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Canada's Messy Political System

Essay by   •  June 26, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  3,127 Words (13 Pages)  •  1,132 Views

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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 Mulroney.

Mulroney’s popularity in the west did not last long, however - in 1986, his government awarded Montreal’s Canadair a lucrative contract for servicing the new CF-18 fighter jets, despite Winnipeg’s Bristol Aerospace offering superior technical service at a lower price. This has been a sore spot for many Westerners ever since.

After Mulroney retired, Jean Chretien beat Kim Campbell in the 1993 federal election and for the 13 years that followed, western farmers suffered at the hands of the Liberal government. Prairie farmers lost their annual grain transportation subsidies, and as a result many farms struggled under heavy debt loads . In an outright show of favoritism, eastern farmers were (and still are) permitted to sell their grain freely to whomever they wish, while western farmers are forced to sell their wheat and barley to the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), which in turn sells it on the world market . The justification for this is that the CWB will be able to garner better prices and protect farmers should the market take a dive. This type of system may have had its place during the great depression, but it serves no purpose and disrupts our free market economy today. Not to mention it gives an unfair advantage to eastern farmers.

Crown corporations, which serve a wide variety of purposes, receive billions of dollars in federal funding, and employ thousands of Canadians almost all located in the eastern half of the country. Of 50+ crown corporations, only five have their head offices located in western Canada вЂ" the rest are in either Ottawa or Montreal .

The reasons as to why westerners tend to be more socially conservative as well are much harder to identify, as it can not be as directly related to any differentiating factors in governance between east and west. The Louisiana Purchase

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