rupert’s Land to the highest bidder and hoped to begin the auction with an offer from China. Russia and the United States were also expected to join the bidding, along with Canada.

Some Canadian politicians spoke of the subsequent Canadian “purchase” of Rupert’s Land; some Canadian historians still do. But the transfer of Company lands to Canada was not a real estate deal. The Imperial Crown simply transferred its authority to the Crown in Right of Canada. Canada “indemnified” – i.e., bought off – the Hudson’s Bay Company not for the territory of Rupert’s Land but for the several capital improvements made during the previous 230 years. These included such structures as the Stone Fort at Red River and the timber fort at Edmonton, but also far-flung portage trails and the like.

Looked at from the perspective of Laurentian Canadian history, Rupert’s Land was a gift to the new Confederation from the Imperial Crown, the missing link between Canada and the colony of British Columbia that inspired the empire-builders of the Macdonald-Cartier coalition to extend the new eastern political entity to the Pacific Ocean, to build the Canadian Pacific Railway and to incorporate the province of B.C. within Canada. As for the Company lands to the east of Hudson Bay, very little commercial viability was expected. This was fur territory peopled by Indigenous trappers and barbaric traders as it had been for centuries. Canada later gave Ontario and Quebec additional territory carved from those former Company lands.

Canada expanded in a mode quite different from the United States. Unlike the generally well-planned and logical formation of new states from territories – a process meant to reflect an area’s maturation from thinly populated, intermittently governed and often lawless frontier to incipient civilization – there was nothing in Canada akin to the American Northwest Ordinance or to its successor laws. A key difference was that a newly formed U.S. state gained the same rights and privileges as other states, an important element of real federalism.

Here one should note that there are two elements essential to any federation. The first is a constitutionally defined division of responsibility between the central government and the constituent sub-national jurisdictions – provinces in Canada, states in the U.S. In a well-run federation each order of government stays in its constitutionally defined lane. The second element is that representation in the federal government combines numerical equality or “representation by population” with equal constitutional standing and privileges for all component jurisdictions.

“Enter the Union on an equal basis with existing states”: In contrast to Canada, the U.S. Northwest Ordinance of 1787 provided a formal and transparent mechanism by which newly settled territories could graduate to statehood if they met certain conditions – gaining the same rights and privileges as the original 13 states.

This second element is why the Americans combined in Congress a House of Representatives based on the principle of one person, one vote, with a Senate where each state – whatever its population – would send two senators to Washington, D.C. Because Canada does not provide equal provincial representation in the Canadian Senate (and for a few additional reasons) it has been called by political scientists a “quasi-federal state”. This particular anomaly (or defect) lay behind the attempt starting in the 1970s to establish a Senate that would have an equal number of Senators from each province, who would be elected and whose resulting legitimacy would allow the Senate to become effective in defending the rights of the provinces – the “Triple-E” Senate.

The second policy area where Canada’s expansion westward differed profoundly from America’s was the absence of consultation with the inhabitants of the newly acquired Canadian territories. In the U.S. this always entailed serious two-way discussions; ambitious pioneers would sometimes move out to a territory with the intention of taking part in its development and participating in its graduation to statehood.

In Canada, it was precisely the neglect and lack of communication that eventually led future rebel leader Louis Riel and his compatriot John Bruce to argue that the Western inhabitants of the Hudson’s Bay Company lands had been “abandoned” by the Imperial Crown. The Red River Settlement existed after the 1870 transfer, as they described it, in something akin to a Hobbesian state of nature. Consequently, they declared, the inhabitants of all the former western Company lands “refuse to recognise the authority of Canada,” which was seeking to coerce these subjects of the British Empire by imposing “a despotic form of government” on them.

