COLUMN: When regional identity and family values collide

For decades, we Canadians have struggled with our national identity and what we see as our place in the world. Despite never having come up with a solid answer, we’re now being asked to drill down a little further and define ourselves as Western Canadians.

A recent Angus Reid Institute poll asked what it is that makes Westerners unique and with whom do we most closely identify.

The more noteworthy results to come from the survey indicate there is a growing rift between Canada’s two westernmost provinces, and that B.C. sees itself as more closely aligned with Washington and California than with Alberta.

Of course, it’s never as simple as collecting and comparing numbers. The who, what, where and when questions are valid, of course. But more important, I would suggest, is ‘why?’

The issues that bind or divide us depend largely, I suspect, on what’s happening at any given time. With the dispute over the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, the divide between Alberta and B.C. has obviously grown in recent years. But, you know what? This, too, shall pass.

Eventually, one imagines, Ottawa will do something to peeve us both off and we’ll once again have each other’s backs.

Then, the two provinces will join voices in some version of ‘Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark!’

We “Western whiners” have to stick together, after all.

These lines of demarcation exist within B.C., too. Talk to people in the Lower Mainland and many will say they identify with our Pacific Northwest neighbours. Vancouver and Seattle do have a lot in common – just ask anyone who’s filmed a set-in-Seattle, made-for-TV movie in the past 10 years.

Okanagan residents, on the other hand, might well feel more of a kinship with California – identifying with its desert climate and expansive vineyards.

However, if you live up north in Dawson Creek, where the Alberta border is a 15-minute drive away, you might be less inclined to look south for common interests.

Northeastern B.C. is unique in that it sits on the Prairie side of the Rockies and many of the jobs in that area involve either farming or drawing fossil fuels out of the ground, so it’s no surprise that over the years there have been periodic calls for the region to split from B.C. and take advantage of the zero provincial sales tax Alberta shoppers enjoy.

Canada is like a family with 13 siblings who fight and make up for reasons that don’t always make perfect sense.

When mom and dad in Ottawa make us angry, we might threaten to go down the street and live with our cool neighbours, or strike out on our own entirely.

Some might feel slighted or suspect one sibling is getting more than their fair share of attention. Let’s face it, we all know who mom’s and dad’s favourites are.

How else could you get away with designating yourself as ‘Central Canada’ when, geographically, you’re nowhere close?

I’ve lived in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan at different stages in my life and there was never a time I felt like an outsider. Because I grew up (mostly) in Dawson Creek, I suppose I was a bit of a Prairie girl at heart.

And traveling in Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, it’s possible any perceived ties came from simply knowing I was still in Canada, but I don’t think so.

Generally speaking, we share plenty with our siblings to the east, whether it’s pride in our universal health care or a general desire to live peacefully within a cultural mosaic.

But our Western ties are special. We may never be able to pry our way into the tight relationship shared by the Prairie triplets, but B.C. will always be that slightly offbeat (but undeniably beautiful) sibling Albertans don’t quite understand, but still make time to visit every summer.

And when they do, we’ll roll our eyes and make up the spare bed. Because when you’re family, that’s just what you do.

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.

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