Alberta Separatism is the political equivalent of a toddler’s temper tantrum. It’s embarrassing and a bad idea.

Reading the pages of the Postmedia newspapers or the #ableg hashtag on Twitter you might believe that Albertans from roughneck Fort McMurray to trendy Kensington are calling for Independence and rising up in arms against their political overlords in Ottawa. 

Nope.

A flurry of recent opinion-editorials and columns in the pages of Canada’s Postmedia newspapers have been fanning the flames of discontent and frustration in Alberta. The discontent and perennial alienation from Ottawa is mostly a result of the economic slump and a delay in the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, but it is difficult to believe that there is any real appetite for Albertans to leave Canada, and the consequences that would follow.

University of Calgary economist Jack Mintz wrote in the Financial Post newspapers this week that an “Albexit” could draw inspiration from the United Kingdom’s disastrous “Brexit” from the European Union. Mintz drew inspiration from another European dumpster fire in 2015 when he penned another cringeworthy Financial Post op-ed predicting that “Alberta is not yet Greece, but it’s heading along that path.”

Three years later, Alberta is not Greece and probably should not be looking to Brexit for inspiration.

The arguments for Alberta’s separation from Canada are so weak and the concept of forming an Alberta Republic is so ridiculous that even the thought of writing this article made me cringe. It is the political equivalent of a toddler’s temper tantrum. But because I am a sucker for punishment, here I go.

Among the many of the disastrous consequences of Alberta leaving Canada would be that it would become virtually impossible to get any new pipelines constructed to the deep water ports that pipeline proponents argue the province’s oil industry needs. 

If you believe it has already been acrimonious to get the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion built in two provinces, just imagine how difficult it would be to negotiate a pipeline project with a suddenly hostile foreign government, whether it be the prime minister of Canada in Ottawa or the president of the Pacific Republic of British Columbia in Victoria. Not to mention the inconvenient fact that the Government of Canada actually owns said pipeline and its expansion project.

Some will argue that the United States of America would open its borders to Alberta or even welcome it as the 51st State, but it seems unlikely that the American government would want to antagonize Ottawa by dealing with a landlocked rogue nation and cause trouble on it’s northern borders.

American corporations already dominate our economy, which saves the US government the messy business of having to govern us. And the likelihood that most Albertans would be inclined to vote for the Democratic Party would also make the statehood route less appealing for many in America’s political establishment.

The Canadian Government saved Trans Mountain by purchasing the pipeline and the expansion project just as Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc. was preparing to withdraw their application for expansion. The government of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid $4.5 billion for the pipeline and project, and it is expected Ottawa could spend another $7 billion on the project after it meets the necessary conditions set by the Federal Court of Appeal. 

The Federal Court of Appeal ordered a stop to the project in August 2018 after the National Energy Board and federal government failed to conduct a proper environmental impact assessment of the increase of marine traffic and failed to properly consult First Nations communities along the route in the final phase of the approval process. 

While Trudeau clearly sees the pipeline expansion as a national priority worth spending serious political and real financial capital on, it is unlikely to bring him positive electoral returns in Alberta in 2019. Despite purchasing the pipeline, ensuring it will be built, and announcing $1.6 billion in loans and financial support to the oil and gas industry, support for Trudeau in Alberta has dropped like a lead balloon.

We didn’t ask for the opportunity to go further into debt as a means of addressing this problem,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said in response to the federal government’s bailout package.

It is unclear what Alberta’s politicians want to be done in the meantime. Many are calling the pipeline the only solution to Alberta’s economic problems. The big problem with that argument, if you believe pipelines are the solution, is that even if the Trans Mountain expansion project meets the conditions set by the Federal Court of Appeal in 2019 it might not actually be finished construction until 2022 or 2023. And even if other failed pipeline projects are resurrected, they might take even longer to complete.

That a Prime Minister named Trudeau is not popular in Alberta is no shock. The ingrained hatred for Trudeau and his father in the minds of many Albertans ensures that no matter what the Liberal government in Ottawa does to support our province, it will be seen as either a failure or a hostile attack.

