Westerners put province first

Joe Paraskevas
Calgary Herald
May 24, 2003

Concerns over the breakup of the country are about to shift westward, suggests a new study pointing to a growing belief among western Canadians that they are citizens of their provinces first, and of their country second.

While decades of turmoil over Quebec separation appear to have ended, western disillusionment with Canada is on the rise, says the study, released today by the Association for Canadian Studies, a Montreal-based society dedicated to educational and research pursuits.

“I think it’s a translation of a growing feeling of disempowerment out West, particularly in Alberta, with respect to the federal government,” ACS executive director Jack Jedwab said Friday.

“People just don’t feel they have lot of impact on what happens in Ottawa and what happens nationally and that’s beginning to have a greater influence on their identity and attachments,” he said.

“They have a greater sense of empowerment with respect to the provincial government. They feel more reflected in their provincial government and less reflected in the federal government.”

The ACS study, conducted in March by Environics Research Group, showed a jump of 17 percentage points between 1997 and this year in the number of Albertans who considered themselves citizens of their province more than of their country.

Forty-six per cent of survey respondents made such a claim, compared to 29 per cent in 1997.

In British Columbia, the number of people attached to province over country jumped 13 percentage points, from 25 per cent in 1997 to 38 per cent in 2003.

In both provinces, the number who felt more attached to Canada was 63 per cent in 1997. Those figures fell to 58 per cent in B.C. and to 53 per cent in Alberta this year.

The survey of 2,002 adults nationally is considered accurate to within 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The same trend was evident – though less pronounced – in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In Atlantic Canada, it was attachment to Canada rather than to a particular province that increased significantly over the six years the study considered.

Only in Quebec did the majority of survey respondents – 51 per cent – continue to identify themselves as citizens of the province rather than of the country, though the study’s findings marked a stabilization of such a sentiment, Jedwab said.

“I think the outcome of that may mean a shift in attention away from Quebec for the first time in several decades,” he added, “and out West . . . to where the growing preoccupation is with the weakening of national identity.”

Such a move could have political, economic and social implications, Jedwab said, if the federal government is forced to adapt to western dissatisfaction with economic investment or other measures aimed directly at raising Ottawa’s profile.

The study’s findings also provoked claims from others of a new boldness in provincial legislatures.

“There is a danger that (growing provincialism) feeds the separatist desire,” said Lawrence Solomon, executive director of the Urban Renaissance Institute, a Toronto public policy think-tank.

“You also get provinces that start to see themselves as mini-countries,” Solomon said. “More and more, we’re getting provinces trying to run the same kinds of functions that the federal government does. More provinces are becoming interested in their own immigration and some are starting to take on diplomatic roles.”

Unlike in the other provinces, respondents to the ACS survey in Ontario maintained their allegiance to Canada rather than to their provincial home.

This year, 70 per cent of respondents said they were Canadians before Ontarians, compared to 74 per cent who would have said the same thing six years ago.

By comparison, only 28 per cent of respondents saw themselves as Ontarians first, a rise in that category of 10 percentage points from 1997.

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