Manning and Romanow Reflect Their Provinces

THEY HAD FRONT-ROW SEATS to much of the modern history of Canada's West. On occasion, they even held the conductor's baton. Preston MANNING, as he notes here, literally grew up in the seat of government - his dad, Ernest C. Manning, was ALBERTA's longest-serving premier (1943 to 1968).
THEY HAD FRONT-ROW SEATS to much of the modern history of Canada's West. On occasion, they even held the conductor's baton. Preston MANNING, as he notes here, literally grew up in the seat of government - his dad, Ernest C. Manning, was ALBERTA's longest-serving premier (1943 to 1968).

Manning and Romanow Reflect Their Provinces

THEY HAD FRONT-ROW SEATS to much of the modern history of Canada's West. On occasion, they even held the conductor's baton. Preston MANNING, as he notes here, literally grew up in the seat of government - his dad, Ernest C. Manning, was ALBERTA's longest-serving premier (1943 to 1968). Preston Manning, of course, went on, in 1987, to found and lead the REFORM PARTY, and to orchestrate its successor, the CANADIAN ALLIANCE, in the process turning federal politics in the West on its ear. Roy ROMANOW took a different route. The son of Ukrainian immigrants, he grew up on the other side of the tracks in Saskatoon and was taken early with Tommy DOUGLAS's siren song. As a young man, he would even carry Douglas's bags on speaking engagements and, like his idol, grew up to become premier of SASKATCHEWAN, from 1991 to 2001. Since then he has headed a royal commission on health care.

Maclean's asked both men to pen personalized histories of their respective provinces over the last half-century or so, to mark the centenary of Alberta and Saskatchewan becoming provinces on Sept. 1, 1905. Here are their remembrances, and observations.

BIG WEST COUNTRY: PRESTON MANNING on how religion and reform have cut through the mindscape of Alberta like a runaway river

IN 1943, WHEN I was less than a year old, my father, Ernest MANNING, became premier of Alberta, a job he held for the next 25 years. I thus had the privilege of growing up with an inside view of Alberta during a period of momentous change, and access to a political gene pool of politicians and public servants who had known Alberta from its very beginnings as a province.

In 1935, when my father was first elected to the legislature, it was in the midst of the GREAT DEPRESSION. At 27, he was the youngest minister in the government, but his deputy, Eddie Trowbridge, had been clerk to the territorial government before Alberta became a province and had known every premier of Alberta and Saskatchewan from 1905 to 1935. He never tired of telling my father that the best leader the West ever produced was Frederick HAULTAIN. As a youngster, I came to recognize his austere portrait hanging in the legislature in Edmonton, and would nod respectfully in passing. Fred Haultain came west from Toronto in 1884 to practise law in Fort Macleod in the old NORTH-WEST TERRITORIES. In 1887, he was elected to the Territorial Council, where he championed "responsible government": that cabinet should be responsible to the legislature and the legislature to the people.

In 1891, Haultain became "premier," from where he presided over the struggle by the territories to attain provincial status. As Trowbridge reminded my father, Haultain's vision of the future was as big and expansive as the West itself - and on a par with those of John A. MACDONALD and Wilfrid LAURIER. At the heart of that vision was responsible democratic government, constitutional equality for the West with the older provinces of Canada, and unification of the West into one big province strong enough to counterbalance the weight of Quebec or Ontario.

Haultain argued this last point most vigorously in a famous debate with Manitoba Premier Rodmond ROBLIN at Indian Head, Sask., on Dec. 18, 1901. At the time, the federal government was playing one sectional interest off against another, thereby weakening the West's capacity to bargain for better terms and conditions of provincehood. Haultain called those territorial politicians who went along with this strategy, in return for federal patronage or out of personal ambition, "Little Westerners." He appealed to his audience to act as "Big Westerners" to pursue provincehood and constitutional equality as "the joint demand of a united West."

While Haultain won the debate at Indian Head that cold December night, he and his Big Western followers lost the Battle for the West to the Laurier LIBERALS and the Little Westerners. One hundred years ago, the Prairie West was divided into three provinces - an expanded Manitoba and the new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. All three were denied constitutional equality with the rest of Canada as Ottawa retained ownership and control of their natural resources.

