Is Canada ready for Confederation with the 'Fab Four'?

The U.S. border crossing at Point Roberts, Washington, one of the communities fighting to join Canada. Photo: Gniatroid/Wikipedia

Four tiny U.S. jurisdictions running along the Canadian border have joined forces to petition the government of Stephen Harper for support in their efforts to secede from the United States and join Canada.

Representatives from Point Roberts, Washington, Elm Point and The Northwest Angle, both in Minnesota, and Alburgh, Vermont, say they want to join British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, respectively.

"We don't have to be granted individual Canadian statehood [sic], or anything like that. Point Bob can join British Columbia and the others can find their natural homes in those other [provinces]," Point Roberts alderman Glennard Beck-Ramirez said.

The four are not directly connected to their respective states by land, and can only be reached by other Americans by boat, air or travelling by road through Canada. Their combined population is 3,422, on a land mass of 417 square km.

Introducing the would-be Canadians

The four are considered geopolitical oddities, but are trying to make their differences count in their cause:

• Despite being the bottom section of a peninsula that includes the Vancouver suburb of Tsawwassan, Point Roberts, Washington, is part of the U.S. because it lies below the 49th parallel. It was created in a trade between Canada and the U.S. in the 19th century, with the Canadians gaining the southern third of Vancouver Island where present-day Victoria is situated in the exchange. The community considered seceding to Canada once before, in 1949, and is already receives water supplies and even fire service assistance from Canada.

• The Northwest Angle, Minnesota, is the only place in the United States, outside of Alaska, that is north of the 49th parallel. It is famed as a hunting and fishing region on the Lake of the Woods, and is next to Winnipeg's water supply source at Shoal Lake, Ontario. Due to changes in U.S. fishing laws that restricted catching some species, locals who were taken with Canada's laxer environmental laws suggested joining Confederation in 1997.

• At eight square kilometres, Elm Point, Minnesota, is the smallest jurisdiction. Five families live there, running a fly-in fishing camp. Beck-Ramirez said all nine adults over the age of 18 wished to join Manitoba.

Alburgh, Vermont, 40 minutes south of Montreal, is at the bottom of a peninsula that juts into Lake Champlain from Quebec. It is the only one of the four regions connected to the rest of its state by a series of highways and bridges. Founded in 1781, it has the longest establish ties to the U.S. of the four and this showed in recent polls which saw only 61 per cent of residents wanting to secede. Known as a "liberal enclave" with left-leaning Democratic Party traditions, it also has a higher poverty rate than the other three.

It's not because of the healthcare bill, but...

Beck-Ramirez denied the four wanted to join Canada in protest against the recent passage of the Obama government's healthcare bill, though he did admit there was some support within the group for what was perceived as the Harper government's movement to the right on healthcare and other social issues.

"Except for the Vermonters, of course, they're mostly socialists who say they really like what Quebec is doing, even the French stuff. The Minnesotans are split, as usual, in their politics, but it's all about being governed by entertainers with those people. Must be the winters -- it's either wrestlers or comedians. But to be honest, I know so many of them are real excited about the possibilities. They're already well-connected to Canada," Beck-Ramirez said.

"What we like is that your country seems to have something for everybody. For me, personally, and for a lot of the folks in Point Bob, Canada is now overseen by the sort of people I like to meet in my local businesses and churches, and I've been assured that they are moving in the right direction, in both senses of the word."

Zimmerman Prince, owner of Tipsy MacGill's Bar and Camp in the Northwest Angle and a registered Democrat, said each community is holding a formal plebiscite later in April before starting the complex task of secession. A poll taken in the communities in February determined that, overall, 73 per cent of residents supported secession.

"I love America, but it's just plain inconvenient. Some of our kids end up leaving their communities altogether in order continue with high school. This border is an artificial thing and [Canada] is friendly," he said.

The mayor of Alburgh, Seaford Miles, has mixed feelings about his community's involvement with the plan.

"We are certainly attracted to Canada's liberal traditions. No doubt about it. But at the same time we tend to look southward to our other communities. Personally, I think the whole state of Vermont should consider joining Canada. New Hampshire and Maine, too, especially if the Canadian dollar keeps climbing."

The Fab Four and Ottawa

Prince added that the four communities were planning a charm offensive this summer to attract Canadians to their cause.

"We've hired a marketing company, Edelweiss, in Toronto and we're calling ourselves The Fab Four. We recognize that this is the only way to brand ourselves, put out some ads on TV and YouTube and get everyone noticing us," he said.

The Harper government is so far not welcoming the overtures of the four communities, with Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney saying "the government does not take these efforts all that seriously."

"It's the States, after all, not some namby-pamby, fly-by-night banana-republic operation. I, for one, think the U.S. is awesome," Kenney said when questioned at the official opening of the new Museum of Oil in his Calgary Southeast riding.

He said Ottawa had been aware of the secession bid "for some months" but would not elaborate.

Kenney denied that an earlier favourable response to the proposal from the federal government was the reason President Barack Obama cancelled his visit to the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver in February, saying that Canada's current position was "not new or back peddling."

Kenney also denied that this week's admonishments of the Harper government by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had anything to do with a developing Canada-U.S. "cold war" over the future of the Fab Four. He said the problems between the two governments this week were connected strictly to Canada's recent foreign policy controversies regarding Arctic governance, maternal health in the developing world, and Clinton's request that Canada stay in Afghanistan past 2011.

"No, our poor relationship is not about the secession issue, though if those guys are serious we could always do with the tax revenue... that's a joke by the way." Kenney said.

"Honestly, I don't think I want to start a war with the U.S. over some sections of land smaller than my uncle's hobby farm. And calling yourselves the Fab Four, that's suspiciously flamboyant, to my mind. We've got enough of that already."

Kenney said that the costs for assimilation would be high, standing at "something between $7.75 billion to $19 billion."

Canadian constitutional lawyer, Ghislaine Alexandre-McBride, said the Fab Four have a long struggle ahead.

"When the Turks and Caicos Islands wanted to join Confederation a number of years ago there was considerable interest from Canadians in having a province composed of exotic Caribbean islands, but it still failed," she said.

"These four regions are less attractive -- their winters are like ours, they get their fair share of mosquitoes. It will be harder to get Canadians excited about it. But if any parts of Arizona or Florida want to secede... that's another story. There are so many Canadians in those states already. It would be like a homecoming for them."

Beck-Ramirez said he was not deterred.

"We're at the start of all this, but I think it will run and eventually we'll get what we want. We're damned serious about wanting in. If the Harper government isn't taking us seriously, I'll go to the other guy [Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff]. I've heard he's not that far behind Harper in terms of politics and might take over running the government. Maybe he's got more sense."

Cathryn Atkinson is the news and features editor at rabble.ca.

Happy April Fool's Day from all of us at rabble!

 

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