As Global Borders Shift, a Study of Our Own

Canada's borders, set by imperialists, need a 21st century redraw. Get out your pen!

By Crawford Kilian 21 Jul 2014 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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Venture capitalist Tim Draper proposes 'Six Californias' to better reflect local interests. What would 'Six British Columbias' look like?

I still have an atlas or two, acquired long before Google Maps, showing the world of the Cold War: a divided Germany, a united Yugoslavia, a Soviet Union with its meaningless constituent "republics."

And when I went to school in the 1940s and '50s, my classrooms always had maps of the world with great swatches and patches of pink across North America, Africa and South Asia: the colonies and dominions of the postwar British Empire as it awkwardly tried to become a Commonwealth. Those were also the days of "French Indochina" and "French West Africa," usually rendered in purple.

Borders may be literally set in stone, or at least in concrete and concertina wire. But first they're set on paper, whether by negotiation or decree, and they can be changed the same way.

Think of Iraq, a completely artificial state carved out of the corpse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. Britain wanted a congenial monarchy with which to reward some of its wartime Arab allies, so it turned to Gertrude Bell, a remarkable woman who was an expert on the Middle East, an archaeologist and a spy. Bell's borders have endured for almost a century (the monarchy was ousted in 1958).

But those borders have been fraying in the past decade. The Kurds in the north of Iraq have their own autonomous state, independent in all but name. Millions of Iraqis have fled the country, and more are fleeing as the warriors of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) declare a caliphate stretching across much of both countries.

Like Iraq, our own borders were largely set by imperialists with no interests in the original residents (and not much in the colonists either). Britain grudgingly gave up what are now Oregon and Washington state, settling on the 49th parallel plus Vancouver Island. The Brits then nearly fought a war with the U.S. over ownership of the San Juan Islands; Kaiser Wilhelm, acting as mediator, awarded them to the U.S.

The changing Canadian map

Similarly, Alberta and Saskatchewan were arbitrarily carved out of the old North-Western Territory in 1905. Manitoba, which for a few years had contained the Red River Republic and New Iceland, expanded from a tiny province in 1870 to its present dimensions only in 1912. And of course Newfoundland and Labrador changed our maps by entering Confederation in 1949.

As the Americans moved west, they too set arbitrary borders. When the Republic of Texas became a state, it was given the option of dividing itself into five states -- which would have given it ten senators and remarkable clout in the U.S. government. And while the South was not allowed to secede from the Union, West Virginia was allowed to secede from Virginia because it opposed the Confederacy.

If we accept the fluidity of national, state and provincial borders, we might consider how to redraw them to reflect our own needs and interests. That's the principle behind a movement called Six Californias, which actually has a chance of getting on a referendum in 2016. The movement is funded by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper; one of his proposed states is named, unimaginatively, Silicon Valley.

So how might we change our own borders, just within present-day Canada?

Welcome to metropolis

One obvious way would be to create a new entity: the metropolis, existing on equal terms with its surrounding province. Big cities simply have needs that can't be met effectively by the rural and small-town taxpayers who dominate today's provincial legislatures.

B.C. could have three such metropoli: Victoria north to Nanaimo, Vancouver east to Chilliwack, and Okanagan -- from Osoyoos north to Vernon. Present communities within the metropoli would become boroughs, looking after their own local concerns while sending representatives to a metropolitan council.

Regions outside the metropoli could remain the single province of British Columbia, but it might make more sense to found new provinces: Vancouver Island, Cariboo Plateau, and so on. That little slice of B.C. on mountain standard time could join Alberta -- or a new mini-province bordering the metropolis of Calgary-Edmonton.

If a low-population area decided it couldn't survive as a mini-province, it might apply for direct federal administration. This might be a logical status for regions containing military bases or "national" resources we need to distribute affordably to everyone, like electricity and fuel.

We might also redraw our borders to include "associate" communities that share our interests. Annexation of the Turks and Caicos Islands has been a Canadian daydream for years; whether federally, provincially or as metropoli, we might associate with such Caribbean winter destinations to provide inexpensive holidays for us and access to our labour market for them. Quebec could add millions of francophones through an association with Haiti and the French Caribbean islands.

Similarly, we might form associations with other northern nations about northern issues. A quiet word with the Norwegians about their fish farms in B.C. might carry more weight if Norway were in the family, and Metro Vancouver could send its Ministry of Education to Helsinki to learn about Finnish education. Meanwhile, our First Nations could sit down with Finland's Sami to discuss improving caribou herds.

No thanks, Cascadia

Another longtime daydream is Cascadia, a mellow vision of tree huggers ruling from here to Mendocino. But let's get real. I consider Washington state and Oregon as Canada irredenta -- a patrimony unfairly stolen by the Yanks in the 1840s. But the U.S. Pacific Northwest is now too big and over-armed; we might as well team up with Pakistan's Taliban or Idaho's survivalists. Better just to absorb Point Roberts into Metro Vancouver and let Seattle and Portland sort themselves out.

Provinces, federal zones and metropoli would all still obey the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and our legal system would remain the same. But each entity would be free to enact many local laws: if you don't like Metro Vancouver's high gas taxes, move to Fort McMurray, capital of Alberta North, where gas is 50 cents a litre but you'll live in your car and pay 50 bucks a night for parking.

One of the big problems of big countries is their big costs -- financially, politically and emotionally -- of doing business. Humans evolved in groups of no more than 150. When a Hutterite colony gets that big, it buys more land and sends some of its members to form a new colony. Small countries like Switzerland and Uruguay and Denmark rarely get into trouble; it's the Russias and Americas and Chinas that have to throw their weight around just to keep their balance.

Medium countries like us get dragged along in their slipstream. If we were all smaller, and we overlapped with other small countries, no one would feel threatened by some local bully. If a jerk took over some other small country, we could shut him down without a nuclear war.

Ever since Prussia beat France in 1871 and then formed the Reich, we've defined our importance by the size of our country or, if we're small, by the amount of damage we can do to other countries. That's a lot of damage, when even North Korea and Israel have nuclear weapons.

By redrawing our borders, we might also redefine ourselves -- not as insecure thugs and bullies, but as people who, in small countries, are more individually important than anyone can be in a nation of hundreds of millions.

So tell us, how would you redraw the borders within British Columbia to carve out new provinces?  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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