Separation is a question that comes and goes; Canada’s national toothache. Separatism in Quebec has come close, twice, to rupturing this country, but there are other separatist movements out there lurking just below the political radar. You hear murmurings about it in Western Canada when the Liberal party wins the national election despite a strong show of support by Western Canada for the Canadian Alliance. British Columbian senator Pat Carney became the butt of many jokes (again) when she suggested that B.C. should separate and take on the American fishing fleets off the west coast, with or without Canada’s support.
You even hear one or two suggestions for it in the Greater Toronto Area. Mayor Mel Lastman fired up the speculation when he complained about how few services Toronto receives for the taxes it pays into Confederation, but he was suggesting that the GTA should become Canada’s eleventh province; I myself have suggested this. However, a board that I participate in has one or two posters who believe that Toronto should leave Canada entirely and become a city state.
I disagree with separation in all its forms. Toronto is my home town and I love it very much, but for me, my Toronto includes Canada. Like it or not, we are all Canadians, and all things considered, we should like it. Even Toronto, which subsidizes the rest of Canada to the tune of $5000 per household per annum on average, has benefitted and continues to benefit from this great land.
Though I live in the best city in the world, I have no wish to disassociate myself from the mountains of B.C., the rich folklore of the Maritimes or the cultural amenities of Montreal. Sure, I have suffered from Torontonian jokes just as Newfoundlanders have suffered from Newfie jokes, but Toronto’s economic wealth has still been built upon western farmers, northern gold and lumber, the mass exodus of banks from beleaguered Montreal. It was our separation from the United States, and the support of benevolent federal and provincial governments that prevented Toronto from suffering the inner city rot that was the norm in large American cities during the 60s and the 70s.
We know of the achievements that we can be proud of. Our investments helped pay for the transcontinental railroad. Our economic wellbeing is the large reason why Canada continues to avoid the recession that is currently rocking the United States. We’ve taken in not only immigrants from around the world, but people from all over Canada, from Newfoundlanders to Vancouverites, who have contributed to the economic strengths of this region and to the nation as a whole. We do receive far less services than we pay for in taxes, but a large measure of our prosperity and our stability is the result of the nation we’ve helped subsidize.
I feel it would be a mistake to consider separating ourselves from Canada because of the benefits we already receive through our relationship with the rest of the country, and the benefits we see through NAFTA. Would an independent Toronto be a part of NAFTA? That was very much in question when Quebec considered separation. Even if we could negotiate ourselves into NAFTA, could deal better with the United States as a city-state of six million rather than a nation-state of thirty million?
Toronto needs billions of dollars in investment over the next twenty years to build its infrastructure so it can handle the expected growth. It would help a lot if some of that help could come from both the provincial and federal governments — and that means the rest of Canada. Do we think that we could really extract the commitments that we need if we take up the language of separation? Pat Carney didn’t succeed. We know there is an economic benefit to the country as a whole in investing in Toronto’s future, and that should be the focus of our pitch. We must avoid terms of entitlement. We mustn’t say “It’s our money; we need it more than drought-stricken farmers” because those farmers in Alberta are among the ones we’re counting on to help us invest in the next twenty years.
As Canadians, we must realize that we’re all in this boat together. Torontonians should be taking a lead in lending assistance to the Maritimes and the Prairies, so that they, in turn, will be happy to help us. We can deride western Canadians for arrogance and Newfoundlanders for their anti-Toronto jokes, but we would be simply adding to the cycle of negative energy that is holding this country back. If Toronto wants the rest of Canada to invest in Toronto’s future, then Toronto has to take a leadership role in investing in Canada’s future.
There will come a time when Canada is irrelevant, and the GTA takes its place among the more powerful city-states of the world. However, at that time, almost all borders will be irrelevant. We will be able to cross from Sarnia to Port Huron as easily as crossing from Council Bluffs, Iowa to Omaha, Nebraska. The world will be divided among vast decentralized economic powerblocs. Europe will be united. The Northern Ireland question will have been settled, not through bombs or even hard negotiations, but with the sudden realization that, England or Ireland, it doesn’t matter — it’s all just Europe.
When that time comes, and not before, we will have no more obligations that any citizen of the planet Earth should have to his or her fellow human being. But we’re not there yet. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we have benefitted from the rest of Canada and we still need the rest of Canada. We have an obligation of history and current self interest — even if the final obligation is to negotiate ourselves into the North American Union with the strength of 35 million rather than just eight.