A creative takeout service has helped keep the poor fed in a Toronto neighbourhood. CNS photo/Kathleen Flynn, Reuters

Glen Argan: Our strength lies in helping each other

  • November 5, 2020

It’s been 42 years since I emigrated from Saskatchewan to Alberta, but I still have a place in my heart for the old country. Although I don’t have any stake in what happens there and can’t name the mayor of either Regina or Saskatoon, I did check in to see the Saskatchewan election results on Oct. 26.

What most surprised me was the existence of the Buffalo party. Millions of North American bison used to wander the Western plains and were a major source of food and clothing for the First Nations. With the building of the railway and the influx of European and Eastern Canadian settlers in the late 19th century, the bison were almost completely wiped out. Many Indigenous people starved as a result and their culture was deliberately decimated.

So, the obvious first question is, does the Buffalo party want to bring back the buffalo? That would mean upending the province’s agricultural and resource extraction industries and finally honouring the treaties the white man made with First Nations almost 150 years ago.

A cursory investigation revealed that I was completely wrong. The only mention of the word “first” on the Buffalo party platform was not in relation to First Nations but to “Saskatchewan First.” While some of their policy proposals are laudable, I was struck by the party’s plans to take over the federal tax system in the province, immigration, trade, policing, the government pension plan and to give people “the right to vote for independence.”

I follow the news daily both online and in the newspaper, but I missed the story in July about a Buffalo Project which wants to apply these ideas to Alberta as well. Our premier, Jason Kenney, has made noises about adopting some of these policies, but he hasn’t come out in favour of independence. He was a federal cabinet minister at one time and swore allegiance to Canada before assuming that job.

I moved to Alberta just before the last separatist scare. A Western separatist won a provincial byelection, something which got the Eastern media excited. But he lost his seat when the general election came and that was that.

Three years ago, I spent two weeks in Bolivia, the only land-locked country in the Americas. The people were wonderful, but their country is the poorest in Latin America. The trip was arranged by Development and Peace and we visited several organizations that are helping their fellow Bolivians build a better future.

The extreme poverty of Bolivia is linked with its being a country without a seacoast. It also stems from the fact that for 500 years Bolivia’s plentiful natural resources have been essentially stolen by foreign governments and corporations.

Perhaps the Buffalo party and the Buffalo Project have not heard of Bolivia. If not, they should pay the place a visit. There, they would see what Saskatchewan and Alberta could become if we decided to become Buffaloland (without the buffalo). We don’t have the bountiful resources that Bolivia once had. The main extractive industry we do have — the petroleum industry — is on the downswing as the world strives to develop energy that is renewable.

We could have our Buffalo Pension as they want to call it and our Buffalo flat tax, but when the country has no wealth, both would be a pittance.

Almost all the generation born before the Dirty Thirties has now gone to its heavenly reward. Those people lived through hell, kept their faith and never forgot how bad things could get. When people were starving out here because of depression, dust and drought, the people of Eastern Canada came to our aid. They knitted socks and sent food packages to help our parents and grandparents get through hard times.

That’s what makes a nation a nation, not a bunch of blathering about Saskatchewan First or Alberta First. After all, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. We are here to help each other. We only diminish ourselves when we adopt a politics of me, myself and I. Yes, Alberta and Saskatchewan are currently paying more than their share to support the rest of Canada. But we shouldn’t be so aggrieved. We’ve had our time on the short end of the stick, and it could happen again.

(Argan lives in Edmonton.)

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