It is a popular opinion that politics in Canada revolve largely around ethnicity and regionalism issues, that class rivalry and issues of inequality were never present or pressing in the Confederacy. Indeed, the frictions between different regions of Canada over the questions of self-identification, language, oil revenues, funding, and other similar issues are the reasons why politics and all conflicts are viewed through a prism of conflicting regional interests (Cochrane & Perrella, 2012). That opinion, however popular, provides an incomplete picture of relationships in Canadian society. Class issues play a major role in forming the Canadian political landscape, as they are underlying factors beneath all major shifts in Canadian regional politics.
In numerous cases, regional politics are used as distractions, to keep the populace from focusing on actual social and class issues (Ornstein, Stevenson, & Williams, 1980). One of the examples of this is the political struggle between Ottawa, Newfoundland, and Labrador in 2004. Back in 2004, the government of Danny Williams managed to gain “tremendous concessions” from Ottawa, in regards to offshore oil revenue.
This victory of his managed to distract the people from other issues his government had, namely the attack on public sector workers, as well as his acceptance of the Supreme Court ruling that pay equity was only necessary if the province felt it could afford it (Cadigan, 2006). Notice that regional issues, despite being somewhat unattached to the social issues at home, are considered to be more important than the piling domestic needs of the populace. According to Sean Cadigan (2006), who analyzed the event, the debacle between Ottawa, Newfoundland, and Labrador are part of the Canadian tradition to pass the inequities born of capitalism as faults of the Confederation, rather than the faults of capitalism itself.
This tactic is not new, as regional politicians often appealed to class differences in order to gain votes and advance their political agenda. Some of the earliest examples involve John Smallwood during his election campaign of 1947-1949 (Cadigan, 2006). In it, he constructed an image of “the man of the people” for himself, trying to win the votes of the average Joes – the fishermen and the loggers who worked in the port cities, promising them that he would stand against the wealthy merchants from Water Street and defend their class interests. However, this rhetoric proved to be a lie, which was illustrated in Smallwood’s position towards the formation of the International Woodworkers of America (IWA) union in the late 1950s (Cadigan, 2006).
One of the greatest examples of Canadian regional politics being called upon to distract the population from social and class issues in Quebec. The province was always a sore spot for Canada. It is the only French-speaking region out of five. It must also be noted that separatist tendencies and rhetoric in the region were on the rise whenever the province entered a state of economic depression. This happened several times – in the late 1960s, in 1980, and then in 1992. This coincides with the dates of referendums for the independence of Quebec, each of which failed, but served as a point for wrangling more funding out of the Confederacy. Each of these economic depressions was followed by attacks on the working class (“Canada,” 1997).
Therefore, regional politics and class politics are interconnected, with greedy and unjust policies advancing on the working class by obstructing their rights, curtailing social programs, and reducing the number of workplaces, thus forcing many to live on welfare, and regional confrontation being used to distract the people from these issues. This is the reason why all referendums so far have failed – it is not beneficial neither for regional politics nor for the Confederacy and the bourgeoisie.
Cadigan, S.T. (2006). Regional politics are class politics: A Newfoundland and Labrador perspective on regions. Acadiensis, 35(2), 163-168.
Canada: Playing on regional tensions. (1997).
Cochrane, C., & Perrella, A. (2012). Regions, regionalism, and regional differences in Canada. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 45(4), 829-853.
Ornstein, M.D., Stevenson, H.M., & Williams, A.P. (1980). Region, class, and political culture in Canada. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 13(2), 227-271.