by Martin Charlton Communications Martin Charlton Communications

By Paul Martin, Martin Charlton Communications

Normally this space is reserved for conversation or discussions about building or upgrading things or as Shantel Lipp likes to say: when the earth moves, it’s us. But it has been hard these days to ignore another form of construction – nation building.

With legislatures in Regina and Edmonton being asked to consider bills designed to assert the authority of provincial governments, anyone who was around 40 years ago is feeling like we’ve seen this movie already.

Back then it was Pierre Trudeau on one side of the table, facing off against Saskatchewan’s Allan Blakeney, a politician many considered the intellectual equal of the Elder Trudeau, and Peter Lougheed elegantly projecting gravitas and authority from Alberta.

Today, while the cast is different – Trudeau the Younger on the federal side squaring off against Scott Moe and Danielle Smith representing their respective provinces – the script is the same. Saskatchewan and Alberta are seeking respect at the national table.

Reasonable observers would probably think it fair to assume that after 40 years, things should be sorting themselves out but, in fact, it is showing no sign of improvement as the list of grievances dividing the parties seems to be growing and positions hardening.

The good news is that last time round, in the ’70s and early ’80s, Canada survived, although bruised and divided. The West suffered severe economic damage and decades of resentment over the imposition of the National Energy Program while the entire country found itself repatriating a constitution that a key player in the nation refused to endorse.

Four decades later, the same issues still capture us as multiple attempts to find solutions – olive branches from the West (remember The West Wants In?) to hard-line positions such as demands for Parliamentary reform for elected and equal Senate representation – have failed to bring us closer together. In fact, irritants such as anti-pipeline sentiment outside the prairies have stifled resource development, pouring salt on the wounds.

The one difference between the head butting of old and today’s version is television. Back in Pierre’s day, we got to watch federal-provincial First Ministers meetings live from coast-to-coast. Today, with no First Ministers meetings, having the arguments waged in social media 30 words at a time is what passes for progress.