For years the perceived dominance of Ontario in Canadian federalism – along with Quebec’s quest for sovereignty – was a recipe for Western alienation. But a new study suggests that Albertans now feel their province is getting the respect it deserves. The shift is dramatic, and it is a welcome recognition that the economic power of Alberta is being embraced by the creaky institutions of Canadian federalism.
Hand-in-hand with this, of course, is a growth of dissatisfaction elsewhere, particularly Quebec and the Maritimes, as they register a decline in their influence.
The most interesting finding relates to Alberta. In the last provincial election, the opposition Wildrose Party tried to stoke the culture of grievance. It is a strategy that might well have worked before, but this time it failed to connect with voters. The plaintive cry of the past, ‘The West Wants In” has a lot less resonance with people when the West is in.
It makes sense: As Alberta’s political and economic influence has grown, its sense of grievance has diminished. The study found that 61 per cent of Albertans feel their province is treated with the respect it deserves, compared with 38 per cent in 2003. What has changed in the interim? An Albertan-led Conservative government in Ottawa, for one thing. But it likely is more than politics alone. It’s a lot more difficult to quantify, but there has been an attitudinal change toward Alberta elsewhere in Canada.
Beyond Alberta, the findings portray a quite different picture. Sixty-eight per cent of Ontarians say their province is treated respectfully, down from 74 per cent in 2003, reflecting a decline in the province’s economic dominance. In Quebec, just 35 per cent feel the province is treated respectfully, and in the Maritimes, 37 per cent. The Quebec result, especially, should concern the federal government as it could serve to feed the governing PQ’s agenda.
Leger Marketing conducted the poll of 2,200 Canadians last month on behalf of the Association for Canadian Studies; the margin of error is 2.9 per cent 19 times out of 20.
The fact that no region in Canada is ever wholly content isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A majority of people still prefer a federalist model to any other.