“Let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark”

Bumper-sticker tirade by apoplectic Albertans.

With the 1979 demise of the “Joe Who” government by confidence vote, the scene was set for an early 1980 election. Enter Pierre Trudeau, retaking the helm of the Liberal party and pitching major energy reform to voters. And while the oil-extracting West had no appetite for the changes, Liberal campaign strategist Keith Davey offered a succinct account of his party’s electoral math: “Screw the West, we’ll take the rest.”

Trudeau rolled out his National Energy Program (“NEP”) after winning a majority government that year. Yet the Liberals didn’t hold a single seat west of Manitoba. For millions of Canadians not represented in the new mandate, this infamous energy policy smacked of eastern entitlement. Among other things, the NEP gave a 25% share of all new oil development to then-Crown corporation Petro-Canada, imposed a hefty tax at the point of extraction, and required oil companies to sell their product to Eastern Canadians at deep discount. Screw the West, indeed.

With a global economic slowdown and plunging employment numbers throwing fuel on the fire, Albertans revived a bumper-sticker slogan from the 1970s to distill their sentiments: “Let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark.” This wasn’t the only automotive adhesive to spell out the Western Alienation. Many pickup trucks bore an equally defiant decal: “I’d rather push this thing a mile than buy gas from PetroCan.” Likewise, “Pierre Elliot Trudeau Rips Off Canada” became an alternate acronym among those who despised Petro-Canada.

The stickers stuck around long after the National Energy Program’s eventual rollback, the Reform Party’s subsequent “West Wants In,” Stephen Harper’s “Firewall,” and Jason Kenney’s pipeline polemics. Even in the context of a declining oil industry because of a global energy upheaval, “Let the eastern bastards freeze” still gives voice to Albertan animosity not yet depleted. Given the likely future of extractive industries, though, Albertans might want to cap this particular well of frustration.

Image Source: CBC

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