While separatist sentiments bubble up in Alberta politics every decade or so, the last serious political push happened more than 35 years ago, when Western Canada Concept candidate Gordon Kesler won a February 17, 1982 by-election in the former Social Credit fortress of Olds-Didsbury.

The separatist MLA said at his swearing-in ceremony that he had “a lot of responsibility to those who believe in freedom and free enterprise,” but then spent the next few months in the Assembly railing against the metric system and official bilingualism. He and his party were crushed by Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservative juggernaut in the November 1982 general election.

Other separatist parties have come and gone since, but they have all faded in the right-wing fringes of Alberta politics.

And with provincial and federal general elections expected to be held in the next 10 months, Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney and federal opposition leader Andrew Scheer are only too happy to stoke the flames or western alienation and resentment over pipelines, equalization payments, and new energy regulations included in Bill C-69: An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

Meanwhile, outside of the margins of conservative opinion writers and anonymous twitter accounts, two recent polls show that while Albertans might be a little angrier, support for separation remains consistently low.

A recent poll conducted by the research company Ipsos found that “Albertans are a little angrier at the moment, but across the west there is little interest in separation and most measures of connection to Canada are consistent with prior polls taken conducted as long ago as 1997.

The level of support for the idea of an independent Alberta is roughly the same as it was in surveys conducted in 2014 and 2016,” said Mario Canseco, President of Research Co. “Four years ago, with a Progressive Conservative government in Edmonton and a Conservative government in Ottawa, the findings were similar to what is observed in 2018.”

The vast majority of Albertans remain proud Canadians regardless of which party has been elected to run the government in Ottawa. The frustration felt by many Albertans towards Ottawa over pipelines construction delays and the low international price of oil should not be ignored, but let’s not pretend that separating from Canada is a viable solution to our economic problems, because it’s not.

21 thoughts on “Alberta Separatism is the political equivalent of a toddler’s temper tantrum. It’s embarrassing and a bad idea.

  1. Leigh Patrick Sullivan

    Came across this column and I am not shocked whatsoever. Centre-leftists are inherently against the concept, or fail to comprehend, the reasons Albertans would separate and so they resort to negative labeling and name-calling. Typical progressive MO, really. Dave has missed the mark here. But then, Liberals in Alberta often do.

    Reply
    1. Dave Cournoyer Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Leigh Patrick Sullivan. Where have I missed the mark? I believe the arguments in favour of separatism are weak, cringeworthy and would not solve our economic challenges.

      Reply
      1. bo knysh

        Most recently Exxon Mobil Corp. has withdrawn its environmental assessment application for a $25-billion LNG export facility in B.C. The investor uncertainly in Canadian projects share a common denominator which is our ever increasing federal regulatory processes.

        As the Sun article references, our present Federal Government and oil and gas-producing provinces are headed for a collision course with the current plans to phase out the oil and gas industries.

        With growing frustration in Alberta with our present governments both Federal and Provincial, the Yellow Vest movement is often mistakenly associated with separation while the real issue is Equalization. Albertans are finally displaying “Enough is Enough”!

        The changes in the equalization formula are beyond merely having discussions. They are a necessity which is reflected by the current state of Alberta’s economy.

        The result of these necessary changes is what will be disturbing.

        Reply
        1. Michael

          Alberta come a Protectorate of USA (and not a State) is a viable and attractive alternative to consider with minimum downside! Alienation from the rest of the country is rapidly gaining ground in Alberta. Becoming a Protectorate of USA (or some other government) is much different than becoming state. But Alberta can use its attractive bargaining chips to shop around too. Alberta could retain its own government, culture, economics, natural resources, taxation base and have access to huge markets elsewhere. There are international laws guaranteeing protectorates around the world. Puerto Rico (among several other places) has such an arrangement with USA. Monaco is a successful Protectorate with France. (Monaco even retains their own monarchy.) Becoming a protectorate needs to be explored more in order to understand it better. And please spare me the song that USA would never go for it because they would appreciate its assets, unlike Confederation.

