REGIONALISM IN CANADA
Regionalismin Canada’s Political Approach
Canada is a constitutional monarchy thatenjoys one of the most vibrant democratic environments in thedeveloped world. Scholars have examined the role of this structure instabilizing the country and promoting economic and political growth.Regionalism comes into play in Canada as informed by the politicalstructures. As a country, Canada has different political andadministrative institutional levels that influence the politics ofthe country. There are ten provinces including Alberta, BritishColumbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, NovaScotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan andthree territories: Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon. Theprovinces draw their power from the Constitution Act of 1867 thatformed a federal government while the provinces are a creation of theCanadian parliament. These areas make up five unofficial regionsincluding the Atlantic (Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince EdwardIsland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick), Central Canada (Quebec,Ontario), The Prairie Provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta),the West Coast (British Columbia) and the North (Nunavut, NorthwestTerritories, Yukon Territory). The cornerstone of Canada`sregionalism debate rests on the dominance and political alienation ofsome regions. Both isolation and dominance undermine Canada`scollective political experience and transfers identity and patriotismfrom the national level to the regions.
First of all, it isimportant to understand the term regionalism in the Canadian context.According to Wrobel (2017), regionalism is defined as the inclinationby provincial governments to engage in the practice of popularizingnationalism at their level with the intention of directing economicdevelopment along certain lines. Mathew (1983) provided one of theold definitions to say that regionalism is "a sense of‘identification` or ‘consciousness of kind` which the inhabitantsof a particular region feel for that region and/or their fellowinhabitants of that region" (cited in Wrobel, 2017). Based onthese definitions, one can deduce that regionalism seeks toreevaluate economic resource redistribution to avert over-reliance onone particular area. In the case of Canada, the five regional blocksare not always relevant to some scholars. Mobison (2013) uses theterm regions synonymously with the provincial and territoryboundaries. Given that the current five units have no politicaljurisdiction, it is only practical to argue that areas equate to theinformal jurisdictions where inhabitants and leaders have adopted ashared view of national politics.
Typically, there arethree theoretical approaches to Canadian regionalism. The firstapproach is the institutionalist approach that is founded on liberalpolitical sociology. Institutionalists call for the establishment ofbodies that express a given identity and shape action in a particulararea. In the Canadian case, certain regions have expressed a desireto have individual institutions created to serve the interest oftheir inhabitants. This view argues for the irrelevance of the massculture identity (Borzel, 2016). The second approach is the politicaleconomy approach that combines a neo-Marxist view of uneven capitaldistribution with character development. Currently, some indigenouscommunities in the northern region have been calling for theterritorial governments to abolish some local land laws regulatingsome cultural practices such as hunting (Williamson, 2017). The thirdview is a hybrid approach made up of the institutional and thepolitical economy approach.
Canada`s clamor forregionalism is based on the neo-Marxist view of an unequaldistribution of capital and political economy. Spatial distributionof economic activities, standards of living, education facilities,political power and education standards have all been a constantsource of divisive regional politics in the country. Consequently,there has been little focus on regional integration or how differentpolitical units relate to the larger federal government (Marland &Wesley, 2016). Thus, there are unique aspects that dominate the topicof Canadian regionalism that have a lot to do with the spatialdifferences. They include population distribution, the standard ofliving, natural resources, and political representation. In fact,there are glaring differences between the various regions of Canadathat it is impossible for the federal government to address theinterests of all people at once. Thus, regionalism is also a copingmechanism to the diversity of the country.
Regarding politicalrepresentation and population distribution differences, the disparityis glaring. The Central Canada region dominates the country`spolitics and population distribution. For instance, the centralregion is home to over 60% of the country`s population and has over48 members in the Senate and 199 representatives in the House ofCommons out of a total of 102 and 335 respectively. The North regionhas only three senators, one for each territory (Mobison, 2013).Ironically, the Senate was created to balance out representation bypopulation that exists in the House of Commons. As it is, the Senateonly reinforces this imbalance, and the principle of equality ofprovinces is lost. As a result, much of the country`s economic andadministrative policies are engineered towards favoring the majorityof the population living in the central region. The people livingoutside this central region are often ignored and have given rise tothe concept of western alienation.
Western alienation isthe notion that western provinces of British Columbia, Alberta,Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are excluded from the country`s mainstreampolitics dominated by the central region. The central area, which ishome to 62% of the Canadian population, hosts the majority of theindustries in the country and controls national wealth. The regionalbattle goes back to the 19th century when the Canadian governmentpaid for the lands between Ontario and British Columbia (Zirul,Halseth, Markey, & Ryser, 2015). The first provinces joined thefederation with full ownership of natural resources while those thatjoined later such as Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan did not.Thus, the federal government`s ownership of natural resources in someprovinces denies residents their rights. In fact, earnings fromnatural resources are redistributed to the undeserving throughfederal government policies such as taxation and subsidies. For suchcitizens, the provincial governments best represent their interestsin natural resource ownership. In fact, for most of these people inthe ‘alienated` areas, the federal government plays an adversarialrole against the provinces. The focus on regional governments has hadboth positive and adverse effects on Canada as a nation.
