Western Canada is left behind in federal politics

Albertan and Saskatchewan sentiments reflect deep-seated issues around our Canadian priorities

Mikel Gega feels that Eastern Canadians need to start listening to their neighbours’ needs.
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The Canadian federal election in October shed some much-needed light on important aspects of our nation’s political climate that are still going unaddressed. One of these notable outcomes was the plight of Western Canada, which was visible in the election results coming from Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Of the 48 ridings throughout the two provinces, only one failed to elect a Conservative candidate. 

This reflects the political division present between these provinces and the rest of Canada.

Alberta and Saskatchewan’s conservative leaning has always been apparent, as other provinces perceive their political affiliation as right-leaning due to a history of skewing Conservative in elections. However, the dominance of the Conservatives in Alberta and Saskatchewan and, conversely, the failure of the Liberal party to win any Western seats outside of B.C., has highlighted deep divisions across Canada.  In contrast, out east, Toronto’s 25 ridings were won exclusively by the Liberal Party.

People living in the Prairies (which are often colloquially called the “Texas of Canada”) have long felt misunderstood by Eastern Canadians. Undoubtedly, in any country as geographically spread out as Canada, regional differences will emerge, both culturally and politically.

It’s also true that population differences between regions lends itself to favouring the denser East in decision-making processes, which makes sense in any electoral system based on population size.

However, we must also realize that these regional differences require the government to pay attention to policies that disproportionately impact one region more than others, particularly regions with little to no representation in the governing party. Regardless of demographics, it’s important to consider the nation as a whole when we craft federal policy to ensure we’re acting in the best interest of all Canadians.  

Post-election—and even now—the sentiment in Western provinces has been one of gloom and alienation. These feelings have been proudly displayed by the “Wexit” (or “Western Exit”) movement, which aims to achieve an Alberta and Saskatchewan independent from the rest of Canada.

Although the dramatic nature of “Wexit” makes it easy to treat it as a farce, it’s important to examine the movement critically. The image of Canada most of the Queen’s community knows has been threatened before. Separatist movements in Quebec nearly tore apart our federation in 1995. It’s imprudent to think the same is impossible in other regions.

Much of the recent anger in the West stems from opposition to the growth of oil and gas industries out of Western Canada, which has received increased criticism in the face of climate action movements. Part of this criticism is warranted. There’s no denying that the level of our current carbon dioxideemissions is unsustainable for the future, and we need to make plans to move to other energy sources.

However, part of this criticism is undeserved. 

Alberta has been turned into a pariah, demonized for its role in oil and gas and characterized as a province that puts profit above all else. Reality is more complex than it appears. Technological and economic constraints limit the province’s ability to move away from fossil fuels quickly and efficiently. This transition will require massive investments in research and development, and must be made in a cost-effective manner—one that’s feasible on a large scale, improving the lives of those affected.

Alberta’s energy-reliant economy has long been one of the pillars of our national economy. The revenues acquired by the government have served as a steady flow of transfer payments to the East: an average of $20 billion outflows from Alberta each year. However, nearly 18,000 Albertan jobs were lost in November, 2019, alone, largely due to the downsizing of the oil and gas industry. The province’s economic downturn receives considerably less media attention than situations in the East, such as the closing of the Oshawa General Motors plant, where the loss of 2,500 jobs resulted in extensive media coverage and government aid.

Ironically, as Alberta suffers from job losses, Trudeau has repeatedly said he won’t apologize for “standing up for Canadian jobs” when confronted with the SNC-Lavalin scandal. This would be better characterized as standing up for primarily Eastern Canadian jobs. 

Economists have estimated that Alberta’s recession has resulted in a loss of $130 billion per year, which would be enough to wipe out the federal deficit and raise unemployment to unprecedented numbers.

Since the federal election in October, many major energy companies have downsized. EnCana, a Calgary-based company which was once the largest in Canada by market-capitalization, has rebranded and moved its headquarters to the US.

Many other companies in downtown Calgary—the city with the second-highest number of corporate headquarters in Canada—have struggled, with little to look forward to in the future.

Unfortunately, individuals are unlikely to make the massive lifestyle changes required for society to move away entirely from fossil fuels. If technology is to be our saving grace, it will require funding for the heavy investments required. This is funding which could be sourced from tax revenues from the oil and gas industry, and used to incentivize investments in alternative energy sources or fund social programs.

If we want to mitigate political tension and effectively transition to a cleaner future, the political powerhouses in Quebec and Ontario must acknowledge that the oil and gas industry is too large and too important to immediately wipe out and ignore.

Any resolution to these problems will require cooperation between governmental and private institutions, but for cooperation to be feasible, the individuals who make up these institutions must have a general understanding of the other’s perspective.

Mikel Gega is a fourth-year Politics, Philosophy, and Economics student.

 

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