April 15, 2019
When the results of the 2019 Confederation of Tomorrow survey were released in March, headlines naturally turned to the federation’s traditional hot spots. French-language media focused on the absence of any noticeable warming towards federalism in Quebec, while their English-language counterparts zeroed in on the spike in discontent in the west, and more specifically in Alberta.
What the country’s largest province (by population) and biggest economy thinks about its place in the federation arguably should matter. The fact that it often passes without comment, however, is understandable, for the simple reason that it is not alarming. Ontarians are neither alienated nor contemplating independence, and while that’s good news for the federation, it’s hardly going to be the lead item on the evening news.
To get a sense of Ontario’s unique perspective on the federation, consider the following:
- Ontario is the only province in which a majority identifies as either a Canadian only or a Canadian first, as opposed to equally a Canadian and someone from their province, or someone from their province first or only. The proportion of Ontarians who identity as someone from their province first or only, at only nine per cent, is the lowest in the country.
- Only 28 per cent of Ontarians say their province does not get the respect it deserves in Canada, the lowest proportion among all provinces.1
- By a significant margin, Ontarians are much less likely than other Canadians to say their province has less than its fair share of influence on important national decisions in Canada. Only 27 per cent of Ontarians say they have too little influence, compared with twice as many (54 per cent) Quebecers and 67 per cent of Albertans.
- Ontario, along with Quebec and Yukon, are the only jurisdictions in which the proportion of the population that says that their province or territory gets a fair share of the money spent by the federal government is greater than the proportion that says it gets less than its fair share.
- After PEI (62 per cent), Ontario (58 per cent) has the highest proportion of agreement with the notion that the advantages of federalism outweigh the disadvantages.
Given these results, it is tempting to walk away from the Confederation of Tomorrow survey having concluded that there is, from an Ontario perspective, “nothing to see here.” Critically, however, there is one additional set of results that merit some further reflection for those living in, or governing, the province.
A growing perception among other Canadians that Ontario gets preferential treatment from Ottawa – even though the facts often state otherwise – may end up as just one more obstacle for the province’s ongoing campaign for fairness.
These results relate to perceptions of which province or region of the country receives favourable treatment from Ottawa. Overall, 57 per cent of Canadians think that the current federal government favours one region over the others, as opposed to treating all regions in Canada equally. The proportion holding this view is (not surprisingly) lowest in Ontario, at 49 per cent. It is much higher in the east (for example, 78 per cent in Nova Scotia) and the west (77 per cent in Alberta).
It gets more interesting, however, when we look at Canadians’ perceptions of which province or territory is favoured the most over the others (a question that was asked only of those who said that Ottawa does indeed play favourites). Overall, Quebec and Ontario are equally likely to be singled out in this regard: 38 per cent say that Quebec is favoured the most, and 37 per cent say that it is Ontario. Twelve per cent say that Alberta is favoured the most, and five per cent say it’s BC.
Which one province or territory is favoured the most by the federal government?
Not surprisingly, views on this question vary by province or region.
First, a plurality of Atlantic Canadians, Quebecers and Northerners say that it is Ontario that is favoured most by the federal government, whereas Quebec is the plurality choice of those in Ontario and the West. Even though Quebec is more frequently named by westerners, however, Ontario is still singled out as the most likely to be favoured by two in five residents of that region.
If we leave Ontarians themselves aside for a moment, Ontario is clearly the most likely to be seen by other Canadians as Ottawa’s favourite. Forty-three per cent of Canadians outside of Ontario say that Ontario is the one province or territory that is favoured the most by the federal government, compared with 33 per cent who name Quebec and 14 per cent who name Alberta.
More striking than this, however, is the pattern that emerges if the results are broken down by age group. Again looking at Canadians outside of Ontario, the notion that Quebec is favoured is much more prevalent among those in the oldest age group, namely those aged 55 and older. This is the age group most likely to have direct memories of the referendums and constitutional wrangling that dominated the national agenda for several decades up until the end of the 1990s. Canadians (outside Ontario) younger than that, however, are much more likely to say that Ontario is favoured. This includes a majority of those under the age of 24, who are almost four times more likely to say that Ontario is favoured than to say that it is Quebec.
Which one province or territory is favoured the most by the federal government? By age
Since Quebecers are much less likely to say that they themselves are favoured (only five per cent in the province hold this view), their inclusion in the portrait naturally affects the results (lowering the total number selecting Quebec). If both Quebec and Ontario are excluded, however, the pattern is the same. Older Canadians outside of central Canada are much more likely to say that Quebec is favoured by the federal government, but younger Canadians are much more likely to point the finger at Ontario.
This is an important finding for Ontarians, and their provincial government, to note. Ontarians may feel respected and fairly treated, but most Ontarians do not feel they are particularly favoured by decisions made in Ottawa. At first glance, it may not look like all that many Canadians feel that way either. But that is partly a product of the hangover from decades of concern about the Quebec sovereignty movement, which still appears to be shaping the perspectives of older Canadians. Younger Canadians outside of Ontario are much more likely to say that Ontario benefits from favourable federal treatment.
In the coming years, this could make Ontario’s efforts to address the inequities embedded in programs such as Employment Insurance and the federal transfers system somewhat more difficult. A growing perception among other Canadians that Ontario gets preferential treatment from Ottawa – even though the facts often state otherwise – may end up as just one more obstacle that the province needs to overcome in its ongoing campaign for fairness.
- The proportion in the Yukon territory is slightly lower, at 26 per cent. [↩]