There is a growing sense in western Canada that the federal government’s professed support for resource provinces is hollow
It was not at all helpful that the less-than-affable Montreal mayor, Denis Coderre, declared it a “victory for Canada” when TransCanada withdrew its licence application for Energy East, a pipeline project that actually would have provided market-diversification benefits to the national economy.
It would be no different than if the mayor of, say, Winnipeg — home to a Boeing plant — declared it a Canadian victory after the U.S. Commerce Department slapped on two import duties on Quebec’s heavily subsidized Bombardier planes.
Coderre’s insensitive comment reminds many Western Canadians of their own past grievances. It was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father who, with the 1980 National Energy Program, imposed a breathtakingly unfair wealth transfer from Western provinces to Central Canada. Pierre Trudeau had slapped export taxes on Alberta oil exports to the U.S. to subsidize energy imports for Eastern Canadians.
Maritimers, Ontarians and Quebecers got cheaper gasoline and heat paid for by Westerners. Ottawa’s blatant prejudice stirred some Westerners to entertain the idea of separation, but after the Mulroney government was elected in 1984 and dismantled the NEP, the idea returned to Alberta’s political fringe.
Regional conflict is not new in Canada, or in other federations. These conflicts can arise over “taste” (i.e., cultural and historical issues) or “claim” (economic resources). Conflict of taste is due to differences among regions with respect to laws and the role of government. Conflict of claim arises from rich regions transferring resources to support other parts of the country.