“Our lives our fortunes and our sacred honour”: Métis leaders Louis Riel (top left) and John Bruce (top right) saw the 1870 transfer of Rubert’s Land to Canada as an act of “abandonment” by the British Crown; to protect the interests of the Red River Settlement (bottom), they “refus[ed] to recognise the authority of Canada.” (Sources: (top left photo) Library and Archives Canada, C-018082; (top right photo) Manitoba Historical Society Archives; (bottom map) Manitoba’s Red River Settlement, by Douglas Sprague and Ronald Frye)

Much like the British subjects a century earlier who became signatories of the then-colonial Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Red River authors declared “to the world” and to Canada in particular that they had established a Provisional Government and, closely following the final paragraph of U.S. Founding Father and future President Thomas Jefferson’s text, “mutually pledge ourselves on oath our lives our fortunes and our sacred honour to each other.” (Original non-punctuation)

Although this statement might sound hopelessly grandiloquent to modern-day ears, their claims were not without a political basis. As my friend and U of C colleague Tom Flanagan pointed out in his 1978 essay “Political Theory of the Red River Resistance: The Declaration of December 8, 1869”, the Declaration of the People of Rupert’s Land and the North West certainly rested on highly questionable legal grounds. To begin with, as noted, the land transfer was an intra-Imperial action. It was not the act of a sovereign power called the Hudson’s Bay Company abandoning the inhabitants of “its” territory and turning them over to another and alien sovereign power, Canada. The Company was not at all sovereign, and Canada was not fully sovereign.

The legal issue was of secondary importance, however, to the political significance of the Red River inhabitants’ response to the actions of Canada, starting with the Declaration and including not one but two open rebellions, the second of which was a serious armed conflict in which Canada’s control hung in the balance. In that second one, in 1885, Laurentian Canada mobilized and commanded Imperial military assets to impose its law on the rebellious Northwest. To the inhabitants, these actions, even if by then they themselves opposed Riel, looked like a continuation of the style of rule from London they had previously endured by way of the Company. That is, rule of the Northwest by “imperial” Canada was of a piece with British Imperial rule prior to 1870.

This was why James Mallory, a distinguished 20th century McGill University political scientist, in his 1954 book Social Credit and the Federal Power in Canada referred to the Prairie provinces as “provinces in the Roman sense”. Whatever did he mean? A Roman provincia was distinguished by two major attributes. First it was a locale where imperium, administrative rule, was exercised by Rome or an agent of Rome. Second, unlike the inhabitants of Italy, “provinces” paid tribute to the capital. Moreover, the etymology pro-vincere (Latin for something that was defeated or vanquished) suggests the provinciae were conquered territories. Aside from their military and geopolitical significance, Roman provinces were there to be taxed and to enrich their Roman rulers.

The analogies to 19th and 20th century Canada are clear. Ottawa – as pitiful a town as it was – acted as a new Rome on the Rideau. The territories (and soon-to-be second-class provinces) were acquired additions; they existed to strengthen and benefit Laurentian Canada by analogy with Roman Italy, and to enrich its leading citizens. And the provincials were expected to behave themselves. To this day, the embarrassment of 1885 has not been forgotten by Laurentian administrators. Of course, the Canadian punishment for rebellion was not Roman in its ferocity, although the result for Riel was equally final.

“Provinces in the Roman sense”: According to political scientist James Mallory, Canada’s Prairie provinces were akin to “provinciae” in ancient Rome – conquered lands whose inhabitants were not citizens and who existed to serve the interests of the Imperial Capital and the Italian heartland. Shown, the fall of Macedonia in 168 BC depicted in The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus by Carle Vernet, 1789. (Source of painting: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Northrop Frye once remarked that if history is a narrative of what happened, myth tells the story of what happens all the time. In that sense, myth is a major constituent of what we now call political culture. The Red River resistance, however comic and ineffectual it appeared to later Laurentian historians, became part of a Western myth, the most recent manifestation of which was the Freedom Convoy of 2022. And, incidentally, Laurentian historians were a self-described “school” centred at the University of Toronto. The most famous of them was the first modern biographer of Sir John A. Macdonald, Donald Creighton. His thesis, The Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence, published by Yale University Press in 1937, effectively founded the Laurentian school. The second edition, published by the U of T Press, bore a franker title: The Empire of the St. Lawrence. That is the origin of the term “Laurentian Canada”.

Between the Red River resistance and the truckers’ convoy, over 150 years apart, came Prime Minister Macdonald’s grossly misnamed “National Policy”, which subordinated the economic vitality of Prairie agriculture to Laurentian industrial commerce. (To oversimplify somewhat, high import tariffs protected eastern industries while making imported goods critical to the Prairies’ economic development needlessly expensive, in turn making export-dependent Prairie farmers less economically competitive; the National Policy amounted to simple exploitation of the West.) When Alberta and Saskatchewan became Roman-style provinces in 1905, the Dominion Lands Policy saw to it that the major source of revenue from land sales and fees remained reserved “for the purposes of the Dominion”, not them.

