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Western alienation is real but anger needs to be channelled correctly

By Derek Baker, December 19 2018 —

Alberta’s federal relations have never been overly congenial. From lurking sentiments of the underrepresentation of Western regions in federal politics to overt statements proclaiming  “Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark,” Western alienation has persisted throughout the history of Confederation.

Tensions ebb and flow. Alberta, along with other Prairie provinces, currently finds itself in another surge of Western alienation. Though not as brash as the bumper sticker slogan above, the provincial government’s ‘lost-revenue counter’ projection outside the federal Liberal’s Christmas party is a cheeky jab at the rest of the country, further illustrating the divide.

Grumblings of Alberta separatism, which were previously dismissed as the ramblings of an irrational ‘bertan, have unfortunately weaselled their way into mainstream Albertan political discourse. A quick glance at Google Trends shows searches for ‘Alberta separatism’ at a five-year high, and former provincial and federal Albertan politicians are stoking the movement.

Western alienation is a real and powerful political tool to rally support, but it also contributes to the current divisiveness of federal politics. Channelled incorrectly, Western alienation is unproductive and just comes across as juvenile whining that Alberta isn’t getting its way.

But when your prime minister casually forgets that Alberta even exists, it’s hard to dismiss why these feelings persist.

Provinces not getting along isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s unrealistic to believe that the distinct regional interests across the country’s different provinces would allow them to see eye-to-eye on every issue. Canada’s federal system was constructed because of this — within its very framework is the apparatus for conflict.

Conflict, however, needs to be addressed. When left neglected, as the federal government has over the past few years, it brings us to the tense situation we’re currently facing. Still, during Justin Trudeau’s meeting with all of the provincial leaders at the beginning of December, the energy industry crisis wasn’t even on the original agenda. Ignoring these issues further stokes alienation.

There are the standard issues Albertans list in their grievances with the rest of the country. Pipeline obstruction, which is at the detriment of the provincial and national economy to the tune of millions of dollars per day, is an obvious trigger. Equalization payments, though grossly misunderstood in how they are calculated and distributed, have not had a cent go to the province since 1965.

There’s no question that Alberta needs to diversify its economy away from fossil fuel domination — and at a much quicker pace, for that matter. Not only is an economy overly reliant on a single industry highly unstable, but our future climate is dependant on transitioning away from the industry.

But the rest of the country vilifying Alberta for its oil and gas sector is painfully ignorant towards an economic sector that has been fundamental in the prosperity our country enjoys.

Albertans have the right to be frustrated. However, brandishing signs stating “Your mom banged Mick Jagger” at a protest won’t get anything done. Wearing shirts calling for Trudeau to be hanged isn’t acceptable, either. The idiocy of a few demonstrators gives the rest of Albertans looking for a sustainable solution a bad rap. And why wouldn’t it?

That doesn’t mean Albertans can’t be tough in their objections. The power of persuasion, however, lies in respectful and straightforward insistence.

The next federal election is less than a year away. The best thing about our archaic electoral system is that elected members of Parliament actually represent a constituency. Make sure they’re vocal advocates for the issues facing our province, because it sure ain’t coming from any federal party’s leadership.

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