Will the West revolt?

With all this talk of a coalition in Ottawa, what’s a westerner to do?

Talk about an Alberta nightmare: Ottawa run by a Quebec Liberal with the support of the commies and the separatists. It has certainly got Western Canada all riled up. But what if this three-headed coalition actually gets control of the House? What if a Prime Minister from Alberta, whose Conservative party received 72 of Western Canada’s 92 seats in the recent election gets dumped—at a time when Alberta-B.C.’s economic strength is phenomenally strong and central Canada enters its grim decline? Will the West revolt?

Perhaps. Especially since the mere threat has sparked mass outrage in Alberta and B.C., where political and business leaders warn that it could trigger a whole new wave of discontent. “It’s not Liberals versus Conservatives, or left versus right: They’ve snookered an elected government from Western Canada, with the interests of Western Canada at heart,” says Barry Cooper, a political scientist at the University of Calgary. “This is a fight between central Canada and us.” From Calgary, it “looks like Ottawa and Quebec just want to screw the West—period,” he says. “The only thing these three clowns have in common is that they’re all from the St. Lawrence Valley.”

Last month, the Liberals were reduced to a single MP in Manitoba, a single MP in Saskatchewan and five in B.C., where they held 9 seats prior to the call. Their lack of depth means that the East Vancouver leftist stalwart, Libby Davies is—seriously—up for consideration for senior federal cabinet minister for B.C. That, in itself, is enough to make Vancouver Liberals squirm. Alberta would replace five Conservative cabinet ministers with the only non-Tory member in the entire province, new NDP MP Linda Duncan, who says no new oil sands projects should be approved until Ottawa develops full environmental and health effects policies.

According to a national poll released today by Angus Reid, support for maintaining the Conservative Party over the Liberal-NDP coalition is highest in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. It also showed that distrust of the Bloc Québécois’s role in the federal government is highest in the West, with the largest majorities in Alberta (82 per cent), Manitoba-Saskatchewan (74 per cent) and B.C. (66 per cent).

So what’s a westerner to do? “Take a firm stance against the coming, NDP-led raid on the provincial economy,” says Cooper, who told Maclean’s that he was inundated with calls and emails yesterday from Alberta separatists who see this as a “golden opportunity” to advance the cause. “Tell your premier he cannot cooperate.” On that front, Manitoba’s NDP premier Gary Doer is keeping mum. Alberta premier Ed Stelmach wants the Tories to adjourn until the new year, to allow government the chance to bring forward a budget. So does B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, who believes a coalition government is a risky leap of faith, that, if it fails, will make Canada’s economic crisis significantly worse. And Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall is focusing his criticism on the Liberal and NDP leaders for signing an accord supported by the Bloc.

For the West—which takes a relatively dim view of an auto-sector bailout—the stakes are high. Unreasonably tough emissions laws, higher equalization payments, carbon taxes, federal development taxes, NEP II—all this and more may lie ahead, says Cooper, who adds that both Layton and Dion threaten the oil sands, at present, the country’s main economic driver. “When there’s money piled up, people are less cantakerous,” says Paul Thomas, a political scientist at the University of Manitoba. “But regional grievances are amplified by economic hard times.” And there are nothing but dark days ahead.