Comment: We have more kinship with Seattle than Toronto

Commentary by the president of polling firm Research Co.

In one of his candid conversations with Brian Mulroney, author Peter C. Newman gave the sitting prime minister a piece of advice. Newman urged Mulroney, who was running for a second term in office in 1988, to stop using the words “out here” during campaign stops in Western Canada.

Mulroney’s propensity to start his speeches with “It’s great to be out here in …,” Newman noted, made Western Canadians feel alienated. It also suggested that, once candidates left francophone Quebec or centre-of the-universe Ontario, every other Canadian province was essentially the same.

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I have had the opportunity to ask British Columbians and Albertans questions for more than a decade. In recent months, we have discussed the unique allure of Cascadia for British Columbians, and reviewed separatist feelings in Alberta.

A lot has happened since we last checked in. British Columbia has lost its place as the most environmentally friendly province in the country — a distinction now enjoyed by Quebec — and Albertans said goodbye to a New Democratic Party government after giving a massive mandate to the United Conservative Party.

Some things have not changed. In the latest Research Co. survey, two thirds of British Columbians (66 per cent) continue to say they have more in common with the people of Seattle and Portland than with those in Toronto or Montreal. Three-in-four (74 per cent) believe they will stay in the province for the rest of their lives. More than four-in-five (86 per cent) are very proud of British Columbia.

While Albertans have endured jokes about a perceived affection toward the United States for decades, their views on a supposed brotherhood with Americans are nowhere near the Cascadia lovefest that British Columbians espouse. Albertans are evenly divided when asked if they have more in common with Americans than with other Canadians (43 per cent agree and 43 per cent disagree). Men are significantly more likely than women (52 per cent compared with 35 per cent) to feel that the U.S. is “closer” to Alberta than other provinces.

In Alberta, the notion of secession has reached 30 per cent for the first time since I started tracking this question in 2014. The proportion of Albertans who feel they would be “better off” as their own country is higher than what we found in British Columbia last month (17 per cent) and slightly lower than what Quebecers told Research Co. in December 2018 (34 per cent).

Across Alberta, 27 per cent of residents say they consider themselves “Albertans first, and Canadians second.” In British Columbia, only 19 per cent of residents place their province before their country. Quebec, at 48 per cent the last time we checked, is in a completely different league.

Federal election campaigns in this century have been very different from the ones Mulroney fought “out here” in the 1980s. Every gesture is scrutinized and any gaffe can become a meme. It would be immensely helpful for the federal party leaders who are not based in Western Canada to remember that 59 per cent of British Columbians and 56 per cent of Albertans think their views are different from the rest of the country.

• Results are based on an online study conducted from July 23 to July 25, 2019, among 800 adults in British Columbia and 700 adults in Alberta. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia and Alberta. The margin of error — which measures sample variability — is +/– 3.5 percentage points for the British Columbia sample and +/– 3.7 percentage points for the Alberta sample, 19 times out of 20.

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