Much like the 2016 U.S. presidential election, last month’s federal election in Canada has revealed the deep divisions that grip our country—the Liberal party won a minority government yet lost a significant portion of their seats to the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois. Canada is split down the middle: Conservatives won in the west, and Liberals won in the east. Regardless of what happens once parliament starts up again—either Trudeau’s Liberals survive the confidence vote and form government or they do not—the result of this election will have a long-lasting impact on Canada’s social fabric.
Division on multiple fronts have bubbled to the surface, and they are harder to ignore now. Indeed, they should not be ignored, especially by Ontarians. The province tends to live inside its own bubble, sheltered from the realities of other provinces. This is because of the focus legislators have put on implementing policies that favour Ontarians.
This cocooning needs to stop because it makes Canada vulnerable to the toxic politics that have overtaken other countries, such as France, Britain, and the United States.
Our parliamentary system is based around the idea of winning seats—seats that are assigned based on population. Thus, this focus on population creates a political system in which the most urbanized regions in Canada have a larger share of the seats and effectively a larger voice in the government (it’s no coincidence that most of our Prime Ministers have hailed from central Canada). For the most part, this is a fair system because the majority has the political power to decide who is in power and who is not. However, the issue with democracy is the very element that is its greatest feature. Bluntly speaking, democracy has a bad habit of neglecting the minority because it is run by and for the majority.
In Canada, this means that places such as Alberta and Saskatchewan are often pushed to the side in favour of Ontario and Quebec’s interests. Indeed, this phenomenon played out yet again in this election. The fact that western Canada has no representation from the incumbent government speaks to the resentment fostered by the Liberal government’s failure to address the issues of western Canadians, especially in regards to the economy. This resentment has now turned into what is being dubbed as a “Wexit” or western exit, the implications of which will tear Canada in half if they ever came into fruition. As seen with our southern neighbor, the United States, the feeling of alienation among the south and rural parts of the country contributed to the election of Donald Trump. Contrary to what many Canadians may think, such an incidence is not as unfathomable as it may seem and will only increase in likelihood if the separatist movement takes off in western Canada.
Of course, when talking about separatism, one needs to acknowledge the province that introduced the idea to the Canadian political scene: Quebec. In this election, the Bloc Quebecois won an unprecedented number of seats thanks to the francophone vote. It is clear that Quebec separatism has found rejuvenation under the previous Liberal majority government, and now has a balance of power in Parliament.
Arguably, the separatist movement may never go away as long as the idea of a Quebecois nation persists. However, with two separatist movements gaining traction in Canada, the issue isn’t “if” faction-ism will hinder the political mechanics of Canada, but “when.” This is ultimately why Ontarians, with their political power and influence, need to step up and try to understand the issues facing other provinces, especially in western Canada where such resentment is mostly fueled by economic deprivation.
If unity truly is a Canadian value, and if Canadians would like to avoid the disastrous implications of events such as Brexit, then this Ontarian majority has to be willing to understand and work with those disaffected by the reality of Canadian democracy.