A Western Canada party once worked to win a place in Ottawa. Today, voters might back another

By Jesse Ferreras

A new Angus Reid poll finds almost 75% of Canadians living west of Ontario believe their province is not treated fairly by the federal government. David Akin looks at the numbers, and what these feelings could mean in an election year.

“The West Wants In.”

That was the founding slogan of the Reform Party, a political movement that grew out of Western Canada in the late 1980s, and by 1993 was just two seats shy of becoming the Official Opposition.

WATCH: Jan. 30 — Poll finds majority of Western Canadians feel Ottawa doesn’t treat them fairly

The party grew out of voter dissatisfaction with Ottawa, and the perceived lack of attention that was being paid to the west. Primary issues for the populist party included Senate reform and reducing the size of government.

Western Canadians are still dissatisfied with the federal government — perhaps more than the 1980s, according to a series of polls from the Vancouver-based Angus Reid Institute that looks at the West’s place in Confederation. Angus Reid last week reported that nearly three out of four Canadians who live west of Ontario don’t feel the feds treat their province fairly, and that the feeling has grown worse in recent years.

Now, another Angus Reid Institute poll has found that, were another prospective “Western Canada Party” to start up in the coming federal election, it would have a stronger chance at drawing votes in every western province save for Manitoba — although the margin wasn’t very wide in one place.

READ MORE: B.C. has few friends among the provinces, but Quebec has bigger rivals — poll

As part of the poll, Angus Reid asked survey respondents in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia to consider a hypothetical “Western Canada Party” that would push for the west’s interests within Confederation and found 35 per cent of them would vote for a Western Canada Party if it were an option in the coming federal election versus 29 per cent who vote Conservative if such a party existed while 15 per cent would still vote Liberal and 13 per cent would stick with the NDP.

WATCH: Dec. 20, 2018 — Justin Trudeau on politicians he says want to ‘exploit’ Western alienation

Support varied by province — the strongest for a Western Canada Party was found in Alberta, where it drew the backing of 40 per cent of respondents, compared to 36 per cent for the Conservatives.

The weakest backing for a Western Canada Party was reported in Manitoba, where voting intention for such an organization was stuck in a three-way tie with the Conservatives and the Liberals at 27 per cent each.

READ MORE: Canadians in the west, more than those in the east, say Ottawa does not treat them fairly — poll

Those results came in the same poll that showed an increasing number of Western Canadians saying that anger at Ottawa is growing over the past 27 years.

The poll asked respondents, “Based on what you have seen, heard or read, do you feel that the number of western Canadians who are angry about Ottawa’s treatment of the West is increasing, decreasing, or remaining the same?”

WATCH: Jan. 30 — New poll finds British Columbians identify more with Washington than other provinces

The pollster asked this question in 1991 and in 2018.

The feeling increased in every western province save for Manitoba in that time.

And it was most pronounced in Alberta — in 1991, 63 per cent of respondents there said it was increasing. In 2018, it was 86 per cent.

Saskatchewanians felt similarly — the share of people who felt this way grew from 66 per cent in 1991 to 81 per cent in 2018.

The feeling also grew in British Columbia, but not as dramatically. There, 57 per cent of people said anger was increasing in 1991. By 2018, that share grew to 63 per cent.

Manitoba was the only place where the share of people who held this perception appeared to have declined over that time — from 69 per cent in 1991 to 66 per cent in 2018.

WATCH: Oct. 8, 2018 — 62 per cent of Alberta feel they’re not getting enough from confederation

“This is a part of the country that does not see itself reflected or represented in our so-called national institution,” Shachi Kurl, executive director at the Angus Reid Institute, told Global News.

Kurl said Western Canadian provinces have been raising awareness of the weight they lift economically, and “all of this feeds into a sense that the rest of the country, particularly Ottawa, is not checked into what is happening, and what’s important to western Canadians.”

Asked about support for a “Western Canada Party,” Kurl said there can “sometimes be a false narrative that suggests that the Conservatives are the voice of Western Canada, but is that really the case?”

She went on to note that when the Reform Party first emerged, one of its biggest issues was Senate reform.

“Thirty years later, it’s not about Senate reform, but it is about seeing greater support for projects and priorities that Western Canadians, particularly those in Alberta and Saskatchewan, feel are not being reflected by the Trudeau Liberal government or by the previous Harper government.”

She said resentment grew among voters after Stephen Harper merged the Reform Party-turned-Canadian Alliance with the Progressive Conservatives, but then “seemed to tilt to Ontario and to Quebec in terms of the place that needed to be the centre of gravity for Conservative votes.”

Now, Kurl said, Conservative leader (and Saskatchewan MP) Andrew Scheer has taken said he believes in supporting and protecting supply management, “an issue that’s going to do little to endear him to Western Canadian voters.”

Scheer won the Conservative leadership over Maxime Bernier, who had taken a tough stance against supply management.

“Scheer’s stance is very much a pro-Quebec stance, a stance that stems from the concerns of Quebec farmers,” Kurl said.

The latest poll represents a “sit up and take notice” moment for all three main parties, Kurl said.

“The fact that you see potential for bleed from all three main parties to a hypothetical Western Canadian party, says to me this isn’t just a Conservative problem, it’s an everybody problem,” she said.

“It’s a Justin Trudeau problem, it’s an Andrew Scheer problem, it’s a Jagmeet Singh problem.”

One idea that the poll didn’t find much support for? Alberta separatism.

An overwhelming number of Albertans (83 per cent) felt Ottawa doesn’t treat their province fairly, but 50 per cent of them saw it as a “real possibility.”

That was the highest share of respondents who saw this happening across every province. The next-highest was Quebec, where a referendum on separation failed in 1995.

There, 37 per cent saw Alberta separatism as a real possibility.

The smallest share of respondents who felt this way was found in B.C., Canada’s westernmost province, where only 20 per cent said they could truly see it happening.


The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from December 21, 2018 – January 3, 2019, among a representative randomized sample of 4,024 Canadian adults who are members of
the Angus Reid Forum. The sample plan included large oversamples in some regions that were then weighted back to provide a national snapshot. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size with this sample frame would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey
was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI. Detailed tables are found at the end of this release.

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