05 march 2013

Canada’s English-French divide giving way to East-West economic split, scholar says


Photo: CBC

Forget Canada’s two solitudes. The country once divided by language – French in Quebec and English elsewhere – is now defined as an East-West economic rift, according to Michael Mendelson, Senior Scholar at the Caledon Institute of Social Policy.

Mendelson says the economy once based largely on the manufacturing sector in central Canada – Ontario and Quebec – is now driven largely by the western provinces’ natural resource industries, especially Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Canadians’ perceptions of which provinces get larger federal fiscal transfers are also changing, he says. A recent Focus Canada survey by the Environics Institute for Survey Research reveals that 67 per cent of Canadians today feel the federal government favours one region over others, a proportion that has declined by almost 10 points since 2005 and is the lowest on record since 1986.

“The sense of resentment, if you can call it that, is changing,” Mendelson says. “People are not looking at Quebec as the big recipient of aid. [There are more people] looking at the West and thinking ‘Oh, the West is now the favourite region of Canada’ ”.

'Lingusitic divide less and less meaningful'

Mendelson also argues that the historic linguistic divide between English and French is softening. According to the Environics Survey, public support for bilingualism is on the rise everywhere but in Alberta. In Quebec, support for bilingualism is almost unanimous at 94 per cent.

“The linguistic divide is becoming less and less meaningful. The reality is that English has emerged, for better or for worse, as the language of communication, and young Quebecers know that as well as anyone else,” he says.
Mendelson believes a central Canada alliance based on economics rather than language would make more sense, because Ontario and Quebec have a lot in common and a lot to share.

Further reading:

In Canada, the new solitudes are East vs. West, an article co-written by Michael Mendelson, Senior Scholar at the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, and Keith Neuman, Executive Director of the Environics Institute for Survey Research, was published in the Globe and Mail.

Focus Canada 2012, Environics Institute for Survey Research

Gilda Salomone spoke with Michael Mendelson, Senior Scholar at the Caledon Institute of Social Policy.
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