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COMMENTARY: Separation sentiment soars in Alta. and Sask. — but there may be more smoke than fire

WATCH: In the recent federal election, Canadians re-elected the Liberals as a minority government. Since then, the idea of western separation has started popping up all over social media under the hashtag #Wexit.

Canadians from all regions could see the signs of division on election night: a Liberal government elected with barely one-third of the votes, electoral maps showing stark east-west and urban-rural splits, a resurgent Bloc Québécois and not a single Liberal seat — and only a lone NDP seat — in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In the aftermath of this election outcome, Canadians tell Ipsos they believe the country is more divided than ever. Six in 10 (59 per cent) Canadians agree the country is more divided than at any time in its history, including a majority of residents in every region. But the feeling is strongest of all in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where 79 and 77 per cent agree, respectively.

READ MORE: Separatist sentiment in Alberta, Saskatchewan at ‘historic’ highs, Ipsos poll says

Alberta and Saskatchewan residents feel much more negative about the election outcome than other Canadians. Half of residents in both provinces — 51 per cent in Alberta, 50 per cent in Saskatchewan — say they feel angry, and support for separation has risen to new highs. (The Ipsos polling data is available online.)

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A belief that Alberta would be better off if it separated from Canada is up eight points from just over a year ago and 14 points from 2001. A belief that Saskatchewan would be better off if it separated is up nine points from just over a year ago and 14 points from 2001. Support for separation is now seven points higher in Alberta than in Quebec.

READ MORE: This way to ‘Wexit’ — Navigating Alberta’s theoretical secession

But before #Wexit organizers get too excited, there may be more smoke than fire when it comes to Saskatchewan and Alberta. While residents are certainly unhappy, support for separation is still only at one-third (33 per cent) of Albertans and slightly more than one-quarter (27 per cent) of Saskatchewan residents.

In other words, a strong majority of residents in both provinces believe they are at least as well off within Confederation.

More than anger, residents of both Prairie provinces tell Ipsos they are more likely to feel disappointed (Alberta, 69 per cent; Saskatchewan, 67 per cent), worried (Alberta, 69 per cent; Saskatchewan, 65 per cent) or even sad (Alberta, 55 per cent; Saskatchewan 58 per cent) about the election outcome.

59% say Canada is more divided: Ipsos poll
59% say Canada is more divided: Ipsos poll

Moreover, the broader West is not united in its views about either the election or alienation. British Columbians and Manitobans are no more angry, disappointed or worried than residents of Ontario or Atlantic Canada. Barely more than one in 10 British Columbians (13 per cent) and Manitobans (11 per cent) agree their provinces would be better off if separated from Canada. #Wexit is a misnomer, with little traction outside Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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What’s behind the views of Albertans and Saskatchewanians? The common link is oil, of course, and a belief that the rest of the country has never appreciated the benefit provided by the energy sector.

READ MORE: Trudeau taps prominent transition advisers in nod to Alberta, Quebec

Most Alberta (65 per cent) and Saskatchewan (62 per cent) residents believe their province does not get its fair share from Confederation. That’s the highest level in the country, much higher than in Quebec (34 per cent) and Ontario (20 per cent).

In particular, Alberta and Saskatchewan residents are troubled with the system of equalization payments in Canada. Seven in 10 residents of both Alberta (71 per cent) and Saskatchewan (68 per cent) believe Canada’s program of equalization payments is unfair to their province. Again, that’s much higher than in either Ontario (30 per cent) or Quebec (26 per cent).

So what does the rest of the country make of the plight of Alberta and Saskatchewan? Does it agree that the two provinces have a good reason to be mad about how they are treated by the federal government?

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Quebecers do not. Only one-third (33 per cent) agree that Alberta and Saskatchewan have good reason to be mad. Empathy is a little higher in B.C. (41 per cent) and then rises to nearly half in Ontario (45 per cent) and Atlantic Canada (47 per cent). Only in Manitoba (54 per cent) do a majority agree that Alberta and Saskatchewan are getting a bad deal from the federal government.

READ MORE: Saskatoon, Regina mayors hold talks with Trudeau following election

The danger for national unity is that lack of recognition or action by the federal government — and other provinces — allows widespread disappointment and worry in Alberta and Saskatchewan to turn into full-blown anger. Having no federal cabinet presence in either province makes the challenge for the federal government even harder.

And it does not appear that the other two western provinces are aligned or fully sympathetic with the issues of Alberta and Saskatchewan. In fact, B.C. is openly trying to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the one thing that Alberta and Saskatchewan most want.

It is a divided country, and the current political landscape suggests it will continue to be for some time.

Kyle Braid is senior vice-president of Ipsos Public Affairs based in Vancouver.

Exclusive Global News Ipsos polls are protected by copyright. The information and/or data may only be rebroadcast or republished with full and proper credit and attribution to “Global News Ipsos.” This poll was conducted between Oct. 24 and Nov. 1, 2019, with a sample of 1,516 Canadians from Ipsos’ online panel. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. This poll is accurate to within +/ – 2.0 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled.

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