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Western Alienation Before World War II

Western alienation is the perception of westerners that Central Canada is treated more favourably by the federal government. Not a new development, sentiments of regional subordination surfaced soon after the federal government began settling the West in the 1870s and have accompanied the development of Canada as a nation.

A National Policy
natural resourcesThe original plan for "nation-building" was first introduced by the Conservative government of John A. Macdonald in 1879. Aimed at widening the base of the economy and infusing confidence into Canada's development, Macdonald's National Policy was largely a measure of protection for Canadian manufactures (at the time, overwhelmingly located in Ontario and Quebec), with a protective tariff and beneficial lowered custom duties. 

The scope of the National Policy soon broadened and with the aim of linking Canada both geographically and economically it came to include two additional parts: the completion of a transcontinental railway and the settlement of the prairies. If the West could be populated with settlers, American expansion into the territory could be avoided and there would be an increased market for the manufactured goods coming out of the East. Also, natural resources from the West would provide raw materials for this eastern production as well as exports to world markets. The railway would bring settlers to the land and move raw materials and manufactured goods back and forth across the country.

the state of confederationPrior to World War II, the National Policy was the most contentious issue provoking Western regional discontent. Many Westerners viewed the benefits of the tariff as more advantageous to eastern industry than it was to western producers. They believed that they were compensating eastern manufactures by paying higher prices for imports. It was felt the policy protected manufacturers from foreign competition while farmers where left to fend for themselves on the world market. Also, until the Crow Rate was signed between the Canadian Pacific Railway and the federal government in 1897 to subsidize prairie grain shipments, Westerners paid much higher costs to ship their raw materials east than it cost manufacturers to send goods west. This was partially because there was a more developed and competitive transportation network in the East. 

Agricultural Discontent Third Parties
During the difficult years of the Great Depression, Westerners harshly criticized the federal government for not doing enough to assist farmers. Generally, however, it was protection from the boom and bust cycles of the manufacturing and financial sectors of Central Canada that Westerners most wanted from their government. Not achieving much of the security they desired, western Canadians began the tradition of forming political protest parties. The United Farmers of Alberta entered the political arena to try to better the plight of Alberta farmers and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the Progressive Party, the Social Credit Party and the New Democrats were all born out of the West's development and frustration.
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