Why Western Canadians shred gasoline credit cards
Ottawa — In western Canada, angry consumers are cutting up the gasoline credit cards issued by the national government's oil firm, Petro-Canada, and mailing back the splinters.
And, at almost nightly meetings, new converts to the mushrooming western Canadian independence movement are filling Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets to overflowing with donations and applauding fiery attacks on Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's government in Ottawa.
In all these rumblings, there is one common thread -- energy, and the disputes over who should control it and reap the financial rewards it brings. Already deeply embroiled in a wrenching dispute with Canada's provincial governors over constitutional powers, the Trudeau government four weeks ago unveiled a new, wide-reaching energy program that further angered the oil-rich western region of the country. It laid out a new schedule for domestic crude oil prices and a new tax on production of Alberta's other petroleum resource, natural gas. Ottawa also increased its take from taxes on oil sales.
In the resulting nationwide clamor, the future disposition of some of the country's most important energy sources is becoming increasingly uncertain, leading to fears of energy emergencies in certain regions in future despite Canada's vast supplies of petroleum and hydroelectric power.
The western provinces, particularly Alberta, which produces 90 percent of Canada's crude oil, have been the scene of the most agitated protests in the wake of the new Trudeau energy policies.
Many of Alberta's 2 million citizens, believing that Trudeau's new taxes and oil-price measures continue longstanding discrimination against the west, have been turning up in droves at public meetings to discuss the possiblity of breaking up Canada's current federation. The alternative would be a western Canadian state made up of the four western provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
Though opinion polls show only a fraction of the region's population is now angry enough to go through with separation, interest in the idea is booming as never before.
"There is a sense of gathering crisis in western Canada" was how former Prime Minister Joe Clark summed up the situation recently.
Pro-separatist groups are sprouting throughout the region, gaining support from some of western Canada's most respected business leaders. One separatist group, the West-Fed Association, has enlisted 30,000 members in a matter of months.
The provincial government of Alberta, already has announced it will begin cutting back oil shipments to the populous eastern provinces early next year.The move, in retaliation against the Trudeau energy policies, has raised the threat of oil shortages in in the big cities in Ontario and Quebec provinces.
This threat increased even more when two business groups revealed last month that they were shelving plans to build two $7 billion synthetic oil plants in northern Alberta. Their reason: The ongoing deadlock on energy issues between the Trudeau administration and Alberta makes government approval of the projects too uncertain.
The Liberal government in Ottawa quickly stepped in with a $34 million grant to one of the oil companies to keep its project afloat, but any early go-ahead for the two plants -- considered crucial to Canada's energy-supply needs over the next decade -- is much in doubt.
At the far eastern end of the country, the island province of Newfoundland has rushed into the fray. Its conflict with central authority in Ottawa concerns rights to the oil reserves, possibly as large as the North Sea finds, believed to be located off its coast.
The province of 600,000, which has long been dependent on aid from the federal government to make ends meet, now is fighting for full control over these reserves, whose proceeds could end Newfoundlands' traditional status as a poverty area. But the Trudeau government, arguing that offshore waters are under the jurisdiction of the federal government, has offered Newfoundland only limited control of and revenues from the oil near its shoreline.
Without full control, Newfoundland's combative premier, Brian Peckford, says, "Newfoundland can never hope to achieve equal economic and social status" in Canada.
For similar reasons, Mr. Peckford recently revived an old argument with Quebec Province over the control of hydroelectric power produced at the huge Churchill Falls power plant in Labrador, which, though on the Canadian mainland, is part of Newfounland.
Peckford introduced a bill in the provincial legislature that would have the effect of returning to Newfoundland most of the electricity produced at Churchill Falls. At present, most of that power is sold at low prices to Quebec Province under a 1976 contract Peckford wants abrogated.