Painful Truth: Western alienation is just a myth

Defining ‘the west’ as those who voted Conservative is a bad political strategy

The votes were barely counted before the myth-making began.

This election, previously about everything from the SNC-Lavalin scandal to Trudeau’s brownface photos to jobs to tax cuts, was suddenly about the west.

And boy, was it alienated. It took about 10 minutes from the results coming in before someone started a secession campaign for western Canada dubbed ‘Wexit.’

First of all, the west isn’t “the west.”

Is it Vancouver Island (which went to the NDP and Greens) or the Vancouver suburbs that went Liberal, or even Edmonton-Strathcona, the lone orange NDP dot amid Alberta’s sea of Tory blue?

Leaders stoking the western alienation narrative are narrowly defining the west as “parts of western Canada that voted Conservative” and “places where oil comes from.”

That’s a dangerous strategy for Conservatives, who actually lost seats in central Canada Monday. Turning the Tories into a regional party is bad strategy.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney seems pleased to demand special privileges from the federal government, including an end to the CMHC home buyers stress test (for Albertans) and changes to equalization payments (that would benefit Alberta).

A region demanding special privileges within Confederation, and threatening to leave. Sounds familiar…

And of course, there is the endless ranting about the Liberals and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

As you may not be aware, this is an oil pipeline that the federal Liberals A) bought and B) are expanding right now. Listening to the voices of western alienation, you’d think Justin Trudeau was plotting day and night to shut down, and I must repeat this, a pipeline his government bought and is expanding.

Oil and gas is huge in Alberta and parts of B.C., and it is a major part of the Canadian economy, but it’s far from the biggest player.

In 2017, the oil and gas sector accounted for 264,000 jobs across Canada. It paled in comparison to the 1.7 million in manufacturing or 1.4 million in construction.

While oil has been shedding jobs thanks to a combination of low prices and automation, the tech sector has quietly added a quarter million workers in Canada since 2010. Some of them are in Alberta, fancy that!

Canada remains a place where people rely on the resource sector – but as part of a much larger and diverse economy. It’s a place where growing fears of climate change are causing citizens to reconsider reliance on fossil fuels and ponder how to transition to clean energy.

Three decades ago, Canada looked more like Alberta. But jobs in fisheries and forestry have been dwindling for years, replaced by new sectors. “The west,” in looking to a past that can’t be sustained, isn’t alienated.

The rest of Canada is becoming alienated from an imaginary west.

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