Sections 91, 92, 93 and 95 of the British North America
Act establish guidelines for separating federal and provincial areas of
responsibility. In the words of Sir John A. Macdonald, "All matters
of general interest are to be dealt with by the general [that is, federal]
legislature, while local [or provincial] legislatures will deal with matters of
local interest." "General" interests under the act included
national defense, foreign policy, criminal law, and the regulation of trade and
commerce, while "local" interests included health, municipal
government and social services.
In theory all provinces were equal, but Manitoba,
Saskatchewan, and Alberta all entered Confederation with fewer powers than other
provinces. None of them controlled Crown lands, mines or mineral resources
within their boundaries. Instead the federal government gave grants in
lieu of natural resource revenue. At first this policy produced little
opposition because it allowed the federal government to use land grants to
encourage rapid immigration and settlement. However, by World War I
growing numbers of Albertans found the policy irritating and demeaning.
Ranchers and oil developers in particular argued that the province could do a
better job managing its own resources. The issue became a major source of
contention, and in 1930 the federal government finally transferred its control
of natural resources to the province under the Alberta Natural Resources
Act. It took 25 years to accomplish, but Alberta was a constitutional
equal at last.