Fred Haultain should have been the first premier of either Alberta or Saskatchewan. Instead he was relegated to the political sidelines. But his sound and principled ideas - responsible government, constitutional equality, and the importance of a united West - entered Alberta's political psyche, and profoundly affected the attitudes and actions of citizens and politicians (myself included) from that day on.

THOUGH I grew up in a political home in Alberta, I nevertheless heard as many sermons as stump speeches. At a critical time in Alberta's history, religion and politics became closely entwined as folks leaned on both to see them through the hard times of depression and war. In the 1920s and '30s, two particularly spiritual streams cut across the Prairies as do the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers, leaving an indelible impression on the political landscape. One came to be named the Social Gospel Movement; J. S. WOODSWORTH, a Methodist minister from Winnipeg, was one of its main proponents. He helped found and lead the CO-OPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH FEDERATION, a new federal party that later became the New Democratic Party under the leadership of another man of the cloth, Baptist minister Tommy Douglas, a former premier of Saskatchewan. From the SOCIAL-GOSPEL perspective, the most important dimension of the Christian faith is social justice - the horizontal dimension of faith, as it's been called - meeting the needs of the young, the sick, the poor and the old.

At around the same time, another spiritual stream, later labelled the Evangelical Movement, rolled across the Prairies. One of its key proponents was William ABERHART. Born and educated in Ontario, he became a prominent high school principal in Calgary and a pioneering radio broadcaster whose weekly religious appeals helped knit together isolated Prairie homes. For evangelicals, the primary dimension of faith is the relationship between individuals and God - the so-called vertical relationship of personal salvation - a prerequisite to being able to effectively do God's work on Earth.

People like my parents, who grew up on the Canadian Prairies during this period, could hardly avoid being influenced by these movements - the one stressing collective responsibility, the other individual responsibility - each with political, as well as religious, ramifications. My father was a teenager living on his family's homestead near Rosetown, Sask., when he heard one of Aberhart's broadcasts and "committed his life to Christ," as Aberhart urged his listeners to do. When Aberhart started a school in Calgary to train ministers, my father enrolled and went off to Alberta to study. He later became Aberhart's executive assistant, in the process meeting my mother, a concert pianist who helped Aberhart with the musical portion of his radio program.

When the Depression came along, Aberhart started a soup kitchen through his school. And he became more and more distraught as he saw in the lineups many of his former students now "riding the rails" in a vain search for employment. As a result, he began to add the horizontal dimension - educational and political instruction - to the vertical aspects of his religious work. To get at the causes of the Depression, he established economic study groups across Alberta under the banner of SOCIAL CREDIT. Another movement, it advocated a sort of poor man's Keynesian economics to stimulate the economy by expanding consumer purchasing power.

As Aberhart's assistant, my father became involved in all this activity as well. And when those study groups ran candidates in the 1935 provincial election, my father ended up as a government member in the legislature, where he stayed for 33 years, 25 as premier. He had come to Alberta to become a minister of the Gospel, and ended up a minister of the Crown. What is the point of remembering and telling all this? Simply that it is an integral part of the spiritual and political heritage of Alberta and the Canadian Prairies, a heritage that continues to play itself out in our national politics.

TODAY, Alberta is considered a "conservative" province strongly committed to a favourable climate for free enterprise, balanced budgets, low taxes, free trade, and universal health care via a two-track (public and private) delivery and payment system. After attending hundreds of meetings over the years, I have come to appreciate, however, that Alberta is "conservative with a difference," its peculiarities shaped by its constitutional, religious, economic, and political experience.

The movement by farmers in the 1920s and '30s to gain more control over their livelihoods expressed itself provincially through the creation of the UNITED FARMERS OF ALBERTA and nationally through the PROGRESSIVE PARTY of Canada. On the one hand, the UFA and the Progressives were strong advocates of co-operatives and government intervention to break the monopolistic practices of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the grain companies. They were also, for the most part, ruggedly independent farmers who fiercely believed in the private ownership of land. What were these farmers, socialistic capitalists or capitalistic socialists?

