On October the 26th, what began as a student-led rebellion against a rise in metro fares culminated in more than a million Chileans across the country hitting the streets in a more general protest of rising wealth inequality — already the worst in Latin America — in addition to low wages, increased costs of living, poor public health care and what they see as a massively outdated and ineffective pension system.  Further north, in Ecuador, widespread civil unrest erupted earlier that month, following the government’s decision to end a long-standing fuel subsidy and the subsequent, dramatic rise in pump prices rocking the oil-producing nation.  Across the Atlantic, meanwhile, the Netherlands has played host to considerably less-violent, yet no less disruptive, traffic-blocking protests by farmers in rejection of a recent government proposal to slash Dutch agricultural production by some 50%.  And then, of course, there’s the French, who will celebrate a full year’s worth of weekly demonstrations against various government policies, not least including their own eco-tax on fossil fuels, this upcoming Saturday.
In all four cases, what we are witnessing is a clash between two worlds, and between the vastly differing sets of expectations that accompany them each. In the blue corner, we have the pseudo-Nirvana of Unlimited Progress and the transnational elites whom champion it; in the red corner, we see the great masses of humanity whom have become keenly aware that this vision of the Anointed Ones has been tailor-made to exclude the common folk. Caught in the middle of the conflict we find the national and sub-national contractors tasked with the dirty work of our enforced enlightenment: the politicians, the civil servants, mainstream media and the cultural industry; all eager to play the part of the dodgy referee.
And while so many remain captivated by the action in the ring, a number of fist-fights have broken out in the stands. Of particular interest to us is the ongoing scrap between the two ‘halves’ of Canada, East and West, the more vocal members of each having accused the other of rooting for the wrong contender. Insults are tossed two-and-fro at a breathtaking pace; it has become something of a chore by this stage to keep up with who has called whom what, and why. The minute it appears that tensions between the two factions may begin to thaw, someone is sure to remember some thing or another that someone else might have said, or done, or even suggested, at any point between 20 minutes and 20 years prior to now, and to lob this painful memory like a grenade in the direction of the opposing side. And just like that, the fighting resumes before the smoke has had time to clear.
At some point, however, we’ll need to ask ourselves if this brawl is not itself a mere imitation of the main event we’re ostensibly spectating. Are these regional fractures of ours deepening solely as a result of the numerous, longstanding grievances between us emerging from the shadows once more, or is this simply the mask that we, as Canadians, have decided to don before we, too, step into the arena below? Of course, it is more than likely to be a mixture of the two — surely, many of the students in Chile who first began hopping turnstiles at train stations might have been happy to leave the protests there, and none of them could have predicted that this relatively mild act of opposition would later explode into the much more intense, much more generalized rage against the state machinery now wrestling the country into a choke-hold. But no matter how exactly the fighting might have kicked off, it has now taken on a life and character of its own — there’s no going back now.
Perhaps we Canadians share much the same fate: considering that the rise in Chilean metro fares was, among other factors, instigated by fuel prices , and that highly similar concerns have been behind the concurrent unrest in France and Ecuador (the Dutch farmers, meanwhile, can look to the same source behind their woes as can those waging war against high fuel prices — the alleged ‘climate crisis’), it seems only natural that the particular region of Canada dependent on a functioning fossil fuel industry would make the most noise in the face of an administration seemingly hell-bent on following the example set by its French and Ecuadorian counterparts.
But with violent demonstrations, looting, and rampant civil disorder not quite being our thing in Canada, and with the country itself being tens of times larger than all of the aforementioned nations put together, it is perhaps just as natural that our own brand of discontent would manifest itself in a spatially grandiose manner — that is to say, in the form of a burgeoning separatist movement. More to the point, however, one does not have to necessarily agree with the notion of a ‘Western Exit’ to be capable of recognizing the genuine reasons behind its very existence: simply put, it is about pipelines in Alberta — but it doesn’t stop there. Likewise, it is about metro fares in Chile, about fuel taxes in France, about fuel subsidies in Ecuador and about farming quotas in the Netherlands — but in none of these cases do things stop ‘there’, either.
Because as deeply personal as this spat between East and West may feel to us as Canadians, these present hostilities do not exist, nor were created, in a vacuum. Yes, the arguments we use, the names we call each other, and the historical grievances we point to, will all be adorned with our own unique, contextual flair. But we’d be fools to believe that we are the only nation presently tearing itself apart at the seams, and nor should we believe it possible to somehow turn back the clock on all of this and go back to the way things were ‘before’ — whenever we wish that to be.
Much the same can be said for the rest of the world: the cat, as it were, is no longer anywhere near the bag. It has become starkly visible to the citizens of these countries, as well as many others, that the powers that be do not truly have their subjects’ best interests in mind; not only that, these millions of people have realized, in their own ways, the futility behind attempting to root out this problem at the ballot box. The culpable actors cannot be voted out, for so many of them are complicit in these plans that there will always be another around to fill any vacancies. They cannot be held accountable for any of their crimes, no matter the degree of evidence available, because they have given themselves the power to be accountable to no one other than themselves. Thus the people have turned to perhaps the last available and viable method of voicing their opposition: protesting, be it peacefully or otherwise. For many of us in Western Canada, surfing the tide of separatist sentiment — regardless of how realistic the thought may or may not be in practice — appears to be the only meaningful form of protest left at our disposal.
In the grand scheme of things, that this division of ours would crop up along regional lines is simply a consequence of both our size and the distribution of our comparatively miniature population. Truly, it is not the case that the English-speaking Canadians in the West are inherently, drastically different than those in the East, culturally-speaking or otherwise, and there are surely many on either side who may feel they have more in common with those on the other. Rather, we should not view it as a mere coincidence that the catalyst for this split happens to be very much the same in spirit as that behind many of the other ‘uprisings’ taking place across the globe: the clash between two worlds, as represented by the ongoing war on fossil fuels; between that of the (trans-)national elites and that of, broadly speaking, just about everyone else.
Of course, not everyone will agree with my view of the situation, nor would I expect them to. There are those who will contend that Western separation is far from a novel idea, and that its re-emergence was an inevitability independent of whatever happens in any other country. Others may counter that if our present conflict isn’t really based in what region of the country one happens to live in, then the whole argument for separation becomes something of a moot point. I can only ask that they consider the broader perspective: Canadians in the West may be asking for independence in a literal sense, but they are doing so at a time when so many others worldwide are asking for a more metaphysical form of independence — independence from government interference with their lives — and for many of the same reasons. Put differently, we might say that they are seeking out the latter ‘type’ of independence by means of demanding the former. But more importantly, because the roots of this current round of Western alienation are not, truly, unique to Western Canada, this is not a phenomenon that can be dealt with by any single act of concession. Yes, it is about pipelines — but it doesn’t stop there.