With Ottawa's recent decision to recognize the Québécois as a nation, federal politicians have unwittingly breathed new life into the separatist movement — in Cape Breton.
Though fuelled by the widespread perception that the island has long been neglected by the provincial government, the fringe movement has lain dormant for years. But members of this small, disparate group say Prime Minister Stephen Harper's historic parliamentary motion, adopted last month, has revived their dream.
Mark Macneill, a proponent of making Cape Breton a province, says the motion has placed Canada on a slippery slope toward constitutional change.
"Where there's change, there's often opportunity," says Macneill, a long-time Cape Bretoner whose campaign has included letters to politicians and media. "There's going to be an opportunity ... to see if we can negotiate Cape Breton as one of Canada's newest provinces." Macneill, an educator from Mabou who does not claim membership in any official movement, says Harper's motion could inspire similar movements in Labrador, northern Ontario and northern Manitoba. He says a "predominant majority" of the island's 150,000 residents support separation.
Some Cape Bretoners, including retired radio host Bill Davies, say the island never willingly gave up its independence after it became a separate colony in 1784.
"We were annexed without our knowledge," he says, referring to its unification with Nova Scotia in 1820.
Davies, a resident of Glace Bay, plans to circulate a petition advocating provincial or territorial status for the island. "People are talking now about Quebec and eventually they'll come up with, well, (Cape Breton is) distinct, we should be on our own."
As a Mainlander, I could not agree more. Cape Breton has been an economic millstone around the Mainland's neck for decades. Billions pumped into keeping Sysco and Devco going, and various make-work and fly-by-night job creation schemes have done nothing to make Cape Breton economically self-sufficient, but have bought plenty of resentment.
Cut the Capers adrift and they'll have to find someone else to blame for their problems than the Mainlanders.
Source: Halifax Chronicle-Herald