In the midst of the Depression, both the socialists of the CCF and Aberhart's Social Crediters bitterly denounced the banks and what they called the failure of capitalism. In both Alberta and Saskatchewan, religiously motivated "social concern" was the driving force that created both the social credit and the social democratic movements. Yet in Alberta this became wedded to the idea of reforming capitalism through monetary policy and other radical measures, whereas in Saskatchewan the social democrats aimed at replacing it altogether.

"Social conservatism" in Alberta did not originally mean what it means today. In my father's day, it meant free-enterprisers with a social conscience, politicians with hard heads and soft hearts. Although Alberta governments for at least the past 60 years have espoused conservative economic principles, the province has invested heavily in education, health, infrastructure and research. In recent years, Alberta's per-capita spending in virtually every public service category is among the country's highest .

By the time oil was discovered in substantial quantities at Leduc in 1947, most of the petroleum resources in both Alberta and Saskatchewan had been publicly owned by the provincial Crown since 1930, when Ottawa relinquished its authority. After the long struggle to wrest control from the federal government, there was never any question in either province of privatizing resource ownership. In Alberta, my father's government was committed to attracting and using private enterprise to exploit Alberta's oil. This was not always the case in Saskatchewan.

What are the adaptations Alberta conservatism will have to make to meet future needs? One of the most important will be the challenge of marrying a growing public demand for environmental conservation to the province's market-driven approach to economic development. Pessimists will say it can't be done. But optimists will point to the fact that "conservation" and "conservatism" come from the same root, and that it has never been wise to bet against Alberta when it comes to public policy innovation.

RESPONSIBLE government, that lofty concept for which Haultain fought so hard, became only the first of a long list of democratic reforms - political rights for women, recall, citizens' initiatives, referenda, electoral reforms, free voting by caucus members, Senate reform - championed by Western movements as diverse as the Progressives, Social Credit, the CCF and the Reform Party of Canada. All but the CCF put down strong roots in Alberta. But even it had its founding meeting in Calgary, in 1932.

In recent years, Albertans have continued to champion federal democratic reforms, especially by pushing Ottawa to adopt an elected and accountable Senate. But Albertans have been strangely quiescent at the provincial level. This is misleading. Alberta politics is unlike that of any other province - long periods of one-party government, then a major upheaval, with the ruling party thus far being replaced by a new group with new ideas rather than by its traditional opposition. Alberta practises "long cycle" change, and the candidates for the next big idea to grip Alberta will no doubt include democratic reform as well as firewall building, bridge building, and the marriage of conservation and conservatism.

According to T. R. Glover's Democracy in the Ancient World, democracy is first and foremost a "frontier phenomenon." The early Greek experiments began among the hardy farmers in outlying regions who first begat and reinforced the notions of equality and self-government. These notions were then carried back through trade to the city states where they were either rejected or incorporated into the governing structure.

Fast forward to the Canadian West, which had its political and economic beginnings as a colony of central Canada. The frontier conditions of the West, like those of ancient Greece, developed a more natural equality and independence than that which existed in the older, more stratified societies of Eastern and Central Canada. Those conditions generated the democratic impulses that shaped much of Alberta's political culture, and continue to fuel its demands for "reform" - including more democratic and equitable federal processes and institutions - to this very day.

How will the older more established parts of Canada - how will federal institutions like Parliament - react to the demands for democratic and other reforms coming from 21st-century Alberta? Will it be continued skepticism and resistance, or will it be measured acceptance and accommodation? As Alberta celebrates its first 100 years, the answers to these questions will shape its future and its place in the Canada to come.

RICH IN DIVERSITY: ROY ROMANOW reflects on growing up in a Saskatchewan family of immigrants who, like many seeking a future in Canada, spoke neither official language

AS A VERY young boy, I vividly recall being pulled home by my father on a brand new sleigh, my Christmas gift from St. Nicholas, after an evening of celebration at the Ukrainian community centre on the west side of Saskatoon. Ukrainian carols, poetry, dance and skits were the highlights of the evening. On the way home, the air was crisp and the icy snow crackled with every footstep. As I lay back on the sleigh and looked skyward, I was overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of the northern lights, with their unpredictable beauty. They produced a colourful dance that made me feel they were so far away and yet so close.

