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Canada’s Messy Political System

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Essay title: Canada’s Messy Political System

The current system of governance in Canada leaves, at some level, much to be desired by most regions. Since confederation, each part of the country has had some level of dissatisfaction with the federal government and the economic drawbacks of being such a large country. In no region has the anger been so consistent and validated than in Western Canada. Generally regarded as everything west of Ontario, Western Canada has had a volatile relationship with the federal government, even to the point of separation attempts. The reasons vary from province to province - from Saskatchewan’s stereotypical conservative farmer, to Manitoba’s aerospace industry, to British Columbia’s geographic disadvantage, to Alberta’s vast oil wealth, each has good reason to be upset with the state of affairs and lack of action to remedy the fiscal imbalance. In this essay, I will explore the history of, factors behind, and political movements ignited by, western alienation. I will examine why the west has continued to be the breeding ground for populist political movements, and explain why I believe that until the country either breaks apart or has serious democratic overhaul, the cycle of fringe parties, mergers, and political maneuvering will hinder any attempt to have a long lasting government with coast-to-coast support.

Western alienation is almost as old as Canada itself. John A. MacDonald first introduced his National Policy in 1876, which increased tariffs in the manufacturing sector and quashed free trade with the Americans. This forced western farmers to buy Canadian agricultural equipment at higher prices while competing on the international market for grain . On top of the high tariffs, westerners were forced to pay high freight charges to have goods delivered from the east. In what would be a common theme in Canadian politics, this policy was very popular in Ontario and Quebec and very unpopular in western Canada, where citizens felt they were being ripped off.

The literal and figurative distance between the east and the west only grew more significant through the rest of the late 19th and early 20th century. Louis Riel’s Red River Rebellion in Manitoba rejected the new confederation, and marked the first major crisis felt by Canada after the passing of the British North America Act in 1867. It was symbolic of the conflicts that lay ahead as the east extended its reach west. Sir Frederick Haultain was the premier of the North West Territories and pushed for the creation of a new province (which eventually would be Alberta and Saskatchewan). When the provinces were created in 1905, Haultain, a conservative, expected to be named premier of Alberta . But the prime minister of Canada at the time was Wilfred Laurier, a Liberal. Laurier decided to instead name fellow Liberal Alexander Rutherford premier. British Columbia, desiring a strong and representative government after the collapse of the gold rush, joined confederation in the summer of 1871. The mining frontier and accompanying economic boom that followed was funded mainly by American investors, which conflicted with the eastern federal government’s anti-free trade stance, and manifested into the modern-day implication that the west tends to be more pro-free trade than the east.

Since most of the policies implemented around the time of confederation would be considered “liberal”, and since many were implemented by Liberal governments, one could assume that this is a significant reason as to why the west has tended to vote for the more conservative political option much more so than the east. The numbers may have swung back and forth and the issues being debated may have changed over time, but the general idea that the east votes liberal and west votes conservative lives on to this day. There are many areas to explore, as westerners tend to be more fiscally and socially conservative than their eastern counterparts.

Fiscally, they have considerable reason to be angry with the liberal tendencies of Ottawa. In 1980, Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau introduced the infamous National Energy Program which, much like the National Policy introduced by John A. MacDonald over a century earlier, angered westerners for favoring the eastern half of the country. By keeping Alberta oil in Canada at a cheaper rate than it could be sold at otherwise, the federal government was essentially subsidizing the eastern provinces at the expense of the west. This program proved so enraging that then-Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed went on national television to announce that Alberta was cutting off their oil supply, forcing Canada to import more expensive foreign oil. Trudeau caved and revised the policy to accommodate Lougheed’s demands. When oil prices eventually fell, the program was ended by the new Conservative Prime Minister Brian

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