A recent survey suggests Saskatchewan residents think Western Canada would be better off if it separates from the rest of the nation.
The Environics Institute polled 5,732 people online, across all Canadian provinces and territories, from December 2018 to January 2019.
In Saskatchewan, 53 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement, “Western Canada gets so few benefits from being part of Canada that they might as well go it on their own.”
In Alberta and Saskatchewan the proportions agreeing with the statement have jumped 28 and 25 percentage points, respectively, since 2010. Manitobans are less likely than other westerners to share this perspective, but even in this province support for going it alone has increased by 16 points
Overall, the survey says Westerners’ agreement with that statement has strengthened significantly since 2010, and is now at the highest level recorded since 1987.
The province’s economic minister Jeremy Harrison said Saskatchewan residents feel ignored by Ottawa.
“I can tell you from my own constituency in northwest Saskatchewan, there’s a high degree of frustration, particularly directed at the national government, the Liberal government, about policy initiatives that they’ve undertaken which have undoubtedly harmed Western Canadian economic interests,” Harrison said.
Harrison pointed to pipelines, carbon tax and the energy and resource sector, as files leading to discontent.
“All of these things add up to a population that are deeply, deeply frustrated with the Liberal government nationally,” he said.
In March, a group advocating for Canada’s Prairie provinces to secede has put up three billboards in Regina and one in Saskatoon bearing the question, “Should Saskatchewan leave Canada?”
The leader of the group told CBC people are upset with equalization payments, taxation, and even the Canada Food Guide.
Harrison said it the findings of the survey, don’t necessarily mean people want to follow through with a separatist movement.
“I think people are committed to Canada,” Harrison said. “I think what it’s a reflection of is that frustration with the Liberal government and their unwillingness to listen to Western Canadians.”
Support for separation from Canada is equally strong among younger and older westerners. This represents a significant shift since 2010, when it was older residents who were most likely to express this sentiment.
“I know there’s some frustration in Western Canada but Saskatchewan people, I think, will recognize that we’re stronger as part of Canada and we’re Canadians, but certainly we have important files in Western Canada and in Saskatchewan that need action,” said NDP MLA Trent Wotherspoon.
Forty-nine per cent of Westerners said the federal government has become virtually irrelevant to them. That’s up from 38 per cent in 2003.
And 66 per cent said Saskatchewan has less than its fair share of influence when it comes to important national decisions.
Ralph Goodale, Liberal MP for Regina — Wascana, said there are always regional tensions at play within Canada.
“Whenever there are concerns, tensions or frustrations in the west, the Government of Canada has to work especially hard to ensure westerners are heard, and feel that they are fully heard and respected at national level,” Goodale said in an emailed statement. “Our government is redoubling our efforts to deliver on measures to make life better for people in Saskatchewan and all across Canada.”
Goodale referred to a number of actions by the federal government, including defending jobs at Evraz steel in Saskatchewan and Alberta, investments in the TMX pipeline across the West and $500 million for job training in Saskatchewan.
According to the survey, 20 per cent of Saskatchewan respondents said the province receives its fair share of federal spending.
A whopping 85 per cent said the West usually gets ignored in national politics because the political parties depend on Quebec and Ontario for most of their votes — a belief shared mostly by residents 55 and older.