Preston Manning, who gave a voice to Western Canada’s discontentment with Ottawa with the founding of the Reform Party, is again sounding the alarm on rising Western alienation.
Manning said in a speech at the Canadian Club of Calgary late last month that the feeling of alienation is increasing, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and that “there’s real reasons for why people are angry and disillusioned,” according to Global News.
Fuelling these feelings, Manning said, are the impediments to the energy sector and the inability to get raw resources to world markets. If unaddressed, he added, the country could be even more divided after the Oct. 21 election.
Manning isn’t the first to warn of rising Western alienation ahead of the Oct. 21 election.
Roger Gibbins, a political commentator and former president of the Canada West Foundation, said last year that, in the election, “the possible outcome of a national government centred in Ontario and Quebec, with no more than a light dusting of seats from the West, cannot be ignored.”
“National values—Canadian values—became defined in ways that failed to reflect Western Canadian experiences and aspirations,” Gibbins wrote in a Globe and Mail op-ed. “The West was written out of the Canadian vision.”
Recent surveys have shown that Western Canadians are increasingly feeling neglected by the federal government.
A poll by Angus Reid Institute published in January found that nearly three quarters of Canadians living west of Ontario feel that their province is not treated fairly by Ottawa. Another poll by the same firm showed that 50 percent of respondents in Alberta support separation from Canada.
An online poll by Environics Institute published this year found 56 percent of respondents in Alberta and 53 percent in Saskatchewan agree with the statement, “Western Canada gets so few benefits that it may as well go it on its own.” In 2010, the portion of people agreeing with the statement was only 28 percent in both provinces.
Author William Gairdner explains that while he understands Alberta’s grievances, it’s not that easy for a province to declare independence, as Canada is a confederation and the constitution doesn’t grant provinces the right to separate.
“If a ‘referendum’ was ever agreed to by Albertans, it would have to have legal teeth. But no one is absolutely certain what those teeth would, or could, be,” Gairdner writes in a blog post listing the reasons why independence is likely not feasible.
“In the case of Quebec, for example, its last so-called ‘referendum’ was not a legally-prepared and agreed-upon referendum per se. It was actually just a province-wide plebiscite, with no proper legal basis or widely-agreed formulation of the questions at issue.”
Still, if those in the Western provinces keep feeling neglected by the federal government and seeing their opportunities denied, the consequences could be hard to predict, says Jack Mintz, president’s fellow at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy.
In a 2017 op-ed in the Financial Post, Mintz warned about Western alienation—which peaked during the Pierre Trudeau and National Energy Program years of the 1980s—”rearing its head again” as TransCanada withdrew its Energy East project due to a plethora of regulatory complications.
“It was not at all helpful that the less-than-affable Montreal mayor, Denis Coderre, declared it a ‘victory for Canada’ when TransCanada withdrew its licence application for Energy East,” Mintz wrote.
Making a reference to the Catalonia independence cause that intensified following a separation referendum that Madrid deemed illegal, Minz added that today, “Western Canada is nowhere close to the separation push of Catalonia.” However, he added, “if Ottawa’s public policy keeps handing Canada’s Coderres their ‘victories’ by hurting Western opportunities, this country’s regional conflicts of claim [economic resources] will bring consequences difficult to predict.”