The Western political response continued to reverberate for more than a century. Several political parties and social movements formed in opposition to Laurentian policies: the Progressives, Social Credit, the Social Gospel, the CCF, and later the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance. The fact is, Westerners have typically wanted to make Canada work as a genuine federation. They were neither revolutionaries nor separatists. Like their cousins in the American West, they sought equal rights as citizens and equal representation for Western, especially Prairie, provinces.

In 1905 the Dominion of Canada carved the new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan out of portions of the Northwest Territories; the newcomers were treated as distinctly second-class in comparison to the original provinces, among other things only gaining full control over their lands and natural resources in 1930. (Sources of photos (clockwise, starting top-left): Calgary Herald Archives; Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan R-A4110-2; Glenbow Archives, na-1496-2; Western Development Museum)

And while all of these movements mounted often-spirited resistance to Laurentian political and economic controls, they also seemed to accept the political institutions of imperial Canada. Remember the slogan of the Reform Party in 1987? “The West wants in.” Why? To increase the likelihood of self-government, the very desire for which was dismissed by Laurentians as unintelligible: were these pesky Westerners not already citizens of an already self-governing country? They must be alienated, poor things, and in need of the ministrations of an alienist.

David A. Smith, another distinguished political scientist, who taught for many years at the University of Saskatchewan, provided a less condescending answer than the conventional dismissal by Laurentians in his 1969 essay “A Comparison of Prairie Political Movements in Saskatchewan and Alberta”. Westerners, Smith wrote, had tried working within the dominant political parties, then through so-called “third parties” that attempted to persuade the dominant parties, then through balance-of-power strategies. “No other area of the country,” Smith said, “has experimented with so many partisan alternatives and had so little apparent satisfaction from the results.”

A third distinguished political scientist, Alan Cairns, once asked: why were the Social Credit and the NDP called “third parties?” In B.C where Cairns taught, these parties were the government, the major players in a vibrant two-party system. The “third parties” were the Liberals and Conservatives. One might say the same thing about Social Credit and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (the future NDP) on the Prairies. That is, the political articulation of the Western provinces is distinct from that of Laurentian Canada.

The Prairie provinces continued to be subjected to destructive Laurentian policies throughout the 20th century, such as prolongation of the Canadian Wheat Board, official bilingualism and the National Energy Program, implemented by Pierre Trudeau in 1981 (shown on bottom left, to the right of Alberta premier Peter Lougheed in the centre). Depicted on bottom right, oil sands facility at Mildred Lake. (Sources of photos: (top left) Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau/Library and Archives Canada/C-064834; (bottom left) The Canadian Press/Dave Buston; (bottom right) The Canadian Press)

After Canada’s first half-century or so, after the Prairie provinces finally in 1930 gained control over their natural resources (as Canada’s “founding” provinces had had from the start), there followed in the post-Second World War era further nonsensical Laurentian policies: the needless prolongation of the Canadian Wheat Board (whose command-and-control methods evoked the late Roman Emperor Diocletian’s ludicrous economic decrees), the definition of Canada as a bilingual country (the major consequence of which was to ensure that most Westerners did not find a professional career in Ottawa attractive), and of course the unforgettable National Energy Program, seen by many Albertans as the 20th century successor to the National Policy.

Then, the 1982 Constitution Act gave the Supreme Court of Canada effective control of legal aspects of the Constitution. And, like the first Supreme Court of Canada, it has acted largely as a centralizing creature of Laurentian Canada. One must be remarkably naïve not to think that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had something like this in mind when he began campaigning to “patriate” the Constitution nearly two generations ago. In any event, a major consequence of the 1982 Act was to undermine the institutions of federalism, particularly provincial responsibility for natural resources and the environment, which had been sustained by the jurisprudence of Britain’s Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in earlier times and largely respected after 1949 when judicial appeals to the Law Lords were abolished.

