A major study released January 30th has found that British Columbians identify more strongly with their Cascadian and West Coast neighbors, than to their eastern Canadian counterparts.
The study was released by Angus Reid which is conducting a four part study on Western Canadian identity, and surveyed 4,024 Canadians in late December and early January. It showed that 54 percent of British Columbians felt they had the most in common with Washington state, 18 percent picked California while just 15 per cent chose Alberta, 9% percent chose Ontaria, and less than 3% chose Manitoba, Saskatchewan or another Canadian area.
This connection, while not new, has steadily continued to grow (In 1991, fully half of B.C. respondents told the Angus Reid Group they had the most in common with Washington) and more telling, in 1991 there was a much greater degree of mutual recognition between British Columbia and Alberta, and other parts of Canada.
At that time fully one-in-three Albertans in that survey said they had the most in common with B.C., more than chose any other province. Similarly, today, only 7 per cent of Albertans think their province has the most in common with B.C. These differences in perceived closeness across the west reflect that while Western Canadians perceive their region as unique and distinct from the rest of Canada, they also hold nuanced views about the region’s component provinces. In particular, the study finds a growing rift between Alberta and British Columbia on many issues. On an individual level, Western Canadians tend not to think of themselves by that name. Tellingly, residents of Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia are more likely to think of themselves Albertans, Saskatchewanians and British Columbians, respectively, than Canadians.
Not Represented by the Federal Government
A key component of how the west perceives its role in Canada is whether or not it feels represented by national institutions. The federal government receives its poorest scores in the West, with just one-quarter of British Columbians (25%), and fewer than one-in-five Albertans (15%) and Saskatchewanians (17%) saying they feel well represented.
Much like their southern Cascadian and Californian counterparts, asked whether the federal government’s treatment of the west has improved or worsened over the last few years, those westerners who believe the treatment has been unfair tend to see it worsening:
Given that they feel they’re receiving poor treatment from the federal government, it’s interesting to note how British Columbians and other western provinces would like to their local governments to best proceed in representing their interests.
Rather than less of a schism, only 7 percent want their province to take “a soft approach” that aims to avoid conflict. The vast majority are split between favoring “a firmer approach” that doesn’t shy away from disagreement (46%) and “a tough approach” that would see their provincial government “do what it takes” to defend regional interests (47%).
Western Canada’s feelings toward the federal government make for some challenging political dynamics.
Interestingly enough – as the west’s most alienated province, Alberta may feel it has cause to leave Canada altogether. How widespread is this sentiment? And if Alberta left, would other western provinces join it? If British Columbia explored removing itself, would the states of Washington and Oregon consider joining it?. What about placing a greater emphasis on western provincial independence and self-determination within Confederation? What would that look like, and how much appetite is there for a federal political party that would advocate for such an approach?
A Handshake, not a Hug
Already Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, share a close connection and relationship – only deepening with recent efforts like the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, the Pacific Coast Collaborative, High Speed Rail, Cascadia Fiber Optic Network, and many other cross border shared initiatives. As a whole these connections continue to deepen between Cascadian entitites, including Washington and British Columbia as forest fire management, drought and flood management, as well as disaster preparation along the Cascadia Subduction Zone continue to grow. Ultimately, culture stems from place – from our shared experiences that we develop and grow together, fostered by similar surroundings and livelihoods, needs, and values.
Some of the recent divide is born from pipeline politics, with the Alberta government incensed over the B.C. government’s effort to halt the Trans Mountain expansion project over environmental concerns. The four million strong Alberta province sees the multimillion-dollar project to bring oil to the B.C. coast for export as its economic salvation, while the nearly triple that population living along the Salish Sea which would be impacted by possible spills have resoundingly rejected the measure. Currently, the federal government is overstepping the broad majority of British Columbians in backing the pipeline – currently enmeshed in territorial disputes as it crosses unceded first nation lands who are fiercely working to block the pipelines.
Sachi Kurl, executive director at the Angus Reid Institute describes herself as a “born and raised West Coaster,” said the divide between B.C. and the rest of Canada has been growing since 1991, when 50 per cent of BC respondents said they had more in common with Washington. The lack of shared identity in Canada’s western-most province is not necessarily at crisis levels, but it points to a crack in national unity, she said.
“It shows we [in Canada] are held together more by a handshake than a hug.”
For more information, you can read the entire study results at: http://angusreid.org/new-west-western-identity/
The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.