The story of western alienation runs parallel to the story of Canada. Both stories have their roots in 1867, when a country was born out of the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. At the time those two provinces were leaders in business and population numbers. But in the western part of the country, a different story was started – one of alienation – that would lead to the creation of modern day political parties and calls for separation from the rest of Canada.
Despite attempts by successive governments to reduce it, western alienation persists, and while it may seem that current political issues are driving these feelings, the root cause remains in 1867. The current political debates around big issues like energy or the environment, and other issues such as equalization payments, are manifestations of long lasting grievances in the west dating to the founding of the country. Canada’s original sin ─ building the country on the foundation of the eastern provinces ─ persists.
To discuss these issues, this week’s guest is Loleen Berdahl, professor and head of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan. She has been studying western alienation and how it fits into the context of pan-Canadian regional conflict for two decades. Her recent essay for the IRPP’s Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation delves into the origins of western alienation and recommends ways to tackle it.