Regionalism has beenvery beneficial to Canada in regards to addressing challengesrecurring in some provinces. Several provinces share some of thesedifficulties such as poor infrastructure, health, and education. Theregional approach allows these governments to amalgamate theirresources and develop a unique strategy suited to the localconditions. This way, the states eliminate redundancies and are evencapable of undertaking bigger projects. The area-wide resourcemanagement approach in Alberta and British Columbia has achievedimpressive results (Marland & Wesley, 2016). In the Northernregion, policies targeting the indigenous populations have been putin place. Several bodies among them the Royal Commission onAboriginal Peoples have been created to work in close collaborationwith provincial governments where there is a high population of firstnation people. Ideally, the initiatives are geared towards addressingsome of the historical injustices and challenges facing particulargroups of individuals such as remoteness, poor transportinfrastructure, and food security (Taylor, 2016). Another importantissue has been the creation of self-government bodies and the conceptof enfranchisement. Enfranchisement was a typical government policyin Canada about indigenous people. It was a consenting legal processthrough which a person agreed to abandon his or her Indigenousidentity and join the mainstream non-indigenous society. In effect,individuals lost all ancestral claims to their lands and naturalresources (Spicer, 2014). Regionalism was instrumental in defeatingenfranchisement as a federal government policy and promotionAboriginal people`s rights.
Today, regionalismpromotes inter-municipal cooperation and agreements. According toSpicer (2014), inter-local government approaches under regionalismhave been vital in addressing core problems facing communities. Theregionalist approach enables these government units to pool theirresources to develop more comprehensive solutions. Spicer sampledcases of regionalism in six metropolitan areas in Ontario, Manitoba,Saskatchewan and Alberta. The author identified different levels ofcooperation by municipal governments without federal governmentinvolvement. The research identified two main types of collaboration:contracting and partnerships. In contracting, one municipalityengages another to provide a particular service for a fee. Inpartnerships, two or more parties pool their resources to deliver aservice. Thus, municipal regionalism leads to cost savings, provisionof better services, and control externalities.
Regionalism has alsohas been challenging as it promotes exclusion. The concept of westernalienation has prompted the have-not states to engage in policyformulation to address their disadvantages in the currentarrangement. This situation has equivocally created a divided andweakened Canadian identity. Under the notion of western alienation,residents some provinces are made to believe that the federalgovernment is their enemy. Every negative aspect such as poorinfrastructure, education, and health services are all attributed tothe federal government and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario (Zirulet al., 2015). Another significant disadvantage of regionalism hasbeen the considerable resources and time consumed in negotiatingagreements. Another potential problem is partner mismatch. Given thatthere are preexisting public attitudes and opinions towards someareas, it means that these prejudices may guide some government unitsin choosing partners on shaky grounds. A partner mismatch may evencomplicate problems and service delivery at the municipal level(Spicer, 2014). At the same time, regionalism has created threats ofsecession. In particular, the province of Quebec has consistentlyexpressed desires to separate from Canada and establish a sovereignstate. Active regionalism creates such emotions at the expense ofnationalism.
To conclude thediscussion, the essay has demonstrated that the various aspects ofpolitical regionalism in Canada have had far-reaching implications oncitizens and the country as a whole. The interests and desires aroundwhich the country exists in the present day may be found everywherein Canada, but they vary widely in attitude and region. For some, aweak federal government should be pursued while for others, a totalbreakaway from the country is desirable. The regionalism approach hasdemonstrated some advantages in the manner which provincialgovernments have been able to address local issues. However, to agreat extent, regionalism has been detrimental in achieving Canadianunity. Regionalism has created political, economic, and socialdivisions that can only grow stronger with time. In the end, this wayof doing things undermines the formation of a national consciousnessthat fosters unity and transcends cultural and regional differencesto forge a common path ahead. As it is, each region in Canada hasdeveloped a unique character and set of aspirations that weaken thecollective Canadian identity.
Borzel,T. (2016). Theorizing regionalism: cooperation, integration, andgovernance. In
Borzel, T. &Risse, T. (eds.). TheOxford Handbook of Comparative Regionalism.New York Oxford University Press.
Marland,A. & Wesley, J. (2016). InsideCanadian politics.New York Oxford University
Mobison,G. (2013). Asocial geography of Canada.Ottawa: Dundrum.
Spicer,Z. (2014). Cooperationand capacity: inter-municipal agreements in Canada.
Taylor,J. (2016). Indigenouspeople: government policy.Retrieved from
WilliamsonO. (2017). Howshould northern on-the-land programs be evaluated?
Wrobel,M. (2017). Regionalism and the future of research and development inresource
basedeconomies. CanadianParliamentary review.Retrieved from
Zirul,C., Halseth, G., Markey, S., & Ryser, L. (2015). Struggling withnew regionalism:
Government trumpsgovernance in Northern British Columbia, Canada. TheJournal of Rural and Community Development,10(2), 136-165.