It’s Saskatchewan’s birthday.
Saskatchewan officially joined Confederation as a province 112 years ago (Sept. 4, 1905). It had been a long, at times acrimonious, struggle. But it was not over.
In the late 1890s, hundreds of thousands of people headed to the “last best west.” The crush of settlers overwhelmed local facilities.
The Regina-based territorial government simply did not have enough money to meet the growing service and infrastructure demands. Any revenue from North-West lands and resources went to the federal and not the territorial treasury.
There was only one solution.
In May 1900, the North-West Territories assembly petitioned Ottawa to admit the southern prairies into Confederation as a province. But the Wilfrid Laurier Liberal government turned down the request as premature — not once, but three times.
One stumbling block was Territorial Premier Frederick Haultain’s call for one large province between Manitoba and British Columbia to be called “Buffalo.” It was feared that such a super province might upset the balance of Confederation.
Liberal negotiation with Haultain was also difficult because of his support of the federal Conservative party in the 1904 general election. It was a serious lapse in judgement — one that crippled his future political career.
From his first days in territorial government, Haultain’s strategy for dealing with the federal government was to adopt a non-partisan approach and speak with a single, territorial voice. But he was so disillusioned with the Liberal government’s intransigence that he cozied up to federal Conservative leader Robert Borden, who promised action on provincehood.
By February 1905, Laurier could delay no longer and personally introduced legislation to create two roughly equal, north-south provinces: Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The autonomy bills also maintained federal control over western lands and resources.
In other words, Saskatchewan and Alberta were not full partners in Confederation. They, along with neighbouring Manitoba, were treated differently — unequally.