W.E. (Bill) Belliveau

759-2019,Nov. 2 – Regionalism versus nationalism in Canada...

The national media has painted recent election results as a return to regionalism a fragmentation of the

country based on regional issues. Donald Savoie, the Canada Research Chair in Public Administratuion

and Governance at the Université de Moncton believes we need more regional representation in the

federal government, that we need a regional minister in charge of ACOA .

Jackson Doughart, a Brunswick News Columnist and Opinion Page Editor for the Telegraph Journal says

Canada doesn’t need stronger regions. He says the federal government should use its authority as

defined by the Constitution “to pursue the national interest” instead of acting as a referee between the

self-interests of individual provinces. He doesn’t define “national interest” or delve into the reasons our

national media has been preoccupied by the regional divisions exposed by the election.

Election results were distorted by the huge Conservative vote in Alberta and Saskatchewan and the

BLOC resurgence in Quebec. Atlantic Canada stayed Liberal, Ontario respectively split Liberal and

Conservative votes into urban/rural conclaves; the Liberals narrowly beat the BLOC in Quebec and the

Conservatives beat the Liberal/NDP combo in British Columbia.

Before we take sides, let’s consider what constiutes regionalism and nationlism.

Regionalism is a political ideology that focuses on the interests of a particular region, group of regions or

other subnational entities. Economic factors and uneven development are construed as the prime reason

for regionalism and threats of separation because regionalism focuses on particular problems (as distinct

from solutions), perceived disadvantages and economic inequities.

Geographic proximity is a fundamental root of nationalism. Geographic unity contributes to the

development of nationalism. It greatly influences nationalism through its effect on transportation and

communications. Geography unity shapes ideas and attitudes.

Religion is also a basic root of nationalism, a spiritual association among people having the same creed

and religion that naturally compels them to have unification, love and devotion to one another. Language

and literature are or have been important stimulants to nationalism (see Quebec) because language

communicates ideas, values, cultures and traditions from one generation to another.

Regionalism, in the Canada of today is based on a combination of factors including: the economics of oil

and gas, the conflicting but national challenges of climate crisis; nationalist demons in Quebec that battle

for the minds and souls of the Quebecois and the determination of Atlantic Canadians to remain eternally

dependent on the federal government. Quebec now has a law (Bill 21) that bans front-line public servants

from wearing religious symbols like turbans and nijabs in their workplace when they are on duty. They

must exercise their functions with faces uncovered. Persons who receive a service from such personnel

must also have their face uncovered to allow their identity to be verified.

In June, 2019, thousands of residents in northern Alberta were evacuated from their homes because of

climate-exagerated wildfires. Alberta oil extraction is subsidized by the rest of Canada and we will bear

the brunt of extreme weather and sea level rise. Alberta Premier Jason Kenny cut the carbon tax in June.

During the election, he was screaming about Alberta’s dire economic circumstance and threatened a

separation referendum, even as the Province enjoys the highest per capita incomes in all of Canada.

W.E. (Bill) Belliveau

Last week, Kenney produced a provincial budget with an $8.7 billion deficit and no balance in sight untill

2022, a deficit picture that assumes a 30% increase in revenue from non-renewable resources. Alberta

has the lowest tax rate in Canada. Sure, the Province has suffered from low oil prices but it’s a self

inflicted recession. Alberta could eliminate its deficit with a seven percent sale tax. More significantly, if

the province had saved some of its oil revenue over the last forty years, it would have a huge bank/asset

balance today.

Like it or not, Canadians are very connected. Our economies are conected. Our values are connected.

And we travel freely from one province or one region to another. Atlantic Canada has failed to keep up

with the rest of the country because we depend too much on the federal government, because we refuse

to change and because we refuse to move towards self-sufficiency. We can’t even see the fiscal logic in

amalgamating a small, community with a bigger one because we might lose our independence or we

might have to pay a few more dollars in taxes to get better services. We have more than 300 municipal

units in this province to serve 750,000 people. That makes no sense.

In the BNA Act, federal and provincial powers were explicitly separated. The fact that most Canadian

provinces are territorially larger than most U.S. states and hold a much larger share of the population than

most U.S. states, means that they constitute something like “regions’. Historically, this meant greater

power for the provinces but today, federal taxing power gives the Canadian government revenue that is

not available to most provinces. Two areas of provincial responsibility – healthcare and education are no

longer affordable in the provinces.

Canada is territorially the world’s second-largest country, with vast natural resources spread across a

comparatively small population but the world may not want those resources in a few years. Some people

talk about a positive evolution of Canada as a “union of sovereign states” (the original concept of the

European Community). The five main regions of Canada in that evolution would be Québec, Ontario, the

Atlantic provinces, Western Canada (including the territories) and British Columbia.

My view is that we need a lot more “nationalisim” in Canada but we still have to respect the needs and

sensitivities of regional interests. My nationalism would be about shared values, shared goals and

national participation. It would not be just about wealth-sharing. Without nationalism, we cannot be a

country. A nation of disfunctional regions might be a disfunctional coop, but not a country.

W.E. (Bill) Belliveau is a Shediac resident and business consultant. He can be contacted