Why Saskatchewan independence falls flat
Author: Jason Chestney
Recently, Chantal Hébert’s new book The Morning After revealed that in the event of a “Yes” vote in the 1995 Quebec referendum, then-Premier Roy Romanow had considered the option of making Saskatchewan independent from the rest of Canada. While it is an interesting “what-if,” I do not believe that it is likely Saskatchewan could have survived as an independent country and if it did, the standard of living would have fallen to the point where the Saskatchewan population would force the provincial government to rejoin Canada. The reasons for this largely have to do with Saskatchewan’s situation in 1995 and bring out many of the same issues that were made around the possibility of Quebec’s separation in their most recent provincial election.
Saskatchewan in 1995 was a world different from the Saskatchewan of today, especially when it comes to the economy and the cost of living in the province. In 1995, the economy was in dire straits thanks to Grant Devine’s policies, which left no money in the provincial coffers to prepare for the eventual economic downturn. Also, natural resource prices, the key staple of Saskatchewan’s GDP, were low, resulting in less revenue coming into the province to stimulate the economy. As a result, the province was receiving large equalization payments from the federal government; these would immediately disappear in the event of separation. In my view, Saskatchewan’s borders would also be an issue due to the fact that an independent Saskatchewan would not have direct access to any ports. It would have to negotiate some sort of deal with the other Canadian provinces, or the United States, to sell Saskatchewan natural resources through their ports. This would likely be a time-consuming process that would mean lost revenue for the Saskatchewan economy.
The standard of living, I think, would likely also become an issue. With the federal government providing many of the essential services that would then come under the jurisdiction of the provincial government, such as Medicare, Canada Post, Employment Insurance, and the Canadian Pension Plan, it is questionable whether the provincial government would have been able to pay to provide all of these services. Given the state of the provincial economy and the ongoing exodus of workers to other provinces due to the lack of jobs, the provincial government likely would have had to reduce the cost of the programs in order to avoid a complete economic collapse and shrink the welfare state.
As a result, I believe the standard of living would have suffered accordingly, and whether it was at the level to generate significant unrest is open to question. However, the reduction in living standards likely would make the population realize that they were better off as a part of Canada rather than as an independent country. The question can also be asked whether Saskatchewan could survive as an independent country today; I would say unequivocally no. Since I believe the Sask Party hasn’t managed the economy as well as they said they have, and with a middle-class already being squeezed, I would say that Saskatchewan is much better off as part of Canada and that the independent country of Saskatchewan today would have to face the same challenges of an independent Saskatchewan in 1995.