Today almost all the malign aspects of Canada’s Constitution are encapsulated in the federal equalization program. As Rob Anderson, Derek From and I point out in the Free Alberta Strategy (there’s also good material in this C2C essay), the Government of Canada has for decades expropriated vast amounts of fungible wealth from the taxpayers of the Prairie West and especially from Albertans – amounting to literally hundreds of billions of dollars. Moreover, the latest assault by the Justin Trudeau government has combined this traditional wealth removal with a novel attack on the source of provincial prosperity, the oil and natural gas industry in general and the oil sands in particular. For many Albertans, Ottawa has definitively breached the principles of the federal Constitution.

Now what?

First, recall the historical importance of federalism. In those remote days prior to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the focus of Canadian constitutional politics was on the balances struck over the years between responsibilities under s. 92 of what was then known as the British North America (BNA) Act that belonged chiefly to the provinces – such as transportation, regulation of businesses and professions, creation and oversight of municipalities, education, courts of law, health care and natural resources – and those given to the Dominion government under s. 91 – such as national defence, foreign relations, the criminal law, relations with Indians and international trade.

Of all the theorists of federalism to whom I was introduced as an undergraduate, William S. Livingston has remained my favourite. His Federalism and Constitutional Change was published by Oxford in 1956. It was preceded by an article, “A Note on the Nature of Federalism”, that established his main arguments. In my opinion they have not been superseded though they may have been forgotten.

“It’s not like Ottawa is a national government”: The Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act, passed in late 2022 by the UCP government of Premier Danielle Smith, pictured, aims to strengthen the province’s ability to limit unconstitutional intrusions of federal policy and law into areas of provincial jurisdiction, thereby reaffirming that Canada is a federal state. (Source of photo: The Canadian Press/Jason Franson)

This is the context within which Premier Smith’s remark is to be understood when she said on third reading of Bill 1, later the Sovereignty Act, “It’s not like Ottawa is a national government.” (Emphasis added)

Social and political realities change: formerly poor jurisdictions such as Alberta grow wealthy; formerly rich jurisdictions such as the Maritimes grow poor. Political institutions eventually display the characteristic of serving purposes for which they were not initially designed. Just as federal societies change, federal institutions are required to change as well in response to new realities. If federal institutions are incapable of responding to changes in federal societies, the result is political dissolution, which is to say, independence of a former constituent jurisdiction. That was the prospect posed by Quebec in the 1970s after its “Quiet Revolution”. Quebec separatism spooked Canada sufficiently to change the effective federal Constitution to reflect the new configuration of the federal society.

This is not to say that legal federalism, which defines the primary areas of jurisdiction of Ottawa and the provinces, is unimportant. Sections 91 and 92 of the BNA Act are still in force and effect. Moreover, reasserting and defending the constitutional validity of the division of powers is the primary purpose behind Alberta’s Sovereignty Act.

Although attacked by critics, Alberta’s Sovereignty Act has received strong popular support for challenging the Justin Trudeau government’s constant intrusions into areas of provincial constitutional jurisdiction; the author points out that the Constitution does not require provinces to enforce federal laws, and that the Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed this. Shown, supporters of the Sovereignty Act outside the Alberta legislature, December 2022. (Source of photo: CityNews/Laura Krause)

Its central provision regarding federalism enables the provincial government to refuse to enforce federal laws. The decision not to do so would be based on the judgment of the legislature that the federal law in question was illegal, unconstitutional, harmful to Albertans or contrary to Alberta’s interests, based primarily on the text of ss. 91 and 92 and how those provisions were put into practice over Canada’s first century – but which recent federal governments have successively and, in the Justin Trudeau government’s case, systematically undermined or overridden as if they weren’t even there.

What is novel about this provision is that it would require Canada to take Alberta to court and there to prove its case, not the other way around as is the current practice. Nowadays when Ottawa first intrudes upon or overrides provincial jurisdiction and puts its unconstitutional policy or law into practice, it forces one or more provinces to try to stop it – even as the damage is already being done and the new policy threatens to become institutionalized through force of habit.

Equally important, there is no provision in the Constitution requiring any province to administer or enforce federal law. (Please see also this article and this article for supporting evidence of that contention.) The reason is obvious: Canada remains in law and reality a federation, not a unitary regime where provinces are simply agents of Ottawa the way Alberta municipalities are creatures of the provincial government. One reason for the political support that the Sovereignty Act has received are the objections to the arrogant default assumption of the Trudeau government that it is (except for Quebec) a “national government” – precisely what Danielle Smith denied. That is why it was originally and for a long time thereafter referred to as the Dominion government and today is called the federal government, which implies a government with limited and clearly enumerated constitutional scope and powers.