Perhaps that is why the memory is so strong. The magnificence of Saskatchewan's landscape - and sky - is one of its defining features. In the heat of summer, the seemingly endless fields of golden wheat extend so far into the horizon that they seem to pierce the sky. And when the Prairie wind blows through the wheat fields, they bob and weave like an undulating ocean. As I look back on that moment in the sleigh, I am struck by another reality: we were a family of immigrants and our family's universe was comprised of the Ukrainian hall, St. George's Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral, our schools, and the shopping area of 20th Street just a few blocks away. We could go to church, visit friends and neighbours and buy our necessities without using either one of Canada's two official languages.

Saskatchewan, of course, is rich in diversity. The kaleidoscopic nature of its geography - its hundreds of lakes, lush parkland forest and rolling southern prairies - stands in sharp contrast to the perception of the province that exists outside. It is the same for its many different, mostly European cultures that arrived in quick succession, beginning around the turn of the century and continuing until the 1930s. Saskatchewan, as I'm fond of telling my Ottawa friends, is a province where, for many years, the country's two founding groups, English and French, found their early influence here swamped by the barrage of newcomers.

My father left Ukraine in the late 1920s in pursuit of liberty and a future in Canada. He did not know much about the country to which he was destined. He did not know its languages. He did not know its history or traditions. And for sure his timing was not the best. Arriving on the eve of the Great Depression, which was made worse by the debilitating droughts of the early 1930s, he saw his dream to resume his livelihood as a farmer shattered. Like many from his place of origin, he turned to the railways for employment. He was a section man for the Canadian National Railways, a laborious job of repairing tracks, carting ice to old boxcars for refrigeration, and clearing the tracks of the huge snowdrifts that blocked the way. The trains had to do their work, especially in Saskatchewan, a place where distance mattered. This was now his life. When my mother and sister finally arrived by ship in the port of Montreal, there to meet them was Mike Romanow, who used his railway pass to travel four nights and days from the West, to accompany them to their new life in Saskatoon.

I was born about a year later, in 1939, at St. Paul's Hospital, near our small home on the west side, not far from the Ukrainian National Federation Hall. Built by volunteer labour, it featured two statues of lions at the front entrance and was the place where family and friends would socialize, maintain their culture and talk of how to someday bring about the liberation of Ukraine. Similar halls and cultural institutions, of course, were built by other arrivals. The working-class west side of Saskatoon was alive with the sounds, smells, faiths and faces of many other new Canadians. They were primarily Polish, German, Jewish, Scottish and English. And so an important lesson was learned: that tolerance and acceptance were essential for our province to move ahead.

This rich mixture of people existed throughout Saskatchewan's cities and towns. And the dirty thirties brought yet another lesson: that frequently we could accomplish much more by working together than alone. Thus credit unions, co-operatives, universities, regionally organized health centres and Crown corporations sprung up as the practical vehicles to pursue immediate survival and future growth. Eventually, I grew to appreciate these very practical institutions were an important part of my own dreams.

I am sure my father voted for the Liberal party, even though he was a firm believer in advancing the rights of working men and women, just because it was that same Liberal party whose government offered him hope and an opportunity for his children in a new land. Politically, I chose a different vehicle. From the very first time my father and I were stretched out in the evening on our small living room floor, with only the orange glow of the Zenith radio to light up the room, I was captured by the compelling preacher's voice and big dreams of Tommy Douglas, whose new party, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (later the NDP), seemed to represent the best way to build on our community strengths.

