Preston Manning warns Western alienation could spark separatist surge on the Prairies

Preston Manning speaks at Canadian Club of Calgary on Sept. 25, 2019. Silvana Benolich/Global News

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning issued a dire warning for politicians at a luncheon in Calgary Wednesday afternoon.

Western separatist sentiment is on the rise, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Manning told the crowd at the Canadian Club of Calgary. He said that political leaders who ignore such populist movements do so at their own peril.

“There’s real reasons for why people are angry and disillusioned,” Manning said.

“The problems with the energy sector and the inability to get resources to tidewater and world markets are all fuelling Western alienation.”

READ MORE: New Alberta separation group meets in Calgary

That pervasive alienation could leave the country even more divided after the federal election, according to Manning, if politicians don’t recognize the validity of people’s concerns.

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“Don’t dismiss them,” he said. “Don’t tell people, ‘You’ve got no right to be angry or mad,’ but try and provide constructive alternatives rather than tearing things apart.”

The retired politician said that will be the challenge for the next Parliament and whoever ends up winning the October election.

READ MORE: Shutting people up is not the way to deal with populism: Preston Manning

WATCH BELOW: (From 2017) Preston Manning says we need to learn from past examples of where populism has been a positive force in society and use that to engage and reinvigorate the conservatism.

Click to play video: 'Shutting people up is not the way to deal with populism: Preston Manning'
Shutting people up is not the way to deal with populism: Preston Manning

Manning added that he believes the possibility of a revival of the separatist movement in Quebec should not be ignored either. He said that could lead to further regional alienation and division in Canada.

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Manning himself rode a populist wave into power in the 1980s, founding the Reform Party of Canada and going on to become leader of the Opposition.

The party grew out of voter dissatisfaction with Ottawa, and the perceived lack of attention that was being paid to the west.

Western Canadians are still dissatisfied with the federal government — perhaps more than the 1980s, according to a series of polls done earlier this year by the Vancouver-based Angus Reid Institute that looked at the West’s place in Confederation.

Angus Reid reported that nearly three out of four Canadians who live west of Ontario don’t feel the feds treat their province fairly, and that the feeling has grown worse in recent years.

Another Angus Reid Institute poll found that, had another prospective “Western Canada Party” ran in the federal election, it would have had a stronger chance at drawing votes in every western province save for Manitoba — although the margin wasn’t very wide in one place.

As part of the poll, Angus Reid asked survey respondents in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia to consider a hypothetical “Western Canada Party” that would push for the west’s interests within Confederation.

Support varied by province — the strongest for a Western Canada Party was found in Alberta, where it drew the backing of 40 per cent of respondents, compared to 36 per cent for the Conservatives.

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READ MORE: Canadians in the west, more than those in the east, say Ottawa does not treat them fairly — poll

Those results came in the same poll that showed an increasing number of Western Canadians saying that anger at Ottawa is growing over the past 27 years.

The poll asked respondents, “Based on what you have seen, heard or read, do you feel that the number of western Canadians who are angry about Ottawa’s treatment of the West is increasing, decreasing, or remaining the same?”

The pollster asked this question in 1991 and in 2018.

The feeling increased in every western province save for Manitoba in that time.

And it was most pronounced in Alberta — in 1991, 63 per cent of respondents there said it was increasing. In 2018, it was 86 per cent.

Saskatchewanians felt similarly — the share of people who felt this way grew from 66 per cent in 1991 to 81 per cent in 2018.

Shachi Kurl, executive director at the Angus Reid Institute, said Western Canadian provinces have been raising awareness of the weight they lift economically, and “all of this feeds into a sense that the rest of the country, particularly Ottawa, is not checked into what is happening, and what’s important to western Canadians.”

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READ MORE: A Western Canada party once worked to win a place in Ottawa. Today, voters might back another: poll

— With files from Jesse Ferreras, Global News

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