Many Canadians think of “the West” as one monolithic block. This concept seemed to firm up in many minds back when Preston Manning and his Reform Party stormed Ottawa proclaiming “the West wants in.” I remember Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson giving a talk to a standing-room only crowd of Torontonians about how a set of Western values had captured the country.
It seemed a convenient generalization for pundits in the East such as Ibbitson as well as for westerners such as Manning who wanted to convince the country that Alberta’s concerns were more widely shared than they were. Alberta politicians still use it for that purpose today. But Manning and Ibbitson’s West was in fact Alberta echoed by Saskatchewan.
The West is not a monolithic block. There is no one set of “western values.” There are in fact often larger differences between western provinces than between east and west. Manitobans often seem more in agreement with Ontarians and British Columbians live in a world of their own.
A couple of recent events brought this to mind. One was a survey about pandemic health measures. The survey showed that while B.C. and Atlantic Canada offered the strongest support, Alberta had the lowest, followed by Saskatchewan.
The other was a comment made by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney regarding public auto insurance. He referred to it as “Soviet style.” This was surprising considering that his two neighbouring provinces to the east, both conservative-run, have public auto insurance. So, of course, does his socialist neighbour to the west.
If there is an odd man out, it is Alberta, not “the West.” And even it is not a monolithic bloc, with a very conservative south and a moderately liberal/left north. The NDP has only three out of 26 MLAs in Calgary, and the UCP only one out of 20 in Edmonton, or “Redmonton” as some would have it. And while the province tends to go predominately conservative at the provincial and federal levels, both Calgary and Edmonton have progressive councils and mayors. And these days, even the governing UCP are seriously divided.
Wheels within wheels of division. The only meaning “the West” has is geographic.