April 9, 1896. p.4
To the Editor of The Leader.
The question I ask your leave to discuss is: has the hour struck for Provincial Autonomy? For my part the answer is in the affirmative. The Territories will soon have this question brought prominently before them. Events are forcing it to the front. The vigorous movement for provincial autonomy in Alberta must compel the notice of Assinoboia and Saskatchewan, even if there were no other causes at work. When the life of the present Assembly terminates the electors will without doubt be called upon to decide the question, --that is, if a short-cut to a decision has not been found in the meantime. The short-cut I have in my mind may be brought about in this way. The Assembly, if it lives its life, will hold three more sessions. A division will probably be taken next session, by the Albertan contingent, and it is quite possible, and a great deal more probable than it looks just now, that a majority may declare in favor of provincial self-government. We will assume, however, that the initial attack will fail. Time will be in favor of the Progressives because, come what will, when the next session is held, the country be a year nearer the inevitable. I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but I do not doubt that the season of 1897 at the latest will be marked by a declaration for autonomy. A general election would follow in order that the people might pass upon the question. This is the short cut I mean. If this is at all near the mark, it follows that it is time for the people of the Assiniboias to realize that autonomy is within the range of practical politics, and to give it their serious consideration. I say the Assiniboias, because Alberta is very much alive already, while Saskatchewan for reasons to be subsequently stated may be regarded as an observer (although by no means a disinterested one) rather than as an actor.
To clear the deck. Twelve months ago the feeling throughout the whole of the Territories -- broadly speaking -- was that provincial autonomy had to come some time, but that the time was not yet. That is the position I believe most of the people of Assiniboia and Saskatchewan are in to-day. True there have been individual expressions of opinion, but they have not been marked by any degree of force. Mr. Davin has, once or twice, incidentally skirmished around the question in the house, but being a student and interpreter, rather than a leader, of public opinion,, he has not asserted unmistakably that the time has come. Still I judge from what he hints rather than states, his view is that in the interest of the Territories tutelage should end and autonomy begin. I think, however, that Mr. Davin has acted wisely in not endeavoring to force public opinion, but rather to leave it to develop itself and find expression in its own way. As to the opinions of the other North-West members we are essentially in the dark. I think it is probably safe to conclude that they have none -- that is of their own. These gentlemen are plainly content to rest their claim for consideration upon the speechless constancy with which they record their votes. Their fidelity is touching, and saves us all a good deal of trouble. Outside their voting power they do not count. They neither lead public opinion, or follow it; they simply ignore it; and verily they shall have their reward. I would not mention these gentlemen here, but for the reason that the circumstance of our having representatives of this kind, is responsible for a good deal of the present situation, of which more anon with regard to the Assemblymen. When the last Territorial election took place, autonomy was not an issue. The events and circumstances which make it an issue now are cumulative in character, and it is only recently that they have gathered sufficient momentum to make the inference of provincial autonomy plainly visible. This inference has forced itself on Alberta first. Alberta’s position is essentially different from that of the Assiniboias. The semi-aridity of some districts, and the startling contrasts which occur in that climate -- magnificently healthy, bracing and bright as can be,-- compel Alberta to work on different lines from Assiniboia and Manitoba. After years of experiment she came, or was driven, to the conclusion that the heavy sums could profitably be expended in irrigation and must be so expended if the country was to go ahead; further that her mineral resources -- notably her beds of anthracite -- must be developed; that her railway system to the south must be extended over the boundary line, and that if these, and other things, were not done her lot was stagnation. Under existing conditions she was powerless to help herself. To look to the Dominion or the C.P.R. was to look in vain. Six months ago it seems to have burst like an inspiration upon the Albertans that if they were to prosper they must obtain provincial autonomy, face their own problems and difficulties in their own way. That way appears to be to pledge the credit of the projected province in order to obtain the means wherewith to develop their undoubted resources. A strong movement is on foot on these lines. its strength can be grasped from the fact that all parliamentary candidates -- Liberal and Conservative -- are provincial autonomists, and whatever else they may lack in Alberta the west certainly does not lack aspirants for parliamentary honors. The spirit in which this movement is being conducted can be gathered from the concluding lines of a pamphlet published under the authority of the Provincial Autonomy Provisional Committee. They are a follows:
If we are tired of this state of things (as who is not?); if we desire to gain the full management of our own affairs, as is our full and rightful status as citizens of this Dominion, one thing is certainly necessary. Laying aside narrower aims and aspirations, we must make such an unanimous application to become incorporated as a Province as the federal authorities can not choose but hear. The voice of our member is only one among 215; but the united demand of our 40,000 citizens, expressed in petitions, mass meetings and conventions, cannot help but be heard. We must take the first step ourselves as one people. And, as we shall only be asking that which on every principle of reason and justice is our own, only one result can follow. The pretensions of Ontario and Quebec to know what we want better than we do ourselves, will speedily collapse before a show of resolute unanimity on our part, and the present attitude will speedily change to one of welcome to the last new province of the Dominion -- youngest in point of date, but designed perhaps in course of time to become the greatest and most important of them all.”
Against this Alberta movement (which is being pushed with characteristic western vim and energy,) we have to set the apparently apathetic position of Assinoboia. But this apathy is more apparent than real. There is a strong feeling of discontent, and it is none the less strong, because it has not yet found expression in action.
Next week, with your permission, I will endeavor to show why in my humble opinion the Assiniboias should join hands with Alberta in sweeping away a system which, useful and necessary in its day, is now nothing but a grand motherly makeshift, under the incubus of which it is impossible for the country to advance except in a very halting way. I think I will be able to (unreadable) case for my contention (unreadable) has come when the young (unreadable) of the west should walk alone. If I can do this, the further talk of showing that horse sense and justice demand the erection of two provinces instead of one, will be easy.
John Hawkes, Whitewood, April 5, 1896