Prime minister must deal with western alienation

The ripples emanating from federal election results have grown into waves of western Canadian separatism.

It’s early days since the vote that saw Conservatives win the popular vote and paint all of Saskatchewan, almost all of Alberta and major portions of British Columbia and Manitoba Tory blue. It has given impetus to the burgeoning “Wexit” movement, a campaign supporting western separation from the rest of Canada.

That campaign must be seen for what it is: a palpable indication of western alienation and anger. And as such, it demands immediate and effective response from the new federal government. Failure to acknowledge the depth of this rift imperils the foundation of this nation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s post-election bromide that “I’ve heard your frustration. I want to be there to support you,” did not inspire confidence, as Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe pointed out in his “A New Deal With Canada” statement issued last week.

Moe summarized Saskatchewan desires: cancel the federal carbon tax; commit to negotiating a new equalization formula fair to Saskatchewan and Alberta; and develop a plan for those two provinces to get exports to international markets. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney voiced the same list of wants, and others, in his own letter to Trudeau.

The road to achieving any of those things is a rocky one, as the West has learned. Election results that favoured the Liberals indicate support for a carbon tax. Changes to equalization would require constitutional amendment, a complex process with major ramifications and no guaranteed result.

But access for exports via pipelines? Surely that item has the most potential, given last year’s federal government purchase of Trans Mountain and the support for pipeline corridors voiced by governments in most provinces.

Indeed, it must be achieved if western alienation is to be relieved in any meaningful way.

Moe, Kenney, and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister — all of whom were elected with large majorities in their respective provinces — do not advocate separation. And though survey evidence shows that most people in Saskatchewan and Alberta feel their provinces deserve greater respect for their contributions to this country, they want improvement, not separation.

As Kenney said in a news conference, “I really believe at heart most Albertans are patriots.” The same, we believe, can be said for Saskatchewanians and Manitobans.

Said Pallister in his own newser: “I don’t think you ever get anywhere building a stronger relationship by threatening to leave it…. I think you have to work together. You have to overcome your difficulties.”

He is right. Our energies are better spent building, not tearing apart.

Westerners are wary of compromises that might be made in a minority Liberal government. The policy positions of the New Democratic and Green parties, the Liberals’ likely allies in implementing policy, do not support any items on Moe’s three-point list.

In a letter to the Globe and Mail last week, Neil Donnelly of Kingston, Ont., proposed a “wild and crazy idea”: a Liberal majority coalition with the Conservatives.

Crazy indeed, given the vitriol spewed in the recent election campaign and the polarity of positions. But if the new government hopes to calm the waves of western separatism, it has to heed the messages behind Wexit. That’s going to mean compromise and it’s going to require statesmanship.

So far, it appears Trudeau wrestled failure from the jaws of electoral victory as far as Western Canada is concerned. Now he and the government he leads must address the waves of discontent before they become a larger flood.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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