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Donald Savoie is Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at the University of Moncton and the author of Canada: Beyond Grudges, Grievances and Disunity.

I saw that something was not right about Canada in the summer of 2021. Several widely respected scholars explored Western Canada’s place in Confederation. They outlined convincing arguments that national institutions continue to produce policies detrimental to their region’s economic interests. Some even asked whether the Western provinces should leave Canada.

Quebec decided in May, 2021, to tighten the province’s language laws. It tabled legislation to define Quebec as a nation with French as its official language. The legislation runs counter to Canada’s Constitution, but Premier François Legault decided to invoke the notwithstanding clause to protect it from legal challenges, effectively shutting down debate and preventing a judicial review of the legislation.

Ontario premiers have, for the past 30 years, campaigned for a “fair fiscal deal.” In the words of former premier Dalton McGuinty, there is a need to protect Canada’s “golden goose.” Ontario has joined other regions in seeing itself as a victim of Canada’s national political institutions.

Atlantic Canadians have long pointed to national policies to explain their region’s economic woes. They have a point, given that national economic policies have sought to promote an east-west continental economy, thus promoting central Canadian businesses at the expense of Atlantic Canadian businesses.

Canadian regions view themselves as victims, more so than is the case in other countries. Why? The answer lies in our history and in national political institutions. Unlike our neighbour to the south, Canada was not born out of a revolution. Revolutions always force political elites to define new institutions. That is what revolutions are good at. Canada was born out of a series of compromises that have defined our country’s political culture. This explains Canada’s ability to successfully navigate many challenges that it has encountered over the past 156 years. I argue that our national institutions have taught us the art of compromise and have enabled victims of years past to be victims no more.

Atlantic Canada is fast shedding the victim label. It will be recalled that the region’s economic objective in the 1960s and 1970s was to bring jobs to the region. Today, the region has plenty of unfilled jobs, what it now needs is more people. This, even though the Moncton to Halifax corridor is witnessing strong population growth that compares favourably to the national average.

Quebec as a victim? The province’s victim label is wearing thin. The province has been on the receiving end of federal procurement contracts, some of which it did not win through a competitions process. Ottawa requires that Air Canada, Canadian National Railway (CN) and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board to locate their head offices in Quebec. In the era of governing from the centre, Quebec politicians have sat in the prime minister’s chair for 45 of the past 55 years.

Ontario as a victim? It is home to the national capital, it can thank Ottawa for its automobile industry going back to the 1965 Canada-U. S. auto pact. The province decides who holds power in Ottawa. It will be recalled that Ottawa decided in 2007 to change the Canada Social Transfer payments calculation to respond to Ontario’s demands and did the same in 2014 for health care transfers.

Few Canadians see Western Canada as a victim. However, Western Canada continues to deal with Ottawa’s indifference to its interests. It has a legitimate claim in insisting that its voice does not carry the weight that it should in national political and administrative institutions, given its population and its contributions to the Canadian economy. Identifying ways to give voice to Western Canada’s interests in national institutions should remain high on Ottawa’s to-do list.

No other country offers the following as well as does Canada: political and economic stability and civility in our public discourse, at least when compared to other countries; a quality of life that is the envy of the rest of the world; a willingness and capacity to extend a helping hand to individuals and regions that have been wronged by past government policies; and the ability to welcome new Canadians and to make a multicultural policy work. Canadians and their political leaders know how to search for solutions and how to strike the necessary compromises, at times on the fly, when confronting intractable divides, because there is no other way to make Canada work. It has enabled Canadians to govern successfully their country, a country, given its geography and its linguistic and cultural diversity, that is full of daunting governance challenges.