Moe’s “nation within a nation” comment demonstrates ignorance

Two men who will never run a country. Deb Ransom

Saskatchewan is no nation

On Tuesday, November 9, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe tweeted “Saskatchewan needs to be a nation within a nation. When the federal government implements policies that are detrimental to our province, our government will continue to stand up for Saskatchewan people.” This tweet was a followup[AD1]  to comments the premier made on the Roy Greene show where he stated “I think you’re going to see provinces like Saskatchewan – we (had) our convention yesterday and had passed a motion specific to this – to really start to expand our provincial autonomy,” and “We’re really starting to feel the differences between Saskatchewan and where our federal government is heading, is we’re actually, at this point in time … more like a nation within Canada.”

These comments from Moe were spurred by the federal government’s promise to cap Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions at the latest climate summit in Scotland. Moe was angered that Saskatchewan wasn’t consulted about that promise and claimed the federal government doesn’t have the right to make decisions unilaterally regarding natural resources and climate. 

In stating that he wants Saskatchewan to be a nation within a nation, Moe is saying that he wants what Quebec has in terms of provincial jurisdiction and for Saskatchewan to be regarded as a distinct culture within Canada. He also wants more authority in taxation, policing, and immigration to control Saskatchewan on Saskatchewan’s terms and ensure he doesn’t have to answer to the federal Liberals for so many things. But to truly understand what Scott Moe is trying to say, you have to look further at the concept of a nation and how Moe uses this rhetoric to further a political agenda. The Carillon spoke to Charles Smith, a professor of Political Science at the University of Saskatchewan, to get some clarity on what Scott Moe is really trying to say with “Nation within a Nation,” and what it means in the broad political landscape that is Canada. 

Does Scott Moe have any base to claim that Saskatchewan is a nation within a nation? Is Saskatchewan distinct like Quebec, and can it demand similar powers?

“There is a lot of different ways to approach this, but let’s start with the nation. Moe’s use of the concept of a nation is a fundamental misunderstanding, or a lack of knowledge of what that actual concept means. When we talk about nations, we usually talk about shared groups with similar languages, traditions, religious histories, you know, sociological characteristics. And I know the conservative right has been hostile to the concept of sociological concepts, but it’s really important here. Saying Saskatchewan is a nation within a nation is a fundamental misunderstanding of Saskatchewan’s history, and a fundamental misunderstanding of Canadian history.” 

“It’s a whitewash version of Canadian history, and it’s problematic on a lot of levels. It’s offensive to Indigenous nations, who are a legitimate nation, who have been on this territory for time immemorial, who are nations that have shared histories, languages, religious traditions, et cetera, in a way that a settler society does not. Scott Moe pandering to this idea is saying we’ve been left out somehow of the larger federal economic and political map. It’s bad politics, it’s a misnomer and it’s bizarre and in some cases quite offensive. Quebec is a much different territory. It’s got a much different history. It’s obviously a majority Francophone society with a large Indigenous population. So, Quebec’s relationship to Canada as a country is much different. It’s not the same as in Saskatchewan. “

The Opposition is saying this is just a way for Moe to distract from his handling of COVID-19. Do you think there is any truth to that? 

“So, there’s no question that it is a tactic to divert from the larger crisis in which we’re embedded right now. That is absolutely true. Although it’s worth pointing out that the NDP under Lorne Calvert and Roy Romanow did the same thing. It’s well-orchestrated political rhetoric. What he’s trying to do, I think, is tie into this bizarre regional nationalism that has always been kind of on the fringe, in the larger political sort of movement in the prairies. I think it’s… it’s bizarre timing. Like is this what Saskatchewan does? Is it what Saskatchewan needs right now? 

Is this line of thinking damaging to federalism in Canada? 

“Canadian federalism has withstood far worse shocks than this. If you look at the great depression and the grievances that farmers and rural economic actors had in the twenties and thirties, that was far more grounded in a concrete reality than this brand of conservative. So, while I think that, there’s a lot of rethinking about Canada as a state in relationship to Indigenous peoples and their legitimate rights around land and territory, and self-government, that I think is the big question that this provincial government refuses to ever even talk about.”

Is there anything else people need to take away from this? 

I think to understand what they’re doing is to understand the conservative right in the prairies right now. I think that’s the key. The conservative right’s economic vision is to attract as much foreign capital as they can, usually American, to exploit their resources. I mean, it’s a very old model. Their model is lower taxes, lower labour standards, lower wages attract as much capital as they can which of course always benefits the elites, and it’s an old economic model that’s not very sustainable. So, part of the way they sell that is to be pro-Saskatchewan and it’s a contradiction because they’re desperate for foreign direct invest and they don’t care if it’s Canadian or not, so their pro-Saskatchewan model is essentially to sell resources to the highest bidder. This is something that we’ve seen before, and it’s worth remembering that this is nothing new and they’re playing from an old play book.” 


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