British Columbia

B.C. calls for unity as western alienation sentiments surge

This week's election results triggered a renewed notion of western alienation. While some British Columbians argue B.C. should not be lumped in with the Prairies, many rural voters align with Alberta's separatist sentiments. Politicians in B.C. are trying to separate the province from the idea of separation.

The federal election has sparked separatist discussions in Alberta while politicians in B.C. urge cooperation

Some voters insist B.C. should not be lumped in with the Prairies amid discussions of western alienation, even though many in eastern B.C. align with Alberta's separatist sentiments. (CBC / Radio-Canada)

It didn't take long for #wexit, or "western exit," to start trending as Monday night's election results trickled in from east to west.

Sending Justin Trudeau back to Ottawa as prime minister sent many Albertans trying to run for the exits with renewed separatist sentiments.

But it's a conversation many British Columbians don't want any part of — including B.C.'s deputy premier.

"I certainly don't think anyone in British Columbia wants to see any kind of separation of Canada," Carole James said Wednesday. "We're proud British Columbians and we're proud Canadians."

Her comments follow a post-election social media debate about where Canada's westernmost province fits in with the notion of western alienation.

Many were quick to argue B.C. should not be lumped in with the Prairies when it comes to separatist sentiments, sparking a call for unity from the provincial government.

"We're a vast province that's very diverse and we've managed to come together on a whole number of areas that we agree on, so I think we can do that across our country as well," James told CBC. 

More nuanced than 'west vs. east'

The political divide within B.C. highlights a much more nuanced dynamic than simply "west vs. east."

Coastal urban centres aside, much of B.C. remains Conservative in the wake of this week's election — and many of those rural voters feel Alberta's frustrations.

"The pipeline is a classic example," said Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone. "It's an issue that is very, very important to people in the Interior and the north of British Columbia."

He pointed to an increasing sense of discord between voters in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island compared to those in the eastern half of B.C.

"I think there has always been — and probably always will be — a deeply-rooted sense of wanting to be a bigger part of the federation. We want to make sure our voices are heard."

While Stone's constituents, like many others across B.C., feel ignored by Ottawa, he said they're not alienated to the point of lobbying to leave. 

"Do people want their fair share of federal attention and federal resources? Absolutely. But I don't often hear that extended to a place of wanting to take our province out of this country." 

B.C. playing peacemaker

B.C. has had tensions with Alberta for years. Despite both governing as NDP premiers, John Horgan and Rachel Notley often disagreed on major issues. And Alberta's new United Conservative Party Premier, Jason Kenney, has made it clear he's ready and willing to escalate that fight even further.

"So the challenge is how to manage a relationship with a sense of grievance that's coming from the top in a place like Alberta," said UBC political scientist Gerald Baier.

He said it would make sense for B.C. to try to play provincial-federal peacemaker in the name of national unity. 

Horgan was arguably Justin Trudeau's main ally of all the premiers heading into the election — and Horgan should exploit that after the election too, said Baier.

"Trudeau won't have an easy time ahead with the other premiers, so having an ally in John Horgan can be useful to him if he has someone who can talk to the others premiers — that could play to B.C.'s favour."


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