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My European Favourites – Stockholm – Djurgården

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 If there was one city in northern Europe that I could easily live in, I think it would be Stockholm.

The Swedish capital has over two million inhabitants and over 50 bridges connecting its fourteen islands. The city often ranks highly on the global “quality of life index” and has over one hundred museums, plus a lively culinary, theatre, music and sports scene.

Gamla Stan’s Stortorget Square, narrow streets and the Royal Palace.

If you enjoy boating, sailing and watersports, Stockholm has Lake Mälaren with more than 1,000 islands to the west. To the east of the city centre, the Saltsjön (Salt Bay) has a lengthy and picturesque archipelago with over 30,000 islands leading all the way to the Baltic Sea. With so many cottages and activities on these islands, they are a perfect getaway from the city hustle and bustle.

Stockholm’s old city centre is on the island of Gamla Stan. The area is full of colorful houses from the 17th and 18th centuries and narrow cobblestoned streets with interesting shops, cafes, pubs and bars. The Royal Palace, official residence of the Swedish monarch, can be toured and the popular changing of the guard is accompanied by a military band in the summer months.

Stockholm aerial view, Stockholm’s city hall and Swedish crown on Skeppsholmsbron Bridge.

Royal Djurgården

Stockholmers enjoy a vast green space right in their city center on the island of Djurgården. The island is Scandinavia’s number one tourist attraction and a favourite for nature lovers, walkers, runners, hikers and cyclists. In addition to being loved for its green spaces, it is famous for having four royal palaces, popular museums, cafes, restaurants and a large amusement park.

The history of Royal Djurgården goes back to 1452 when King Karl Knutsson purchased the southern part of the island. It was a royal hunting ground for many years and over time was opened to the public and expanded.

In 1995, King Carl Gustaf XVI officially opened the world’s first national city park comprising the Ulriksdal, Haga, Brunnsviken and Djurgården districts. The 27 square kilometer park is eight times the size of New York’s Central Park.

On Djurgården, you can see over one hundred bird species and eight hundred varieties of flowering plants. You can easily spend a few days in Stockholm just visiting Djurgården. Here are my favourite things to do on the island.

Djurgården Visitor Center and rental shop on the left from the Djurgårdsbron bridge.

When you enter Djurgården from the west on the Djurgårdsbron bridge, you will find the Royal Djurgården Visitor Center. The center rents bikes to explore the island, and there is a ten to twelve kilometer path that goes around the island. They also have kayaks, canoes or pedal boats. If you want to paddle all the way around the island, expect it to take about two to three hours.

The Sjöcaféet café is located by the visitor’s center and has a nice outdoor terrace overlooking the water. They have a reasonably priced menu with a variety of Swedish dishes plus they make a nice pizza. If you want a quick bite you may want to try the Korv sausage stand for a hot dog or their ice cream stand.

 

The bow of the Vasa ship at the museum entrance, the ship’s starboard side and a model.

Vasa Museum

From the visitors’ center, the Vasa ship museum is easy to spot. It’s located right behind the imposing Nordiska Museum and the roof of the museum has a copper roof with ship’s masts coming through it. The masts depict the actual height of the Vasa when it was in the harbour over 300 years ago.

King Gustavus Adolphus ordered the massive warship built in 1626 during a wartime period against Poland-Lithuania. To match the kings’ prestige, power and ambitions, the ship was extravagantly decorated and armed with 64 cannons on two gundecks. The immense Vasa must have been a stunning sight with all the bronze cannons, ornate carvings, painted sculptures, large masts, sails set and flags flying. The problem, which was discovered during construction, was that she was unstable and top heavy.

Despite this knowledge, on the afternoon of August 10, 1628, the Vasa set sail from the quay in the Old Town. She sailed a few hundred meters, then a squall, or sudden gust of wind, forced the Vasa to list heavily to one side, but she returned upright. Moments later, a second squall listed the boat so heavily that water started to pour in through the gunports. As the water seeped into the ship, it was too much to recover from; the Vasa capsized and sunk. About 30 of the crew and passengers drowned in the incident. The sinking of the Vasa in Stockholm’s harbour on her maiden voyage must have been quite shocking for the thousands of spectators who lined the sea front for a glimpse of the new ship.

A cross section of the Vasa interior, a bronze cannon and colorful figures from the stern.

Shortly after it sunk, efforts were made to retrieve the valuable bronze cannons, and over 50 were recovered. As the years passed, a few unsuccessful salvage attempts were made but eventually the exact location of the wreck was lost. Amateur archaeologist Andres Franzen, after many years of searching, found it again in 1956. Plans were made and the Vasa was finally raised to the surface in 1961 after laying in the “Salt Sea” for 333 years.

