Regionalism and Its Effect on the Canadian State

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Since the beginning of Canadian history, regionalism has had a prominent effect on the country`s political system. The concept of regionalism can be defined as a political ideology grounded on a shared sense of place or attachment and is discussed in terms of Canadian society, culture, economy and politics.1 From the days of confederation, Canada has developed into regional cleavages and identities based on various geographical characteristics, traditional lifestyles and economic interests. Two of Canada`s greatest regionally distinct political cultures are known as Western alienation and Quebec nationalism.2 Historically, the lack of regional awareness and accommodation within Canada’s central government has given rise to a great deal of regional discontent. Much of this discontent comes from the uneven distribution of economic activity amongst Canada`s provinces. Also, federal policies made in favour of central Canada, Ontario and Quebec, are consequently placing the West, the East and the North at an even greater disadvantage. Thus, in this paper I am going to argue that regionalism is weakening the Canadian state and at its worst, is pulling the country apart. Due to major differences in geography, population and ethnicity, the federal government’s response to Canadian demands differs from region to region. Quebec nationalism is a great example of a distinct regional culture setting back Canadian unity. The historical English vs. French cleavage has been a significant and very influential feature within Canadian politics. Ever since the division of Lower and Upper Canada took place in 1791, French Canadians have been concerned with finding their own independence.2 This became a principal political issue as English Canadians saw this as a threat to the country’s national identity and togetherness. Several constitutional reforms have been made in response to Quebec separatism such as the Notwithstanding Clause, allowing the province to maintain its French language, Catholic religion and Civil law. For other provinces, the special status given to Quebec was seen as unjust and resulted in many regional conflicts and complaints. Another distinct regional culture affecting Canadian Politics is well known as Western alienation which is defined as the following: A regionally distinct political culture through and within which are expressed economic discontent, the rejection of a semi-colonial status within the Canadian State, antipathy towards Quebec and French-Canadian influence within the national government, the irritation of the West’s partisan weakness within a succession of Liberal national governments, and the demand from provincial political elites for greater jurisdictional autonomy.3 For the reason that Canada’s regional identities are based on conflicting interests and demands from the federal government, Canada is fundamentally made difficult to govern. The disintegration of the Canadian political life is greatly caused by the federal partiality presented in Canada’s national political institutions. Criticism of the lack of regional representation in Canada’s federal system has been mainly directed to Parliament and both the electoral and party systems. Effectively, the central government’s failure to increase the role of regions within its political institutions has left the underrepresented provinces of Canada with little to no confidence in their government whatsoever. A major contribution to regional complaints comes from one of Canada’s most unsatisfactory and ineffective national political institutions, the Senate. Established by the British North American Act in 1867, the Canadian Senate was formed as an equivalent to the British House of Lords.4 Also known as the upper house, the Senate was created as a way of including the representation of under populated provinces into the operation of the federal government. At the time, the Canadian Senate consisted of 72 senators with 24 members...
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