The West Still Wants In

Fifteen years ago, a grassroots political movement with the slogan “The West wants in” suddenly appeared within the House of Commons. Sick of feeling that the politics of this country (Canada) were run by backroom deals among the ‘king-makers’ in Ontario and Quebec, often to the determent of Western Canada, the people formed a political party and sent them to Ottawa. But even winning 80% of the seats in Alberta and British Columbia wasn’t enough to grant the party Official Opposition status; no, that honour went to a party who’s raison d’être was best summed up by de Gaulle in 1967 when he proclaimed “Vive le Québec libre!” (Long live free Quebec!)

Fast forward to today and you’ll find both political parties still on the stage today — the Reform party has changed names and sought to include Canadians from across the country, was elected to seats in nine provinces this last election, and formed the government and the Bloc Québécois remains a force in la belle province, mission unchanged.

Yesterday I gathered with colleagues and we asked “What has changed in 15 years?” The Liberals, NDP, and Bloc had just signed a deal to form and support a coalition government and toss out the Conservative minority elected just six weeks previous. Is this democratic? Legal? Regardless, it doesn’t pass the smell test. And it seems that once again, the power deals are being made in backrooms among those from Ontario and Quebec, and the West wonders how it can influence the events unfolding half a continent away.

In case you wonder why Albertans would approach this proposed coalition with such concern, consider how the three parties approached the province during this last election: The Bloc ignored Alberta. Jack Layton, leader of the NDP, made a campaign stop Fort Smith, NWT to do a “fly-by smear” as the Calgary Herald put it, of the Alberta Oilsands, and proposed to shut down the whole area which directly generates 3.5% of the Canadian GDP. As for the Liberals, I was there at the University of Alberta when Stephan Dion spoke on the eve of the election call to a group that seemed to be an even mix of white-haired ivory tower types and curious students. I listened to him talk of the Green Shift, which seemed to be simply a tax on oil production to fund new social programs, or translated, taking money out of economic engine in Alberta and giving it to those out of work in Ontario and Quebec. When the other two “national” political parties seem to show up in Alberta only to take pot shots at it to win votes elsewhere, it’s no wonder Albertan voted 2.5:1 for the Conservatives.

Albertans want to be part of Canada, but they want to have a place at the table. Many Albertans feel like Confederation is a party they’re paying for but haven’t yet been invited to. While I’m old enough to remember the 1993 election, I’m too young to have been around for the National Energy Program (NEP), which came into effect in 1980, its memory hangs heavy in the air.

You look around, and while the United States and Europe have fallen into a recession, Canada’s economy stands to grow at 0.3% with Alberta leading the way, probably in the G-20, at 1.2%. Alberta has done much to improve its financial position of the last few years, including paying off its debt, and today the wisdom of this approach can be seen. The fear here is that “bailout” or “economic stimulus” money will not make it to Alberta, but will still burden us for a generation with debt. History tells us that the Liberals thought nothing of removing $80-100 billion from the Alberta economy through the NEP, which, with “Alberta’s lost decade”, is a nightmare sits in the back of the minds of many. What will be the price we pay this time around?

And so Mr. Dion, Mr. Layton, and friends, I ask you not to mortgage my future to pay for your political ambitions, and to treat Alberta with the respect it deserves; we’re getting tired of being taken for a ride. So, the ball is in your court, and all eyes are upon you. For now, the chant remains “The West wants in…”

My friend Kyle also posted his thoughts on the matter: Come Together Right Now Over Greed

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