A new national survey that asked people whether they wanted their provinces to do more to develop an identity separate from Canada found the most common preference in Saskatchewan was to keep things as they are.
Results of the Confederation for Tomorrow survey, released Thursday, suggest 40 per cent of Saskatchewan residents hold that opinion, while 24 said the province should do more to distinguish itself from Canada and 20 per cent think it should do less. Another 15 per cent responded that they couldn’t say.
The poll surveyed 5,461 total adults in all 13 provinces and territories online and by phone, including 422 Saskatchewan residents, in January and February.
Nationally, about one in five Canadians agree that their province should be doing more to develop a separate identity from the rest of the country. But almost as many say their province should be doing the opposite.
Saskatchewan saw the biggest growth rate among the provinces in wanting more efforts to have a separate identity, twice as high today than when residents were last asked the same question in 1991, according to the Environics Institute for Survey Research.
Meanwhile, half as many Quebec respondents feel that more emphasis should be placed on developing a separate identity compared to roughly 30 years ago.
‘Nation within a nation’
The report was framed around Premier Scott Moe’s “nation within a nation” comments in the fall, said Environics Institute executive director Andrew Parkin.
In November, Moe said he wanted the province to be a “nation within a nation” by increasing autonomy.
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Moe was “referring to Saskatchewan taking greater control of its own economic sovereignty, especially when it is threatened by actions and policies of the federal government,” Moe’s press secretary wrote in an email to CBC News on Wednesday.
“Premier Moe continues to hear strong support for that objective among Saskatchewan people.”
Moe also said at the time that he was “not talking about separation,” but about “being a Saskatchewan cultural identity within the nation of Canada.”
Two Prairie-based political parties that have advocated for western independence endorsed Moe’s message, including the Maverick Party, formerly Wexit Canada.
“The notion that Saskatchewan’s identity should become more distinct or more separate or go in a different direction from the rest of the country was something that caught our attention,” Parkin said in an interview with CBC News on Wednesday.
Lack of momentum
Few Saskatchewan survey respondents (17 per cent) strongly agreed that their province has a distinct culture that is often misunderstood by people living in the rest of Canada.
Saskatchewan residents, along with residents of seven other provinces, were more likely to identify as Canadian only or first, rather than with their province only or first, the survey results said. Provincial identity predominates only in Quebec and in Newfoundland and Labrador, according to the survey.
“I think the purpose here is not really to keep score or to say whether the premier was right or not, but to see which way the winds are blowing,” Parkin said.
“I don’t think that you can see a lot of momentum around this. I don’t think you can see the country really pulling apart any further around this question of identity.”
Ken Coates, a public policy professor at the University of Saskatchewan, agreed.
“The reality is that people in Saskatchewan are proud Canadians. They might be frustrated Canadians, they might even be angry Canadians, but they’re still Canadians,” Coates said.
The Environics Institute for Survey Research collaborated with the Center of Excellence on the Canadian Federation, the Canada West Foundation, the Center D’Analyse Politique – Constitution et Fédéralisme, and the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government on the research.
There is no margin of error for the results, as most of the survey was conducted with an online panel. The respondents were weighted by province and territory, age, gender, education, immigration background, language, and Indigenous identity.
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High support for shifting federal powers to Sask. govt
Many Saskatchewan survey respondents supported shifting federal powers to the provinces, with 39 per cent saying they prefer that their government “take charge of many of the things the federal government does right now.”
Coates said this highlights that the federal government is not representing Saskatchewan interests, noting that there are no Saskatchewan MPs in the Liberal Party.
However, Coates questioned what specific federal responsibilities the provincial government would be able to take on.
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Sixteen per cent of Saskatchewan respondents said they support a shift in the other direction — for the federal government to take charge of provincial portfolios — while 23 per cent of respondents supported leaving things the way they are and 22 per cent couldn’t say.
There was also high support for shifting federal powers to the provinces in Alberta (44 per cent) and Quebec (37 per cent).