For over 20 years, the ship was housed in a temporary structure while it underwent examination and treatment to preserve it. In the early 1980’s, the Swedish government decided to build a permanent museum and numerous architects submitted designs. A final design was chosen, and the Vasa Museum opened in 1990, displaying the almost intact 17th century warship. It is the most visited museum in Scandinavia with around 1.5 million visitors per year.

When you walk in to the museum, the sight of the ship is overwhelming. The ship can be seen from six different levels and there are exhibits, maps and models explaining how the ship was built, it’s sailing route and eventual sinking. The museum explains the situation in Sweden during the 17th century that required the Vasa ship to be built, and has a movie theatre with a film on the ship recovery.

The Vasa museum is an absolute must if you are in Stockholm for any length of time.

The Renaissance Nordiska Museum, the central hall and the statue of King Gustav Vasa.

Nordiska Museum

As you emerge from the Vasa Museum, you will face the back of an impressive stone building, the Nordiska Museum. It stands on an area called Lejonslätten, the lions plain, because Queen Kristina, daughter of King Gustavus who had the Vasa ship built, placed lions here during her reign in the 17th century. The Renaissance style building which was partially built for Stockholm’s World´s Expo in 1897 is the home of Sweden’s largest cultural and historical museum.

Elaborate furniture, a 13th century baptismal font, toy cars and a warrior’s iron breastplate.

The Nordiska museum was founded in 1873 by Artur Hazelius, who also founded the nearby Skansen open air museum. When you enter the museum, you will see a large oak statue of King Gustav Vasa placed in the centre of an over 100 meter long open central hall with a ceiling that rises 24 meters. As you look up, you will see multiple stories surrounding the central hall.

The museum has over a million objects depicting the Nordic lifestyle and traditions from the 16th century to today. The collections of art, furniture, jewelry, fashion, glass, porcelain and interiors are interesting. The museum also has an area dedicated to the Sami, the only indigenous people in Sweden.

Wax figures of ABBA, caricature dolls of the iconic group and a display of records and CDs.

ABBA Museum

If you follow the main road in front of the Nordiska Museum, the Djurgårdsvågen, for about 300 meters, you will reach the entrance to the ABBA Museum. The Swedish pop group is known the world over, and their band’s name is an acronym taken from the first letters in the band members first names, Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. They rose to fame in 1974 after winning the annual Eurovision Song Contest with the hit song ‘Waterloo.”

ABBA sold hundreds of millions of records worldwide during the 1970s and 1980s and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. In 1999, the musical “Mama Mia!,” which adapted ABBA’s music, became a smash hit along with subsequent related films.

The ABBA Museum opened in 2013 and at the entrance you will get an audio tour device that is easy to use on the self guided tour. As you go through the museum, you just tap the audio pad, and the audio begins. Much of the audio is actually the band members telling stories of their lives before ABBA, how they met, how they wrote songs, how they became the iconic super group and some of the experiences they had along the way. There are interactive areas where you can sing their music or dance with them on stage.

The exhibits are well done including a recreation of the Polar Studio, where they recorded some of their music. There is a helicopter similar to the one used in the album cover ABBA ARRIVAL that you can sit in to recreate the photo. In the museum you will see gold records, archival film footage, interesting stage costumes and the caricature style ABBA dolls that were used in a music video called “The Last Video.”

Before you leave, you enter the giftshop where you can get everything ABBA from souvenirs to posters, apparel and CDs. We all have listened or danced to ABBA songs over the years, and although I’m not a huge fan, the museum was very enjoyable.

Grona Lund from the water, the carousel, the Eclipse swings and the roller coasters. 

Grona Lund

When you leave the ABBA Museum, you can’t miss the sounds of the nearby Amusement Park.

In the late 1880s, on the south shore of Djurgården, nine acres were approved for the building of an amusement park. The park’s design had to incorporate the existing houses and commercial buildings that were already on the property. Even though the park has a small footprint on the island, it has 30 different attractions including roller coasters, free fall rides, and the “Eclipse,” one of the world’s tallest swing rides. The “Insane” roller coaster lives up to its name as the cars flip and spin and you travel along. In addition to the rides for the thrill seekers, there are rides for young children, and carnival games where you can win prizes like huge chocolate bars.

Grona Lund often hosts rock and pop music concerts, including on the main stage in the middle of the park. Bob Marley performed at Grona Lund three times, including in 1980 when he drew 30,000 fans.

