Symptoms of Alienation

Hi Friends – sorry for the lack of posting over the holidays. I’m back and will be posting full time again.

Every Christmas westerners living out east return home to pass the holidays with friends and families. With the added personal dimension created by this event, the holiday homecoming becomes one of the few times Westerners are willing to get updated on the ‘going ons’ out east. I’m no fan of western alienation but I am curious: why is this pilgrimage virtually the only time Westerners talk about the rest of the country? Why does the west not feel in?

It could be, as my friend John pointed out, that “national” newspapers like the Globe and Mail treat the machinations of Ontario’s budget process as critical reading for all Canadians (sorry if those of us in Vancouver aren’t rushing to grab a copy) while news from out west is an afterthought for most publications – a clumsy attempt at having western content without offering any real meat or analysis.

While it may sound like an old song, living out here one cannot help sense that, at their core, publications like the G&M still believe Central Canada is ‘the country’ whose dynamics must be understood by everybody. Everything and everyone else is as periphery – whose relevance can be correlated to their impact the central Canada’s agenda. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the recent Globe and Mail article “Western Canada Comes of Age.” Let’s put aside the fact that most westerners likely believe ‘the West’ came of age a long time ago. Let’s also put aside the unbelievable condescension of the title (I can’t wait to see when the G&M decides that Aboriginal Bands have “come of age” in national politics). Instead it is the framing of the piece that reveals why Westerns often feel outside any ‘national’ dialogue.

So how does the Globe and Mail define ‘coming of age’? Is the West’s political maturity and relevance defined by its perspective? its unique challenges? or possibly by the ideas, ambitions, or opportunities it brings to the country’s agenda? No. What matters is that Alberta and BC’s combined population now exceeds Quebec. In short, the G&M, believes the West’s maturity and relevance is defined by its capacity to force other actors (read, central Canada) to pay attention to it. And we wonder why we struggle to have national dialogues.

The second element revolved around the West’s raw economic power. However, let us be clear. This is not economic power defined in absolute terms, but economic power measured in relation to the challenges it posses to Central Canada! What does the article cite as the foremost important impact of the West’s boom? Is it the challenges it posses to Western communities? The international opportunities and clout this creates for the country? No. The ‘broad’ and significant impact of this economic surge was to “have helped drive the Canadian dollar higher, causing challenges in Ontario’s manufacturing sector.” Thus, in both instances, the importance of the West is not defined in its own terms but largely by its relationship to central Canada.
Western alienation isn’t about political clout, economic weight or even effective representation. It is about the capacity to participate, and be understood, within national debates. Until we, and more specifically, our newspapers get that right I’m not sure the West will ever feel ‘in’.

[tags]western alienation, canadian politics, public policy[/tags]

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