Convivium was a project of Cardus 2011‑2022, and is preserved here for archival purposes.
What About Western Canadians? What About Western Canadians?

What About Western Canadians?

The federal election debate demonstrated a deficient representation of 31 per cent of Canadians, writes Peter Menzies – almost as if their issues do not merit discussion.

Peter Menzies
4 minute read

REGINA - As a close friend once suggested, the one thing that binds most human beings is that we all want to feel wanted.

The crippling, sickening realization that that is no longer the case for western Canadians began to tingle anew about mid-afternoon on Monday, hours before the only English language federal election campaign debate involving all party leaders was held.

The first thing people remarked upon on social media feeds was that the Leaders’ Debates Commission, created a year ago by the incumbent Liberal government, had chosen to broadcast the event at 7 p.m. Eastern time. This meant it would start at 4 p.m. in the Pacific time zone when most people were still at work, and conclude at 6 p.m. My brother, who lives there and is interested in politics, managed to catch the post-debate news conferences on one of the all-news channels. About 4.7 million people live and work in B.C. and the Yukon Territory.  

In Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan, the debate began at 5 p.m. or about when most of us are leaving work and beginning our commute home. There are 5.2 million of us. So, to begin with, the debate was not going to be accessible to 10 million Canadians or about 27 per cent of the nation’s population. Throw in those less inconvenienced in Manitoba (a one-hour time difference) and the percentage of westerners is closer to 31 per cent. 

This accessibility issue may be linked to the fact that while the debates commission is overseen by a chair, executive director and an advisory panel of seven, only two of those nine people – Jean LaRose of Winnipeg and Deborah Grey – appear to live outside the Eastern time zone or, for that matter, the 401 corridor. 

So the first messages received way out here in Rupert’s Land were that the debates commission did not care about whether we could watch that debate or the French language one that follows, and nor did the government that created the commission care to have Western or other “regions” (as they like to call them) equitably represented among their advisors. Oh, and while there may have been mention of this issue there was little evidence media covering the election found this state of affairs at all noteworthy or newsworthy. 

Almost as if, you know, they didn’t care.

The event itself was held on schedule in Gatineau as will be tonight’s affair. The only other contest involving both serious candidates to lead the country – Andrew Scheer of the Conservative Party and Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party – was hosted by TVA, in French and in Montreal. So, three debates. Two in French. One in English. All in Quebec where about 8.2 million people representing 23 per cent of the national population live. And not a peep from within the cognoscenti and punditry that somehow this didn’t fully embrace the national diversity from which the nation draws its strength. 

Almost as if it was, you know, 1867.

The debate itself was the usual cacophonic verbal combat designed primarily to produce the seven-second soundbite that would lead the next morning’s broadcasts and be used as a pull quote in the newspaper reports because, horrified, a great many people tend to change the channel after any debate’s first half hour. In this sense, all Canadians are abused equally. 

But that’s about where the evenness of the beatings ended.

The presence (why, Lord, why?) of the Bloc Quebecois in the English debate always means the event gets hijacked by haughty separatist taunting, which this year had the participants bobbing and weaving around Quebec’s Bill 21 – the wildly popular legislation that bans the religiously adherent from public employment. C’est la vie, except we all know that were such a law passed in any Western province, its residents would be vilified as a collection of racist, red-necked, white nationalist hillbillies. And that would be for starters. 

Almost as if, you know, there were different rules.

It was cute, in a sort of head-patting way, that citizens got to ask questions from Vancouver, Yellowknife and Calgary. Or it would have been had the question being asked from Calgary borne some relationship to the quarter of a million jobs recently lost in the energy sector and the fact half that once-proud city’s population now struggles to feed and house itself.  But no, the question was about interprovincial workers’ rights. 

As if, you know, the human and economic consequences of the declarations of economic war and battle cries calling for the destruction of the nation’s leading industry coming explicitly from three, and implicitly from a fourth, of the national party leaders were perfectly normal things to do and, really, what is there to talk or care about?

Indeed the subjects covered in the debate, while no doubt of importance and interest to many, failed to include many serious topics. Economics, fiscal policy, international relations, government ethics, the crushing blows Western canola farmers and pork producers are taking due to the standoff with China, national unity, western alienation, U.S. relations (ya, THAT guy!), trade policy and how the blazes the nation plans on surviving without an energy industry: all were of no apparent interest to the government-appointed debates commission and the five script-reading news presenters selected to moderate the event.

Almost as if, you know, things that matter to our world, don’t matter in Lower Canada. Or Upper Canada.

Too late, I tried to keep track of mentions of places other than Quebec (and of course Doug Ford and Stephen Harper) by the candidates. I recall Scheer mentioned Alberta once and Saskatchewan twice. And Nova Scotia. People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier said that every three years Canada accepts enough immigrants to double the population of Nova Scotia. And that was it.

The coup de grace – the moment that sent me to bed despondent if unsurprised – came after the debate ended. 

CTV news channel – I believe it was Merella Fernandez – brought in, live from the West, Zain Velji, the man who ran Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s re-election campaign in 2017.

She asked if people in Calgary had heard what they wanted to hear from the debate, which had focused on Indigenous issues, immigration, Quebec, Quebec’s Bill 21, pipelines in Quebec, immigration via Quebec and climate change.

No, he said. Not at all.

OK, she said, let’s talk about climate change.

Almost as if, you know, she never heard him.

Peter Menzies

Peter Menzies is past CRTC vice chair of Telecom, a past publisher of the Calgary Herald and is a National Newspaper Award-winning journalist. He also advises tech companies but his views are always his own.

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