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Western Canada, defined politically

Western Canada, also referred to as the Western provinces and commonly as the West, is a region of Canada generally including all parts of Canadamarker west of the province of Ontariomarker. The West is considered by many to be a cultural region with an identity separate from that of the rest of Canada. The special cultural, political, and economic characteristics of "the West" are, however, not universally agreed upon, nor are its geographical limits and stereotypes of the West mask the cultural, physical and historical differences within this vast and varied region.

From west to east, this region comprises four provinces:

The latter three are collectively the Prairie Provinces, or simply the Prairies. British Columbia is also known as the Pacific province, and in a more geographical sense is also referred to as the Pacific slope and sometimes interchangeably with "the west coast". Albertamarker and British Columbiamarker are sometimes called "mountain provinces".

In some contexts, the term Western Canada may also include the territories of Yukonmarker, Northwest Territoriesmarker and Nunavutmarker, although these are now more commonly grouped as the distinct region of Northern Canada.

The source of this division of regions is the division of seats in the Canadian Senate, as set out in the Canadian Constitution.


The combined population of Western Canada as of 2005 is nearly 10 million, including approximately 4.1 million in British Columbia, 3.3 million in Alberta, 1.0 million in Saskatchewan and 1.1 million in Manitoba. This represents about 30% of the entire Canadian population.

Major population centres

Census Metropolitan Areas, 2006 Canada Census populations figures:


Western British Columbia adjoins the Pacific Oceanmarker, but both Alberta and Saskatchewan are landlocked. Manitoba is almost landlocked but for a small coastal area of Hudson Baymarker on the north east border, where the port of Churchillmarker is located.

The coast of British Columbia enjoys a moderate oceanic climate because of the influence of the Pacific Ocean, with temperatures similar to those of the British Islesmarker (but Vancouver is quite a bit colder and wetter than London). Winters are typically wet and summers relatively dry. These areas enjoy the mildest winter weather in all of Canada, as temperatures rarely fall much below the freezing mark. The Interior of the province is drier and has colder winters and substantially hotter summers.

Albertamarker borders the Canadian Rocky Mountains and experiences more extremes in weather. Winters are generally quite cold, though the southern portion benefits from frequent moderate climatic conditions known as "Chinook winds" where warm winds raise the winter temperatures for a few days. In contrast, summers can fluctuate from cold to hot. Alberta's weather is exceptionally changeable, and short-sleeve weather can occur in January and February, or conversely it can (albeit rarely) snow in July and August.

Saskatchewanmarker and Manitobamarker have a continental climate and experience extremes in weather. Winters in both provinces can be classified as harsh with Arctic winds and −40 °C temperatures possible. Winter temperatures in both provinces average between −10 °C and −15 °C. In contrast summers can be hot with temperatures sometimes exceeding 35 °C, although it rarely occurs. The hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada was 45 °C, observed in 1943 at the weather stations of Yellow Grass, Saskatchewanmarker and neighbouring Cedoux.

Western alienation

In Canadian politics, the term "the West" is used misleadingly in Canadian media styleguides as shorthand for the Conservative leanings of Western Canadians, as contrasted with the greater likelihood for candidates from either the Liberal Party of Canada or the New Democratic Party (NDP) to be elected in Central Canada (although the NDP's roots are in Saskatchewan and British Columbia). Exceptions exist, particularly in British Columbia, as well as in the prairie cities of Winnipeg and Regina, where the Liberal Party currently hold seats, as well as in other major urban centres such as Edmonton where Liberal and NDP candidates have been elected in recent history. The social democratic NDP had its origins on the Canadian Prairies and in the mining and pulp mill towns and railway camps of British Columbia, and has a history of support in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia.

Regarding provincial politics, as of March 2008, the British Columbia Liberal Party formed the provincial government in British Columbia, the Progressive Conservatives held a large majority in the Alberta legislature, the Saskatchewan Party, a small-c conservative party, holds power in Saskatchewan and the NDP forms the government in Manitoba.

The western provinces are represented in the Parliament of Canadamarker by 92 Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons (British Columbia 36, Alberta 28, Saskatchewan and Manitoba 14 each) and 24 senators (6 from each province). Of the 92 western MPs in the Commons, 66 are Conservatives, 13 are Liberals, and 13 are New Democrats. David Emerson, the current Minister of International Trade in the federal cabinet, was elected as a Liberal in his BC riding but crossed over to the Conservative Party shortly after the election.

The West has been the most vocal in calls for reform of the Senate, in which Ontario, Quebec, and particularly Atlantic Canadamarker are seen by westerners as being over-represented. The population of Ontario alone (12.5 million) exceeds that of all the Western provinces combined. The total population of Atlantic Canada, however, is 2.3 million, and this region is represented by 30 senators. Thus, Ontario is under-represented, Quebec is in the norm and the Atlantic provinces are over-represented. Westerners have advocated the so-called Triple-E Senate, which stands for "equal, elected, effective." They feel if all 10 provinces were allotted an equal number of senators, if those senators were elected instead of appointed, and if the Senate were a body that had more direct political power (for example via an arrangement more similar to the structure of the Australian Senate or the United States Senate rather than the UK model), then their region would have more of its concerns addressed at the federal level. Other westerners find this approach simplistic and either advocate keeping the status quo or may support other models for senate reform. The combination of all of these issues has led to the concept known as Western alienation, as well as calls for Western Canada independence by various fringe groups.

Climatic and economic conditions contributed to a net emigration from Manitoba and Saskatchewan to Alberta and British Columbia, which have stronger economies. The population of Saskatchewan is only slightly larger than it was in 1931. This trend of net emigration in Saskatchewan is reversing because of a lower cost of living than its western neighbours, strong job growth and a vibrant economy.

See also

External references


  1. Statistics Canada, April 1, 2005 estimates
  2. Statistics Canada - Population of census metropolitan areas (2001 Census boundaries)

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