Alberta has long been a politically divided province. The north inclines progressive, the south conservative. Edmonton currently only has one UCP MLA out of 20, and Calgary only three NDP MLAs out of 26.
A new study by the Environics Institute, Spotlight on Alberta, adds some interesting details to the dynamics of how the division currently presents itself. It confirms that discontent with Ottawa remains high but declining since the last election. However, the discontent is split. Supporters of the UCP express high levels of dissatisfaction while levels among supporters of the NDP “have declined significantly.” It seems that the more the UCP promotes alienation, the less NDP supporters share the feeling.
While 83 percent of UCP supporters believe that Alberta is not treated with the respect it deserves, only 37 percent of NDP supporters do. Similarly while 80 percent of UCP supporters believe the province gets less than its fair share of federal spending, only 44 percent of NDP supporters agree.
The study concludes, “Albertans are either intensely dissatisfied, with no real change over the past five years, or only somewhat dissatisfied with signs of significant improvement—depending on whether one focuses on the views of those siding with the government or the opposition.” And the difference is widening—we are heading in different directions.
The study also showed that Albertans are not alone in their discontent. Both Newfoundlanders and Saskatchewanians indicate to a greater degree than Albertans that they feel their province is not treated with respect, and has less than its fair share of influence and federal spending.
Another study adds yet another dimension. Common Ground’s Alberta Viewpoint Study looks at support for separation and finds three groups which it classifies as federalists, separatists and autonomists. This study also showed discontent declining since the 2019 election but still strong.
Federalists are most likely to have a university education and live in urban or suburban areas. Separatists tend to be older, live in rural areas, are least likely to have completed university, and more likely to be retired, working part time or unemployed. Autonomists are younger, more likely to be newcomers to the province and live in Calgary, and likely have completed trade school or some university.
While the federalists aren’t particularly happy with the province’s treatment within confederation they have little time for separation. The autonomists don’t support separation but they want Alberta to exert more power over areas within its jurisdiction.
Federalists made up 64 percent of respondents to the survey with separatists and autonomists divided roughly equally (19 and 17 percent).
The three groups fit different sections of the political spectrum with federalists seeing themselves as centrists, autonomists as centre-right and separatists as right to far right.
The authors of the report insist that, “The three groups are distinct, rooted in different backgrounds and experiences, suggesting that it would be more challenging to shift them into different camps.”
Alberta may be no more nor less divided than any other province. Certainly the town/country divide, quite pronounced in Alberta, is no doubt repeated elsewhere. What these two studies show is the risk of accepting the overall average of views as representative of a province. The truth may be, as is so often the case, much more complex.