Another way of indicating the issue of connecting the reality of a federal society to a federal constitution is found in a remark of the late U.S. conservative journalist Andrew Breitbart, who famously observed that “politics is downstream from culture.” This is a snappy version of Frye’s remark regarding myth or what Livingston meant by the primacy of society. But what is downstream from politics? The answer is simple: the law of the Constitution.

Ask yourself: where did the BNA Act come from back in 1867? Or the 1982 Constitution Act? They came from political negotiations and political deal-making in response to political ideas and demands generated by the changing realities of a federal Canadian society. In that context, the 1982 Constitution Act looks like a legal response to the social changes of the “Quiet Revolution”. That is also where Alberta’s Sovereignty Act came from. Indeed, it can be seen as the current expression of a not-so-quiet Alberta revolution initiated by Ralph Klein, premier of Alberta from 1992 to 2006.

Those who say the Constitution is set in stone and can never be re-opened are legal fundamentalists and they are wrong. All constitutional documents, so revered by lawyers, especially the ermine-clad lawyers on the bench of the Supreme Court of Canada, were all downstream from political deals that reflected changing social, economic, cultural, etc. realities. Of course the Constitution can be re-opened! That is one of the long-range purposes of the Sovereignty Act.

“Clear majority on a clear question”: Two years after the 1998 Quebec Secession Reference case before the Supreme Court of Canada, the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien (on bottom, leaning forward) introduced the Clarity Act, establishing the conditions under which Canadian provinces may be allowed to begin the process of secession. The author considers this another act violating the concept of federalism, with Ottawa unilaterally calling the shots and placing provinces in a subordinate position. (Sources of photos: (top) @Law Scribes/X; (bottom) CP Photo/Fred Chartrand)

If Laurentian Canadians and lawyers nearly everywhere say that the Sovereignty Act is unconstitutional, I agree but with the following qualification: legal unconstitutionality is simply another way of saying it’s time to change the law of the Constitution. That is what Bruce and Riel had in mind so many years ago. The law of the Constitution may work well even today for Laurentians and for Ottawa bureaucrats, but they have become what English historian and philosopher Arnold Toynbee called a “dominant” rather than a “creative” minority. More to the point, if the law of the Constitution does not work for Albertans and for others in the Prairie West, why should it be respected? All the strategies listed by David Smith have not made a dent in the adamantine attitudes of Laurentian Canada. In their collective imperial mind, in their political culture, the Prairie West remains a colony. The Sovereignty Act aims to bring an end to a very unpleasant history.

And then there is the Clarity Act to consider. In the 1998 Quebec Secession Reference case brought by the Government of Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada required that any provincial referendum on secession receive a clear majority on a clear question in order to be valid and so to trigger mandatory negotiations. The Court did not define what either a clear majority or a clear question might be.

Two years later the Jean Chrétien government (under great pressure from the Reform Party) introduced what became the Clarity Act, according to which the Parliament of Canada would determine before any provincial referendum on potential secession whether the question was clear enough and, after the vote, whether the degree of support was sufficient to require negotiation on the terms of secession. If a referendum met those two criteria (according to Parliament), then a constitutional amendment requiring the consent of Parliament and the provinces would also have to be passed.

A few years later, former Parti Quebecois leader and Premier Jacques Parizeau told CTV News that the Clarity Act “meant nothing.” One reason for his remark was not just that Parliament had stacked the deck but that Quebec had passed its own law, one which emphasized the right of Quebec citizens to self-determination. Now, if push came to shove, one might expect Alberta to do the same.

The political distance dividing Alberta’s Sovereignty Act from Ottawa’s Clarity Act is huge. The one contemplates a restoration of federalism, the other an end to it. If Alberta is to remain strong and free, fortis et liber, as indicated on its coat of arms, Laurentians will have to change their attitude and their political culture. That is the challenge of political federalism today. Acknowledging that reality is the condition for making Canada a genuine federation in law. If not, it will take the more desperate remedy outlined in the Clarity Act to induce some sobriety into Laurentian consciousness.

Barry Cooper is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary. His latest books are Paleolithic Politics (2020) and, with Marco Navarro-Génie, COVID-19: The Story of a Pandemic Moral Panic (2020).

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