Toward a new politics with a Prairie ethos

Developing a platform for self-reliance and self-mastery

A new political vision for Canada needs to be constructed with the Prairie ethos at its core.

The Prairies is a strange place with a strange history. If anything, this flat land is an unyielding and cosmopolitan place. The Prairie ethos is the culmination of its people’s peculiar history and resultant resolve.

For millennia, several First Nations traversed the Prairies hunting buffalo while also fostering diplomacy with each other — and sometimes war. Then, from the very soil of the Prairies, emerged the Métis people. They are an Indigenous people with a distinct history traceable to the European-Indigenous fur trade. In opposition to the crushing totalitarian federal state, the Métis people built a self-reliant and egalitarian culture.

During the 19th century, Canada recruited eastern Europeans to abandon their home and reforge themselves as small-plot Prairie farmers. Once here, they developed deep community bonds with each other and became a staple of Prairie identity.

And when things got tough, the ingenuity of the people of the Prairies always sought to prevail. In the throes of the Great Depression, as the price of grain dropped and nearly destroyed every small farmer, the people of the Prairies devised the Canadian Wheat Board to preserve the economic independence through mutual aid so important to the Prairie ethos. When the people of the Prairies got sick, they at first developed local universal Medicare in the form of locally funded hospitals. Then, they built province-wide systems of universal healthcare which were appropriated by the entire nation.

When the Prairie bosses subjected the people of the Prairies to untenable treatment, they seized the cities, rioted and striked. The people of the Prairies demanded a say in their economic lives.

From this storied history materialized a mindset of self-reliance and local community co-operation. In the Prairies, the ideal was no master but your own and no one in this place left behind. This, in essence, is the Prairie ethos.

Today, our lived experience is nothing like the Prairie ethos. In the workplace, most of us are subjects of an uncompromising master. Most of us work in intentionally designed depersonalized social conditions which forbid the mutual aid afforded by collective bargaining, organizing and community.

Our politicians are unwilling to draw from the well of the Prairie ethos and construct a political project seeking to usurp the crushing social structures which cage the very spirit of the Prairies. Rather than empower the people with the tools to carve out of soil an equitable present, they reinforce the stratified and disjointed existence we find ourselves in now.

This has created the impetus to look toward the Prairie ethos of the past for a new politics of the future.

Worker co-operatives are the greatest embodiment of the Prairie ethos. Not only do the workers in a co-operative find themselves as both the producer and the boss, they also fulfill the localism and mutual aid found in the spirit of the Prairies.

Worker co-operatives generate more income for their workers in the form of higher salaries and are more responsive to the needs of customers. Take for example the worker co-operative Produits Forestiers Petit Paris sawmill in Quebec. When faced with potential annihilation, the sawmill made major investments in new technologies that improved efficiency and transformed the mill into an environmentally-minded producer of lumber.

A privately held firm, with its indifference to the local community and insatiable thirst for cheaper labour, would have likely abandoned the sawmill. Look no further than the sawmill closures across Quebec as evidence.

A new politics must place the worker co-operatives at its core. To achieve this, a new national bank must be created to cultivate these sorts of firms with low to no interest loans. By socializing the banking industry in Canada, any collection of workers with a vision can go out and receive the financial backing required to actualize that vision.

The farmers of the Prairies too have suffered from a fundamental abandonment and suppression of the Prairie ethos.

Most seed purchased by farmers are patented by monopoly seed producers. Farmers are compelled to buy these seeds and are unable to use seeds produced from a harvest. Despite all privatized seed technology being built on the back of publicly-funded research, farmers are held hostage by monopolies like Monsanto.

Seed monopolies must be broken up and publicly funded and distributed seeds should replace the old system. Farmers are currently beholden to a small cadre of seed masters. To reignite the Prairie ethos, farmers must be empowered to control their own agricultural destinies.

A politics built with the Prairie ethos should uncompromisingly work toward self-reliance, whether in the workshop or farmer’s field, and liberate the people from all masters.

Embrace the Prairie ethos and formulate a new politics for all.