urban rural divide

Emergence of the Urban-Rural Divide in Canadian Federal Politics

In 2011, the National Post published an article claiming that evidence suggested the rural-urban divide “simply wasn’t happening” federally in Canada. In fact, the article went so far as to state that “urban and rural Canadians share more similarities on countless political issues than they have differences.” Four years later, this federal election looks set to test whether or not this remains true.

Urban centres across the country have collectively seen a shift towards a more progressive or socially-minded attitude when it comes to making their election choice. This phenomenon has been witnessed at both the municipal and provincial levels in various jurisdictions.

Across the country you can expect to see several cities – Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver to name a few – emerge with little-to-no Conservative representation on October 19. These come as no surprise, given the tendency for these areas to be more left leaning at the municipal and provincial levels.

However the urban centres in areas that have typically been immune to the divide will be the ones to watch this election. Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Regina in particular are four cities that will likely have historically significant outcomes.

While Alberta has traditionally voted nearly 100 per cent Conservative, polls indicate there are ridings in both major urban centres that are likely to swing to the more progressive side of the spectrum. In Calgary, up to three ridings are thought to be in play. In Edmonton, we can expect to see an even more pronounced shift given the progressive voting patterns seen in some areas of the city for a number of years.

Where we are anticipating a truly fascinating shift in results is Saskatchewan. With the province having redrawn its riding boundaries, implementing “urban-only” ridings in Saskatoon and Regina, this election will serve to highlight just how different urban and rural voters really are. The province will serve as the ultimate demonstration of the divide and how it’s emerging across the nation.

Overlaying the 2011 poll-by-poll results onto the 2015 riding boundaries shows that the outcome of two now urban-only ridings – Regina-Lewvan and Saskatoon-West – would go to the NDP both by slim margins. And several other seats that were won by Conservative candidates in 2011 are now back in play once the intentions of the rural constituents are taken out of the equation.

The emergence of a more pronounced urban-rural divide at the federal level makes for interesting campaign-watching as parties try to seize opportunity and mobilize voters in new areas. But the implications on governing, not just getting elected, need to be considered as well. The question to watch is whether, and how, parties will be increasingly responsive to and driven by the policy, issues, and stakeholders stemming from only one side of the divide.