This Week in History


Finally, Provincial Autonomy!

This story was initially published in 2002

On March 20, 1930, the Government of Canada signed an agreement with the Government of Saskatchewan transferring control of all Crown lands and natural resources to the provincial government. Twenty-five years after entering Confederation, Saskatchewan finally gained equal status with the eastern provinces of Canada.

Saskatchewan enters Confederation
© Courtesy of the Regina Leader-Post

In 1870, the Hudson's Bay Company relinquished control of its lands to the British Crown, who then transferred control to Canada's federal government. The federal government began to create provincial and territorial governments, but retained control of the land and its resources to promote land settlement and railway development. This land included what are today Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, northern Ontario, northern Quebec, and the Territories.

When Manitoba entered Confederation in 1870, and Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905, the federal government continued to control the provinces' Crown lands and resources. The government compensated Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba for the loss of these sources of revenue by a special annual allowance included in the regular provincial subsidy.

This was a contentious issue. The Saskatchewan government, like the other western provincial governments, felt it was unable to exercise its full autonomy. In 1922, Alberta began to pressure the government to transfer control of the Crown lands and resources. Unfortunately, Premier Herbert Greenfield and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King's negotiations were hindered by disagreements about financial compensation.

View of Potash Mines in Yarbo, Saskatchewan, 1966
© Canada Science and Technology Museum / CN000797

From 1927-29, Premier James Gardiner negotiated for Saskatchewan. King offered Saskatchewan a continuous subsidy after the transfer of control, but at $375 000 less than the current level. Gardiner refused to accept this as adequate compensation for all the years of lost revenue and provincial autonomy. Gardiner wanted the old amount continued. Prime Minister King refused and nothing was settled.

After pressure from Manitoba's premier, John Bracken, King called for a Royal Commission in 1929. The Commission recommended transferring control of the Crown lands and natural resources to the provincial government along with an indefinite annual subsidy. Bracken and King accepted this arrangement. The agreement was then offered to Saskatchewan and Alberta. Saskatchewan's new premier, J.T.M Anderson, delayed acceptance because he wanted compensation dating from 1870. However, when Manitoba and Alberta agreed to the federal government's offer, Anderson soon accepted compensation dating from 1905.

The Creation of the Province of Saskatchewan is an event of national historic significance.

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