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The Election of 1911

The main issue in the election of 1911 was free trade. At the time, the Liberals were actually liberals in the original sense of the word, and they were proponents of free trade. While Laurier supported the proposed U.S. / Canada Reciprocity Agreement, Borden and the Conservatives condemned it.

The support for free trade in Alberta (and Saskatchewan) was based on the elimination of a U.S. imposed 25 cent per bushel tariff on wheat. This was a U.S. response to MacDonald's 1879 National Policy, a protectionist piece of legislation. In an all-too-familiar story, the "National" Policy was designed to protect Ontario and Quebec manufacturers from products imported from the U.S. or Great Britain. The result was that Albertans were forced to pay high duties on imported farm machinery, or buy the more expensive competitors' goods from Ontario or Quebec. As has been the case with so many federal government programs, Albertans gained no visible benefit from protectionism, while Easterners did gain.

The results of the election were typical. The Liberals nearly swept Alberta, grabbing 6 of 7 seats. Meanwhile, Borden's Conservatives achieved a strong majority government, gaining 134 seats to the Liberals' 87.
The Free Trade Agreement & NAFTA

Free trade has always been somewhat of an anathema to Canadians, yet strongly supported by Albertans. As was the case in 1911, Albertans strongly supported free trade by supporting the Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and Canada in 1988.

The catalyst behind the election of 1988 was when the Liberal appointed Senate refused to ratify the Free Trade Agreement passed by the Conservatives. Left with any other alternative, Mulroney called an election.

There were only two provinces that supported the Progressive Conservatives (and thus free trade) in 1988 to such an extent where the Progressive Conservatives received a majority of the popular vote: Quebec and Alberta. In every other province except Manitoba, the Conservatives weren't even the most popular party, indicating the contrasting views of free trade in Alberta versus the rest of Canada.

Let's look a little closer at those results. Albertans not only voted 51.8% in favor of the Progressive Conservatives, but also 15.4% to the emerging Reform Party, indicating a massive majority of 67.2% of Albertans supported parties who supported free-trade.

Quebec voted 52.4% for the Progressive Conservatives, but I posit that this majority was the result of two factors:
1. Brian Mulroney was a francophone, and
2. John Turner wasn't.
If anyone doubts the propensity of Quebec to strongly favor francophone candidates, consider that only one anglophone , John Diefenbaker, has held a majority government in Canada in the past 50 years. Quebec didn't vote for free trade; Quebec voted francophone.

Alberta simply got lucky that the FTA was adopted. As was the case in the 1911 election, Alberta voted strongly for free trade, while the rest of the country opposed it.. Alberta (and the rest of Canada, the U.S. and eventually Mexico) benefited from the coincidence that Mulroney happened to be for free trade and a francophone.
Interprovincial Trade Barriers

Interprovincial trade barriers show how little support free trade has within Canada. The U.S. has no trade barriers between states, which derives from various Constitutional clauses. No such protection of interprovincial free trade exists in Canada, and interprovincial trade barriers are sometimes higher than international trade barriers.

Though I would argue that such tariffs and barriers have hurt every Canadian province as well as Alberta, the initial effects of such protectionism once again disproportionately harms Alberta:

1983 Benefits and Costs of Canadian Tariffs:


(Source: Bill Kurchak, "Why the West Wants Free Trade, Banff Life, Summer 1985)

It is clear which parties within Canada have an interest in maintaining status quo protectionism.
BSE: Protecting Alberta's Economy from Protectionism

Protectionism nowadays typically doesn't take the form of tariffs. Rather, protectionists typically resort to non-tariff barriers to trade, for example: import standards, subsidies, certifications, or regulations.

The mad cow disease incident has resulted in such protectionism. Note that this protectionism threatened against Alberta was from
Ontario. Also note that this form of protectionism did occur in the United States and other countries, and is still problematic.

Why would it be considered as protectionism? Consider the actual health risk that BSE poses to consumers of beef in the United States:
more people have died from eating green onions in the U.S. than BSE-contaminated beef. Have we seen similar apoplectic fits over the export of green onions as we have with beef? No.

And what has been the response of various levels of government to re-opening the U.S. market to Albertan ranchers? The Canadian government has been powerless to really do anything. However,
Ralph Klein was able to meet with Dick Cheney to discuss the issue. Chretien had to wait before George W. Bush would even pick up the phone for a 10 minute phone conversation. Who demonstrated more ability to open up U.S. markets, the Alberta or Canadian government? Undoubtedly, the Alberta government had more efficacy in the matter.
Softwood Lumber: Protecting Alberta's Economy from Protectionism

Softwood lumber is a contentious trade issue between Canada and the U.S..While Alberta exports softwood lumber to the U.S., so does B.C. as well as the darlings of Canadian Confederation, Quebec and Ontario.

Thus, the Canadian government has no problems threatening Alberta's economy to save Canada's. The threat to Alberta's economy came from Chretien trying to blackmail the U.S. by
threatening to cut off Alberta's oil and gas exports. Obviously, this harms the Albertan economy more than anything. Where is the threat of an embargo of hydroelectricity from Quebec and Ontario?
Free Trade and Alberta Independence

Free trade has been an important issue since Alberta's infancy. Albertans have strongly supported freer trade throughout our history, especially when compared with Canadians. With such a divergent viewpoint, Alberta's interests would be served better as an independent country, where free trade could be embraced rather than be rejected.

Ironically, independence may actually open up various markets in Canada to Alberta due to the litany of interprovincial trade barriers.

Given the latest trade disputes over cattle and softwood lumber, we not only have evidence that the Canadian government is able to do anything to help the Canadian economy. On the contrary, the Canadian government seems hell-bent on making tactless attacks on Americans. The Albertan government has already been more effective than the Canadian government in helping Albertans realize the benefits of freer trade, although that is damning with faint praise. And the Albertan government's case would be made stronger with independence.