Thomas Mulcair, the new leader of the NDP has been making enemies out west – in particular Sask. Premier Brad Wall – with comments he made about Canada having a “Dutch disease.” The problem, as he put it, was that high resource revenue – mostly focused in the west, such as Saskatchewan and Alberta – is driving up the dollar and making it difficult for manufacturing – mostly focused in the east, particularly Ontario. While this ignores some of the main drivers for both the higher dollar and decreased demand for manufacturing exports – economic collapse south of the border, primarily – it has also shown that Mulcair himself has been infected by a disease. This disease tends to strike Canadian federal politicians, one that makes one ignore all provinces outside of Ontario and Quebec.
This disease manifests not due to a virus or bacteria, but due to the way this country’s federal seats shake out. In effect, elections are won and lost in the east, and that’s where politicians spend the majority of their attention as a result. Instead of pandering to the western voter, they go out of their way to make the people in the swing seats happy. Sometimes the consequences are not so severe, but every so often decisions are made which serve to alienate the voter that lives outside of Ontario.
It happens frequently, and a student of history could name numerous examples of the western part of the country getting the short end of the stick due to the need to focus on that one area of the country. A recent example would be the introduction of gun control, a measure that is popular in Quebec due to some gun violence seen in the province, but very unpopular out west. Since the seats in that province are more likely to decide an election, that’s where the priority was, and in spite of very vocal opposition from this province in particular, it was passed. While it was scaled back since, it is something that likely wouldn’t have happened without a need to satisfy voters in the east above all.
That explains why Mulcair feels the need to play up his support for the manufacturing industry in Ontario. He sees a blue sweep in this part of the country, and he sees that, unfortunately, it doesn’t matter much if he’s going to attempt to form government. So instead of trying to win over the Saskatchewan or Alberta voter, he’s going to focus all of his efforts in Ontario and Quebec, and hope that narrow focus can bring him success and continue to build his party. Maybe it will work, a surge of support in Quebec is the entire reason that his party sits as the official opposition. It is taking an easier route, but one which has a greater chance of putting him in the Prime Minister’s chair.
There’s not much that can actually be done about this, since the population base in the eastern part of the country remains larger than it is out here, so it’s going to keep moving in the same direction if there’s not a large change. However, if the economy out west stays steady and growth continues, there might be a gradual shift in power, perhaps making the west a more equal part of the country’s political landscape. If that happens, then perhaps we can finally see politicians who don’t succumb to this disease on the federal level. Until then, expect the eastern blight to continue to infect our federal representatives.