Canada's western separatists face uphill election battle

Reeling under internal dissent and a massive loss of voter support, western separatists face an uphill battle in Alberta's general election campaign.

Only months ago, it seemed the newly formed separatist party Western Canada Concept could have substantially added to their elected number, if a general election were held then.

Things have changed, however, and now by most accounts it's a make-it or break-it situation for the separatists who, close to a year ago, made Canada sit up and take notice with an upset win in a by-election in a district near Calgary.

Party leader Gordon Kesler was the first separatist ever elected to the Alberta legislature, for that matter the first ever elected in western Canada.

But now the issues that provided the impetus for the separatist move have faded. There is no longer a bitter struggle between Alberta and Ottawa over a domestic energy-pricing agreement - a classic fight that at one time saw Alberta , the country's major oil producer, turn down the oil tap to the rest of Canada. The thorny constitutional issue now is behind Canadians as well.

While the west had some success in securing a regional voice of constutional reform, western separatists insist ''that political power in Canada today is used in a way that is basically unfair to the west.''

To put it differently, the emerging economic clout of the west doesn't match its political clout in Ottawa. (Resource-rich western Canada, with less than a third of the country's population, produces about half of Canada's gross national product.)

Canada's parliamentary system is based on representation by population and this means that heavily populated provinces, like Ontario and Quebec, have more numbers in the House of Commons.

This has contributed to an underlying feeling that western concerns are often shunted aside to favor the aims of Ontario and Quebec - the country's manufacturing base that feeds on the plentiful raw resources of the west.

Meantime, Progressive Conservative Premier Peter Lougheed, a champion of provincial rights, is dead set against the aims of the separatists. The theme of his reelection campaign is ''For Alberta, within Canada.'' Mr. Lougheed is convinced Albertans ''want to be even more a part of Canadian life.''

Albertans cast their ballots Nov. 2. So far there is no firm indication that the separatists will sweep the province. However, something is afoot in Alberta - a deep frustration with Canada's political system that will not pass overnight.

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