If you want a quick bite, there are about fifteen food stands offering a wide selection of items including candy, burgers, pizza, poke bowls, kebabs, gyros, churros, waffles, crepes and ice cream. If you prefer to sit and relax, there are over ten options including Mexican, BBQ and Asian restaurants and a Biergarten. Needless to say, you won’t go hungry here.

The park is open from spring to late September and may be open during other dates including Halloween and the Swedish Autumn break. You can buy your tickets online in advance and get a pass that includes unlimited rides.

We have taken many youth hockey and ringette teams to Stockholm, and Grona Lund is always a hit with the kids and parents.

A traditional house in Skansen, a glass blowing shop, farm buildings and a school room.

Skansen

If you are not into amusement parks, across the street from the Grona Lund is the slower paced Skansen open-air museum. In the late 1890s, the park was created to preserve traditions, customs and structures from different parts of Sweden prior to the industrial age. The park is much larger that Grona Lund, with over 75 acres, and it attracts over a million visitors per year.

Over 150 buildings were relocated to Skansen from throughout Sweden, and they range from simple farm structures to worskhops, school rooms and manor houses. As you walk through the small village that they have created, people in traditional dress are doing every day chores. If you enter the trade shops, you will see skilled craftsmen demonstrating their skills including bakers, tanners, silversmiths, shoemakers and glass blowers. In today’s world, we take many essential products for granted that used to be made by hand in these small community work shops. To experience 19th century transportation, a 200 meter long funicular railway has been transporting people 35 meters up the north side of the Skansen hill since 1897.

Skansen’s traditional Christmas market, festivals and folklore shows are very popular.

Skansen’s relocated farms include domesticated animals like goats, pigs and horses. The park zoo contains over 75 species of the Nordic animals including bison, bears, seals, otters and moose. In addition to these Scandinavian natives, the zoo also features non-traditional animals like monkeys, peacocks, elephants and more.

Like Grona Lund, there are numerous options for fast food, cafes and restaurants. Taking time for a “fika” is an important Swedish custom. A fika is an opportunity to take time to share a coffee, and a little bite or a pastry, usually a cinnamon bun, with friends, colleagues or family.

A walk around the Skansen open-air museum on a nice sunny day is a great family activity.

Traditional farm houses, the funicular railway, the Bredablick tower and a moose.

More things to see and do in Djurgården

There are so many things to do in Djurgården. I listed some of my favourites, but you may enjoy visiting some of these options depending on your interests.

The Viking Museum opened in 2017 and it includes the interesting Ragnfrid’s Saga Viking ride.

The Liljevalchs Konsthall is an art gallery and exhibition space opened in 1916.

The Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde art museum is situated on a beautiful waterfront estate with a castle like mansion.

The Spritmuseum & The Absolut Art Collection is devoted to alcohol including Scandinavian Aquavit. After touring the museum, you can order a tasting tray of traditional spirits, Absolut vodkas or ciders.

Featuring 20th century Scandinavian and French art, the Thiel Gallery was established in 1905.

Junibacken is a children’s centre inspired by the stories by the Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren.

Cirkus is a 1,650 person arena built in 1892 that used to hold the circus, but now it is mainly used for shows, concerts, performances, trade shows, meetings, parties and gala dinners.

On the north east of the island, you will find the Djurgården canal. The area across from the canal is Djurgårdsbrunn. Here you will find the Museum of Technology, the Police Museum, the Maritime Museum and more park space.

With so many activities and green space, you can see why Stockholmers love Djurgården. On you next trip to Sweden, be sure to set aside some time on your schedule to explore and enjoy it.

Traditional farm houses, the funicular railway, the Bredablick tower and a moose. 

Explore Europe With Us

Azorcan Global Sport, School and Sightseeing Tours have taken thousands to Europe on their custom group tours since 1994. Visit azorcan.net to see all our custom tour possibilities for your group of 26 or more. Individuals can join our “open” signature sport, sightseeing and sport fan tours including our popular Canada hockey fan tours to the World Juniors. At azorcan.net/media you can read our newsletters and listen to our podcasts.

Images compliments of Paul Almeida and Azorcan Tours.

Read more of Paul’s travel series – click here. 

 

I have been in sports management and the sports tour business since 1994 when I created my company, Azorcan Global Sport, School and Sightseeing tours. Please visit our website at azorcan.net for more information on our company, our tours and our destinations. We are European group tour experts specializing in custom sightseeing tours, sport tours (hockey, soccer, ringette, school academies) and fan tours (World Juniors). Check out our newsletters, and listen to our podcasts at azorcan.net/media.

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Alberta

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!

Regards,

The Free Alberta Strategy Team

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Alberta

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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