B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks during a news conference after a meeting between Premiers and leaders of National Aboriginal Organizations in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, July 25, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Adam Scotti
"There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run/When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun."
- Gordon Lightfoot, Canada Railroad Trilogy
The self-absorbed province of British Columbia, gifted by natural wealth and physical beauty, and now led by down-in-the-polls Liberal Premier Christy Clark, is no neophyte when it comes to holding the rest of Canada up for ransom.
It appears to be genetic.
When Canada's Confederation brought four eastern provinces together to form a new country in 1867, part of the deal included a promise to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that a railway would link them with the two more central Canadian provinces, Quebec and Ontario.
Three years later, Manitoba joined up and British Columbia, isolated on the west coast, agreed to sign on in 1871 - but if, and only if, a transcontinental railway was built within an impossibly 10 short years to physically link it to the money markets and prosperity of the East.
The succumbing to this blackmail by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald toppled his government in 1873 and, by the time he returned to power five years later, the massive project was woefully behind schedule.
Yet it eventually got done, thanks to a successful syndicate of Scottish-Canadian businessmen which allowed for the Canadian Pacific Railway to become a reality, despite being plagued by natural disasters, financial uncertainties and upheaval.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
There were no environment or social concerns expressed at the time by British Columbia, at least not like those it feigns today.
No, as far as BC was concerned, the railroad navvies could blow holes through those "wild majestic mountains," violate pristine streams and rivers, cut out great swaths out of the "green dark forest" and even enslave 9,000 Chinese "coolie" labourers - just as long as it served its purpose.
Years later, environmental concerns by BC's provincial leaders were also largely absent when it came to softwood lumber, as hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests were destroyed in clearcut operations to produce two-by-fours, and to hell with reforestation, scarred landscapes and destroyed wildlife habitat.
This is hardly a fine environmental legacy.
In fact, up until the mid-1990s, most of the harvesting for lumber on public lands in BC involved clearcutting, so much so that 87% of the areas harvested used this process.
But now, lo and behold, Premier Clark and British Columbia are suddenly tree huggers, and laying down conditions for another blackmailing of Canada in order for BC to support the proposed $5.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline linking the west coast to the oilsands of Alberta, with Clark's opening line being that B.C. would be taking "very large risks" for "very little reward."
While its environmental hypocrisy is consistent, this is not to say that BC doesn't have a price.
BC's Environment Minister Terry Lake isn't saying exactly how much lucre his province is seeking, other than to acknowledge that 8.2% of the projected $81 billion in benefits over the next 30 years is apparently not enough of a dowry for it to roll over.
In a national editorial published in these pages Tuesday, it was written that, instead of being a family where the health and prosperity of the collective comes first, Canada is becoming more and more like a dysfunctional confederation of spoiled children.
A "what's in it for me?" attitude prevails.
Either Canada is a country or it's a collection of self-seeking kingdoms, but it cannot be both, an editorial theme quickly picked up by Alberta Premier Alison Redford in her initial response to Premier Clark's threat.
"From what we've seen, there are very specific comments being made by the premier of BC that will fundamentally change Confederation," she said. "We have a Confederation which allows for people in each province to benefit from the resources they have, to retain jurisdiction over those resources, and then to be part of a federal system that allows for transfer payments where there's economic success - and those benefits get transferred across the country."
In other words, there is a process for the collective good of Canada as a whole, and that process does not include the "or else" of one province blackmailing the Confederation for additional kickbacks.
But this is what's going down, perhaps the result of a genetic predisposition in the DNA of many of BC's premiers.
Christy Clark appears to bear this out.
- Bonokoski is QMI Agency's national editorial writer