Lawrie McFarlane: The cultural divide in Canada is growing

While U.S. President Donald Trump was delivering his state of the union address last week, a poll by the Angus Reid Institute shone light on the state of our own union. And it isn’t pretty.

Feelings have grown so ugly, British Columbians say they have more in common with Washington state and California than Alberta. Indeed, we are more attracted to these American states than to any province in Canada.

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Moreover, a divide has opened between East and West. From Ontario to Newfoundland, residents of these provinces believe the federal government treats them fairly.

The opposite is true on the other side of the country. A whopping 72 per cent of western Canadians think Ottawa is ignoring them (and that’s a kind word for it), while in Alberta, 83 per cent would happily see our nation’s capital freeze in the dark.

There is talk of forming a Western Canada Party, and 35 per cent of residents in the four westerly provinces say they would vote for it.

Of course, there have always been gripes in various parts of the country. When you consider the enormous distance between regions, some degree of insularity was bound to occur.

Then again, language barriers play a part. I suspect Quebecers believe they have more in common with France than Ontario.

But the divide is widening. Two-thirds of Canadians from Manitoba to B.C. believe the maltreatment they receive from Ottawa has worsened in recent years. Only 12 per cent see an improvement.

There’s not even a consensus that western Canada has its own unique character. Quebecers and residents of Atlantic Canada dispute that idea, though of course they regard their own regions as entirely distinct.

Westerners, understandably, believe our part of the country does have a special identity, and that view has surged over the past two decades.

Adding to the general distemper, in only two provinces do the locals believe they are respected by the rest of the country — B.C. and Ontario. In most of the other regions, 70 per cent or more feel disrespected. Alberta again tops the list, even beating Quebec — no mean feat when it comes to perpetual aggrievement.

Reid’s pollsters attribute western resentment to the sense that, economically speaking, we’re subsidizing the rest of the country and getting scant few thanks for it.

That’s probably true, but I suspect there’s more to the story.

The four western provinces, together, have a population of 11.1 million, and 24 seats in the Senate.

The four eastern provinces have a combined population of just 2.4 million, yet they have 30 seats in the Senate. This is fair?

The same favour is granted the Atlantic provinces when it comes to seats in the House of Commons, though the imbalance is somewhat less prominent.

The point being, westerners don’t just think they’re getting a raw deal. They are getting a raw deal.

But let’s look more closely at those B.C. numbers. When only 15 per cent of British Columbians exhibit any warmth toward Alberta, and just one per cent give a damn about Saskatchewan, it’s time for some serious reflection.

Part of it is down to beggar-thy-neighbour politics. It doesn’t help to have the B.C. government in court trying to wreck Alberta’s economy over a pipeline. Keep in mind it was Alberta’s energy sector that sustained the country during the 2008 recession.

Perhaps I can be permitted a personal note. I spent most of my working years in Saskatchewan. Our daughter was born there.

I never met such kind, obliging and thoroughly decent people. Compared with the urban deserts that downtown San Francisco and L.A. have become (look it up), the southwest Prairies remain the same pristine grasslands that time hasn’t changed.

If we can’t feel anything in common with Alberta and Saskatchewan, something has gone badly wrong. And the fault lies on the west side of the Rockies, not the east.

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