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COMMENTARY: Alienation is real — and Ottawa’s denials only make it worse

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, June 11, 2019.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

As powerful and influential as Canada’s premiers are, it’s still very difficult to imagine how one or even some of them would go about manufacturing a national unity crisis.

I suppose a premier could falsely claim that such a crisis exists or make provocative statements that could potentially inflame a burgeoning national unity crisis. But simply vowing to unleash one would be a rather unrealistic and unconvincing show of bravado.

On the other hand, though, if Canadians in a certain region of the country are becoming disillusioned with Ottawa or confederation itself, then it’s quite likely that a premier in that region would be more attuned to it than would a prime minister — especially one not from that region or leading a party with a lack of representation in that part of the country.

READ MORE: Don’t write off Western anger as ‘alienation’ — it runs a whole lot deeper: Calgary professor (May 5, 2019)

And while a premier might not be the final word on such matters, it doesn’t mean that the prime minister gets to be, either. We can assess the evidence and judge for ourselves.

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Therefore, it is entirely possible that our current prime minister is turning a blind eye to growing anxiety and frustration in certain parts of the country. It’s also entirely possible that this anxiety and frustration is leading to a belief that Ottawa does not have the best economic interests of those parts of the country in mind.

To that end, the response from Prime Minister Trudeau — and now also from Finance Minister Bill Morneau — to the premiers who have warned him of this potential crisis is short-sighted and reckless.

WATCH: (Feb. 5, 2019) Poll: Western alienation growing again

Poll: Western alienation growing again
Poll: Western alienation growing again

To Trudeau and Morneau, however, it’s the premiers who are being reckless by “threatening” a national unity crisis if “they don’t get their way.” I suppose it’s convenient and helpful for them to see it that way. They surely don’t want to concede that anything they’re doing is in any way contributing to such a state of affairs, or that portraying certain conservative premiers as nefarious troublemakers plays into the Liberal narrative ahead of the fall election.

Conversely, though, there’s no doubt that those same conservative premiers will be campaigning for — or at least hoping for — a Liberal defeat this fall. They too have a vested interest in a certain portrayal of Liberal policy. But an objective assessment of the evidence would indicate that the premiers are warning Ottawa about a very real sentiment — one that Ottawa ignores at its peril.

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This is very much a case of metaphorically shooting the messenger.

READ MORE: New political party seeks to have Alberta separate from Canada (March 22, 2019)

Jason Kenney won big in Alberta due to a campaign that focused in large part on a promise to stand up to Ottawa. Even if one disagrees with Kenney’s characterization of various federal policies, there’s no denying that there was a very receptive audience for such a message. That fact that Rachel Notley and her NDP had become very critical of C-69 and C-48 is further evidence of the mood in Alberta.

I somehow doubt that Trudeau or Morneau is more attuned to the concerns of Albertans than is Kenney or Notley. As an Albertan resident, I may be less qualified to speak to the current mood in say, Saskatchewan or New Brunswick, but I somehow doubt that this Liberal obliviousness and denial is restricted to one province.

WATCH: (Dec. 20, 2018) Justin Trudeau on politicians he says want to ‘exploit’ Western alienation

Justin Trudeau on politicians he says want to ‘exploit’ Western alienation
Justin Trudeau on politicians he says want to ‘exploit’ Western alienation

There has been a considerable amount of public polling on this question as of late, too, and it provides even more evidence that these premiers are describing something very real and very concerning.

There is widespread and legitimate concern around Bills C-69 and C-48 (and even why both are needed, since arguably the former makes the latter redundant). If we get it wrong on these issues, it could have profound and long-lasting economic consequences. It should therefore come as no surprise that perceived federal ambivalence would lead to an erosion of trust and confidence in the federal government.

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Ignoring these concerns doesn’t make them go away. Denying them and trying to wedge these warnings into a political narrative will only make the problem worse.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.