Aboriginal Militancy in Canada

By Bland, Douglas | Winnipeg Free Press, June 26, 2015 | Go to article overview

Aboriginal Militancy in Canada


Bland, Douglas, Winnipeg Free Press


Could First Nations shut down Canada's economy?

In May 2014, First Nations leaders angrily rejected the federal government's First Nations Education Act and warned if the government implemented its education policy, the First Nations would "strategically and calculatedly begin the economic shutdown of the Canadian economy from coast to coast." We do not know if this threat influenced the government's decision to shelve the act, but the government did so almost immediately.

This example of First Nations militancy, however, leaves us with two obvious questions. First, how might the First Nations bring Canada's economy to its knees?

Second, if the threat is credible, then what might the government do to redress this national security weakness besides capitulating to First Nations' demands and threats?

The first question is easily answered. Canada's economy is overwhelmingly dependent on exports. In 2013, for example, the export of natural resources, agriculture and agri-food products alone provided $70 billion in revenues to governments and accounted for 26 per cent of Canada's GDP. This critical enterprise is dependent on national transportation networks to move exports to the United States and to seaports east and west.

Canada's railways are the bulk carriers of the economy. About 70 per cent of all freight traffic in Canada moves every year within the national railway system composed of 40,000 kilometres of track, 2,900 locomotives and thousands of freight carriers of all types. Although the movement of trains carrying natural resources might be a common image of freight, trains also carry thousands of loads of material destined for just-in-time industries, such as Ontario's automobile plants. No trains, no parts, and no industrial output or jobs.

The economic importance of this primary system was demonstrated in 2012 when CPR railway workers called a strike, and within a week the federal government ordered them back to work. The stoppage, according to Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt, would cost Canada $540 million per week. Imagine the catastrophe that would engulf Canada and Canadians if a conflict of any sort closed the national railway system for weeks.

Unfortunately for Canadians and their governments, this system is particularly vulnerable to disruption and almost impossible to defend, mainly because much of it runs through rugged, isolated terrain far away from security forces.

These are facts the First Nations leaders understand all too well. As current Southern Chiefs Organization Chief Terry Nelson observed in 2012: "A covert operation involving burning (gas-filled) cars on every railway would be almost impossible to stop despite all the Canadian military and police alerted to the potential. …

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