Regionalism and nationalism in Canada – a reassessment (Part One)
By Mark Wegierski
The ongoing mediation between the interests of the different regions is one of the most important tasks of the Prime Minister of Canada. The Prime Minister’s mettle is often tested in regard to how well he or she can balance the competing interests of Quebec; Ontario; Western Canada (the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia); and the Atlantic provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland). Newfoundland is now frequently referred to as “Newfoundland and Labrador”. It was a Crown Colony (as well as, for a significant amount of time, a Dominion) of the British Empire until 1949.
There is also the very sparsely populated Far North, which remains under direct federal jurisdiction, to consider. It consists of Yukon, the North-West Territories, and, since 1998, the semi-sovereign Nunavut (the Inuit homeland). Nevertheless, this Far North has been considered as very important to Canadian identity, and, indeed, a great deal of attention has been given to it by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
It could be argued that the Progressive Conservative Prime Minister from 1984 to 1993, Brian Mulroney, singularly failed to strike a helpful balance between the regions. Indeed, Mulroney seemed to show excessive partiality to Quebec and Ontario (which are sometimes together called Central Canada), and contempt for Western and Atlantic Canada.
However, it is quite obvious to observers of Canadian politics that Quebec, for numerous salient reasons, cannot simply be treated as “just another province” or even as a very major region. Quebec is a nation. However, this does not necessarily mean that Quebec must constitute a country independent from Canada. In today’s world, it is possible to come to calculatedly ambiguous social and political arrangements that may maintain, in reasonable stability, political units larger than single nations. For example, the European Community (as it was then called) was once conceived as a “union of sovereign states” – rather than the “super-state” that the European Union is tending to become now.
The endeavours to accommodate Quebec in Canada, especially after the 1960s, have, indeed, absorbed vast political energies and resources in English-speaking Canada. Nevertheless, Quebec in Canada may truly be a matter of a higher order than a “region”.
However, as far as the relations between the three main regions of English-speaking Canada, Mulroney clearly lacked deftness and subtlety.
However earnestly loyal they have been as Canadians, persons living in Western Canada (especially in Alberta) are frequently characterized by something approaching a pronounced loathing of Ontario (and especially Toronto). And it is often semi-facetiously argued that one of the “glues” holding Canada together is hatred of Toronto.
At the same time, it is easy to see that today’s typical Toronto “arts cliques” have usually had a very pronounced loathing of Alberta. Their understanding of Alberta is driven by various exaggerations and misrepresentations that not infrequently reach the level of “demonization”. The recent, but now ended, economic boom in Alberta has generated enormous resentment on the part of some of the cultural elites in Toronto. One sometimes wonders if, among some people in Toronto, their embrace of the current environmentalist surge, is not simply driven by a desire to punish Alberta.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.