          Confederation is not working. The rest of Canada has unceremoniously punted Alberta out of Confederation without giving any thought to the consequences of that. Many, many Albertans have had enough. A cultural shift is firmly settling in but it will take some time for it all to ripen. The rest of Canada has no idea yet about what’s going to be coming their way! But I think their shivering will start pretty soon.

          Reply
    2. Scott Mills

      LOL, yeah right. You don’t have to be a centre-leftist or a progressive, or even a devout nationalist to understand why Alberta would never separate. If you want to understand why Alberta would never separate, you need to think like a Quebecer. Actually, to be more accurate, you need to think like a Quebec politician. See … for years, the great con of Quebec sovereignty politics is the threat, not the actual action. Generations ago, Quebec politicians learned that the threat of leaving will get them far more than actually leaving. Pension plans, airports, highways, make-work-projects, equalization – you name the largesse and, chances are, it’s the product of some sort of subtle or not-so-subtle bit of nationalistic sabre-rattling. Heck, neither the feds or the National Assembly probably even realize when they do it anymore. It’s become a sub-conscious thing.

      Kenney, Mintz, Fildebrandt, Scheer, Danielle Smith – everyone who has uttered the words “separation” or “referendum” in the last few days – all of understand the nuances of Quebec’s con. The threat to separate is far more effective (and desirable) than the action itself. Their challenge will to not over-play that hand, however. In Quebec, there is (or was) a century of francophone resentment the politicians could bounce off of. In Alberta, we only get mad when the oil prices are low and we start bitching about equalization. The rest of the time, we’re too busy loading quads on and off the decks of our pickups on the way out to the Kakwa to bother trifling with such bothers. We tend to leave politics to the nerds here. And the nerds know we don’t have any stomach for true separation, even if we don’t mind talking about it.

      Reply
    1. Scott Mills

      You came onto a blog site … to complain about someone’s biases? Hmm.

      That’s kind of like wandering into a Tim Hortons and complaining about the prevalence of coffee and doughnuts on the menu board.

      Reply
  2. bo knysh

    “Canada’s incredibly skewed equalization formula has Quebec receiving 70% of the annual pot, with much of those massive yearly payments ultimately supported by the traditional economic bonanza from Alberta’s oil and gas industry. Those massive money transfers have, effectively, bribed Quebec to stay in Confederation and is part of the glue holding the country together. But, were Alberta to head for the door, the federal government would have to revise or scrap the equalization program — threatening Quebec. The breakup of the country would likely be the result.”

    Source https://winnipegsun.com/opinion/columnists/giesbrecht-will-canada-break-up-over-carbon-dioxide

    Reply
    1. Dave Cournoyer Post author

      I think there are legitimate concerns about the equalization formula, and we should have those discussions. But let’s not pretend that Alberta leaving Canada would solve any of our economic problems.

      Reply
    2. Bob Raynard

      Bo, my understanding is that the current equalization formula was written by Stephen Harper’s government which, of course, Jason Kenney was a part of. This, in turn, perhaps emphasizes Scott’s point above about Quebec playing the separation card, or more likely, it was simply an effort to gain the Quebec vote. This is a lesson Alberta really needs to learn. With Alberta consistently, and doggedly, voting Conservative, neither Liberal nor Conservative party needs to spend much political capital in pursuit of the Alberta vote. The Conservatives know they don’t need to bother and the Liberals know there isn’t much point, as Justin is learning at the moment.

      I really admire any political leader who will spend political capital in pursuit of what is right even when it is contrary to what their base expects. We saw that when the personal freedom based Alberta PCs implemented laws mandating seat belt use and prohibiting distracted driving. I would argue that Justin Trudeau did the same thing when he bought the pipeline, although at the time he probably still aspired to gain more Liberal MPs in Alberta.

      Reply
  3. Mic Vancouver

    What an ignorant lefty view of the truth! Nose up in the air looking down…saying to smarter people than he, and the back bone of Canada that he is better! Go Fy.

