Celebrate Alberta’s Birthday – Celebrate Frederick Haultain
Alberta, in its current polygonal shape, was born today 111 years ago.
While the inauguration ceremony on September 1, 1905 in Edmonton featured banners, floats, and speeches by Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier and the Governor General Sir Earl Grey – the majority of the sweat equity involved in the formation of the province was thanks to an individual not popularly known to Albertans: Sir Frederick Haultain.
Haultain’s quest for responsible government in Western Canada began in 1887 when he was elected to the Council of the Northwest Territories, a jurisdiction which at that point covered the majority of Canada’s current area.
Responsible government broadly means accountability for the actions of legislators. Haultain’s challenge was that the federal government in Ottawa grossly imposed upon the Territories – it was responsible for less than 10% of its budget and no control over its natural resources. In the words of an influential contemporary journalist, “the North-West is under a despotism as absolute, or more so, that that which curses Russia.”
Haultain’s idea was to create a single province, named “Buffalo”, occupying the current area of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Where Haultain was a morally upright and selfless legislator with oratory skills unmatched in the political arena (in 1900 he delivered a four hour speech on the constitutional dimension of responsible government), his downfall was directly challenging the Liberal government of Sir Wilfred Laurier.
It is hypothesized that Laurier saw Haultain as an upcoming threat in federal politics and consequently when acquiescing to the desire of responsible government by Western Canadians, carved Haultain’s dreamed province into two and opted to not appoint Haultain as Premier of either Alberta or Saskatchewan in favour of two politicians favourable to Laurier’s Liberals.
While criticizing an overreaching federal Liberal government is a favourite past time of the Western Canadians – its important to note that Laurier’s brand of liberalism was rooted more squarely in individual liberty than today’s statist progressivism that pervades Liberal ideology.
The stand-off between Laurier and Haultain was in large part about power but each men deserve recognition on Alberta’s Birthday. Where Laurier’s contribution lives on in photos taken on Inauguration day 1905 – Haultain should be remembered for the passion and dedication he poured into the project of provincehood for 20 years before September 1, 1905.