Is there such a thing as terminally marginalized? If so, Atlantic Canada is about to achieve that status, and we seem totally unconcerned.
For decades, indeed centuries, we have vented our spleen on the rooftops. How Confederation robbed us of our birthright. How Ottawa just doesn’t understand us or give a damn. How we never get our fair share.
Yet at the very moment when demographics are about to finish the job that politics began, we seem—well, frankly—not very worried at all. Let me explain.
Our government-permeated economies weathered the downturn fairly well. Our education systems, while not world beaters, are not Third World either. Our health care system, while unsustainable, for the most part delivers high-quality care once you get inside the door. As for inflation, increased debt payments, and rising taxes (the legacy of every stimulus package in history), they are unpleasant subjects best left for discussion once winter has passed.
But if we felt unloved and irrelevant before, just wait a few years. Maybe only a few months, even.
With this census or the next, we will no longer be the most marginalized region in Canada. This will soon be Quebec. That leaves us on the margins of the marginalized—geographically, economically, socially, and politically.
For many years, Atlantic Canada was able to punch above its weight on the national stage because we had a guaranteed number of seats in the House of Commons. As the Commons got larger our weight slipped away, and now we matter almost not at all. The same thing is now happening to Quebec, and with seat redistribution a majority will again be possible in parliament. A majority of the West and Ontario. A majority without Quebec.
When that happens, what comes next? Does a federal government still pander to the separatists? Does the Bloc matter anymore? Is the love of provinces still bought with billions in federal transfers? And if Quebec has less relevance and influence on the national stage, can we reasonably expect any better?
That’s the question that keeps me up at night. Not because I fear the answer, but because I hope it means we will finally look not to Ottawa but to ourselves for the answers.
Charles Cirtwill is the president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.