    Reply
  4. Steve

    Well I see that you are up for your portion of the 595 million bailout Trudeau gave the media. You may want to do your homework on the pipeline comment you made as the UN prohibits other countries from not letting land lock countries getting the resources to tidewater and could impose sanctions against Canada for doing so. In my opinion, Trudeau’s ultimate goal is to become the Secretary General of the UN. That’s why in my opinion, he’s giving away billions to other countries and not giving a dam about Canadians. He has demonstrated this over and over again.

    I don’t believe that Alberta should separate, unless, Ottawa is not willing to come to the table and let Alberta in. Alberta is being abused or ignored all together. We don’t need a 1.6 billion dollar bailout, we need to get our residence to work. If after a year after the next provincial election Ottawa is not will to come to the table and talk about constitutional reform, than we need to have a referendum on separation. Alberta would be the 9th wealthiest country in the world if we were to separate. I’m sure we would be just fine.

    Reply
    1. Jerrymacgp

      @Steve: Mr Cornoyer is a blogger. He does this on his own time. He is not a member of the “media”, at least not the way we usually understand that term, and isn’t getting any funding from the Government of Canada or any other public source. His day job is as an employee of a labour union, one of Alberta’s largest.

      Your conspiracist rant is without credibility. As another frequent commenter on another blogger’s site says, “enjoy your day”.

      Merry Christmas.

      Reply
    2. Lance

      Do you see how hard it is to get a pipeline built between two provinces? I guess the good news is when Albertas economy collapses and all the big companies withdraw from our new country no one will want to build a pipeline anyway!

      Reply
  5. David

    Yes it is a bad idea, but behavior arising out of temper tantrums is rarely well thought out or helpful. Those ginning up the anger are doing so because there are elections coming up soon and they hope to take advantage of it and channel it to win. I believe Kenney is not going to support separatism as he still has Federal political aspirations. There is a risk they could over do it and push riled up voters to parties that do not have the same constraints like the Freedom Conservatives. Kenney has strenghts as a poltical organizer, but I don’t think strategy is his strong point. The anger might come back to bite him.

    Of course, the problems with pipelines arises because Alberta’s neighbours and the courts have reservations and the Federal government can’t force them to go along. If Alberta separated it would stiil be landlocked, face neighbours and Canadian courts with reservations and a government in Ottawa even less inlined to help, most likely Liberal without the 25 or so seats Federal Conservatives seem to be able to rely on from Alberta. It would truly be cutting off ones nose to spite their face for Conservatives, but increasing the anger in the short term might help them win an upcoming election or two provided they can control it. Kenney seems to have learned much from Harper about controlling the grassroots.

    Reply
  6. Ian Gray

    Hi Dave. I appreciate your passionate defense of Canada and share the sentiments. But I think it’s a mistake to equate the frustrations of some Albertans with a temper tantrum. As Premier Notley put it we have to understand and accept the frustration but constructively work within Confederation to win understanding and respect for Alberta’s position. Yes, some columnists are engaging in political boosterism and some politicians are attempting to harness the anger for partisan ends. That doesn’t mean that the frustration and the complaints aren’t real.

    Alberta independence may not make economic sense but separatist movements are never just about economics; they are emotional and promise the righting of historical wrongs (real or imaginary). They are also linked to preserving what are considered regional values or culture, a factor that should not be discounted in Alberta. In a word they are a form nationalism, which while many feel is outdated in C21, is still clearly a force to be reckoned with

    You briefly touch on the issue of Alberta as the 51st state and dismiss it ( far to quickly, in my opinion). I believe that for many supporters of Alberta “independence” annexation to the United States was always the real goal. And should separation actually occur who can tell what he prevailing political situation might be? It may be the U.S. could see annexation of Alberta or other parts of Canada as a way to maintain security on its northern border, rather than weaken it. Also, don’t forget the oil/bitumen – the fracking glut won’t last forever.

    I remember when the RIN, the precursor to the Parti Quebecois was widely dismissed as a “fringe” movement. Less than 15 years later the separatists formed a government. Do I consider the possibility of Alberta separating a serious threat at this time? No. Do I think it’s wise to mock and dismiss it completely? Also no.

    Reply

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