University helped me fully understand the political philosophy that underpinned Douglas and his government. But I probably learned more about him - and our province - by being his volunteer driver to speaking events around the time of the 1960 election; and seeing the tensions and aspirations of rural Saskatchewan, in particular, up close. By the time of the doctors' strike in 1962, the culmination of a three-year fight over Douglas's introduction of public medicare, our province was divided into two bitterly competing camps. My personal beliefs and friendships made it clear to me which side I was on. But the experience was also a watershed for many of us, confirming the importance of government and public life in shaping the nature of society.

Only a few short years after graduation, I turned my attention from law to active political life. Of course, Douglas was a major influence, but at that point, in the mid-1960s, it felt like giants graced our political landscape. Besides Douglas, there were leaders such as former Liberal premier and later federal agriculture minister Jimmy GARDINER, and Conservative leader John DIEFENBAKER in Ottawa. There were also influential public figures such as Al Johnson, later head of the CBC, Tommy SHOYAMA, who became a federal deputy minister of finance, and Emmett Hall, later a Supreme Court judge. As a group, they proved two things about Saskatchewan: that it could produce people of stature for the national stage, and that it also lost many of its best and brightest to greener pastures.

I was elected in 1967 and brought into Allan BLAKENEY's cabinet in 1971 as deputy premier and attorney general. These were heady times in which we created a legal aid plan and a Human Rights Code for the province, worked and fought with Ottawa over resource development, and later, as the decade ended, engaged full-heartedly in the patriation of the Constitution. That last political fight led to an extremely close association with fellow attorneys general Jean CHRÉTIEN from Ottawa and Roy McMurtry from Ontario, and to our so-called kitchen accord at the last of those big conferences in 1981 with Pierre TRUDEAU. This is not the place to go into those war stories except to say it was one of the rare, maybe even hokey, moments in our history when three of the main pillars of modern Canada - the French, English and immigrant experience - collided in a creative way. At several key points during the long patriation battle - in the political negotiations and before the Supreme Court - Saskatchewan offered different and creative solutions from the other participants. That is just the way we are.

The patriation fight led to political defeat for the Blakeney government and for me personally in 1982. But that was not the end of the world. After all, drought and international markets had defeated Prairie farmers, but they fought back. Our provincial ambitions had often met political resistance from other regions, but Saskatchewan continued to pursue its dreams.

In Saskatchewan's first 100 years as a province, many of its communities have experienced this cycle only too frequently. Time and again, however, they saw the potential to rebuild and to renew, as limitless as the open sky. I certainly felt some of this determination when Saskatchewan voters elected the NDP to govern again in 1991, with me as leader. Many of us interpreted this as a mandate to start afresh, to dream again about the Big Ideas. But first we had a formidable hill to climb. The public agenda was urgent and long, but the fiscal capacity to achieve it was limited. A huge deficit had to be wrestled to the ground as soon as possible, not because this was a goal in itself, but because it was a prerequisite to build a dynamic Saskatchewan for the 21st century. Yet again, citizens were called upon to personally sacrifice in order to build a stronger province for the future. And cutting services was not an easy thing to do for a social democratic government. But in the mid-1990s, Saskatchewan became the first of any jurisdiction in Canada to eliminate its deficit and to start reducing debt, at a cost of closing some rural hospitals and sacrificing other needy causes. We gambled residents would buy into the pain in order to rebuild the trust and effectiveness of their public institutions. And we were not proven wrong.

Sometimes, I look back in wonderment to try to fully understand why my life unfolded as it did. Surely it was the tolerant, imaginative, embracing and bold nature of Saskatchewan that permitted the son of Ukrainian immigrants to be its premier. And I'm confident that groundwork is still there for future generations. Each province, territory and region, plus our many cultures and different stories, can be likened to individual pearls making up a beautiful necklace, connected to each other by the strand of a shared destiny. That strand, however, is fragile and requires constant attention. For me, our shared destiny has been and will continue to be the engine of progressive change. Shared destiny is the vision behind medicare, sometimes described as Saskatchewan's gift to the nation and something I've now heard thousands of Canadians speak passionately in support of, almost as a birthright. That's why I am certain that, just as there will always be the waving wheat fields and glittering northern lights, so too will Saskatchewan's next 100 years be even better than its past 100 - and just as experimental.


Maclean's July 1, 2005