Word on the Street: How is western alienation affecting voters in the 2019 federal election?

Click to play video: 'Word on the Street – Election Edition – Western Alienation'
Word on the Street – Election Edition – Western Alienation
The Global News Morning Calgary team takes to the streets to find out how Calgarians think the issue of western alienation is affecting the 2019 federal election – Oct 15, 2019

Each day this week, Global News will explore some of the issues that matter to Calgary voters as we approach the 2019 federal election in a new segment called Word on the Street.

The Global News Morning Calgary team took to the streets last week to find out what Calgarians think about western alienation in the 2019 federal election — and many voters didn’t mince words when it came to feeling ignored by Ottawa.

Western alienation is a term used to describe the perceived division between western Canadian provinces — British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba — and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

As voters begin to head to the polls, some voters say they see history repeating itself in federal politics, and one expert worries the 2019 election has widened the divide between eastern and western Canada rather than addressed it.

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“I think it’s funny that we seem to be repeating history with one Trudeau and another Trudeau,” Rebecca Edworthy told Global News, referencing Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and his father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

“Come on, learn from the past! I remember learning about it in high school, this western alienation with the new energy policy, and I feel like we have just 100 per cent repeated history.”

Hillary Johnstone, who is originally from western Canada but now lives “out east,” says she sees how some provinces are “pitted against the west.”

“Sometimes, I think we should just move the Parliament here for half the year,” she said.

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Other voters with whom Global News spoke said they don’t feel heard by the federal government.

“The east has always had their hands in our finances out here, but when it comes to cooperating, when we need the help to get these pipelines through, there’s no empathy for us out here at all so something has to give,” said Susan Waddell.

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Political commentator and pollster Janet Brown told Global News that Alberta’s feeling of alienation is not going away any time soon.

“I’ve been doing research on this for a couple of years now, and these comments really mirror what I hear in my own research,” Brown said. “We talked a lot about western alienation 30 years ago; we’re talking about western alienation again.”

Brown said the main driver behind feelings of western alienation appears to be economic factors, such as Alberta’s slumping energy industry.

“When you ask Canadians what the most important issues are, the things that are going to determine their vote, Albertans right now give very different answers than what the rest of Canada does,” Brown said.

“We’re focused on jobs, the economy, pipelines. Out east, they’re focused on affordability.

“Here, we’re trying to figure out how to stir up the economy. There, they find the economy too hot and they’re suffering under the weight of affordability and house prices and those sorts of things.”

Brown says the current federal election campaign is fuelling western alienation instead of fixing it.

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“Trudeau and [Conservative Leader Andrew] Scheer have only made whistlestop visits to Alberta. [NDP Leader Jagmeet] Singh seems to have no intention of visiting,” Brown said, adding that Alberta’s issues have either been “ignored or served as a punching bag” by the Green Party of Canada, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois.

She said the threats of Alberta separating from the rest of Canada are just “tough talk” in the hopes that the federal government will listen up. Brown likens it to “when you tell your husband to pick up his socks or you’ll divorce him.”

“You don’t say this because you want a divorce — you say this because you want him to pick up his socks. Nothing you’ve said up to this point has been persuasive enough for him to pick up his socks so you’ve upped the ante,” Brown said.

“But if he doesn’t get the message and change his ways, at some point in the future, you will be frustrated enough to divorce him,” she added. “I think that’s where Alberta is right now.

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“We’re trying to provoke a reaction from the federal government and the rest of Canada because we want federalism to work. But we’re not getting a response from the rest of Canada so this problem is bound to escalate.”

Brown expects to see a solid swath of blue voters in western Canada on election night and lots of red in the east.

She says that will likely leave the west feeling even more dejected.

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