Following the re-election of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party, there has been renewed talk among some in Alberta for the province to separate from Canada. This is not a new phenomenon, so here is a quick historical take on it.
Back in the days of the National Energy Program, resentment towards Ottawa in Alberta reached a fever pitch. The Western Canada Concept Party, which advocated for a separate country from B.C to Manitoba, was created in 1980, and in 1981, 49 per cent of those polled in Alberta said the province should go it alone. The idea was popular enough that in 1982, the WCC party took 11.8 per cent of the vote in the Alberta general election, and George Kesler was elected in the Olds-Didsbury riding in a by-election before the general election. Kesler was the first separatist politician elected outside of Quebec since the 1870s and he opposed bilingualism and the metric system. In the general election, he lost his seat to a Progressive Conservative, making his time as an MLA the second-shortest in Alberta legislative history.
As time went on, the idea faded away but it seems to have come back in full force once again. So, is it even possible for Alberta to separate?
The Clarity Act of 2000 makes it very, very difficult to separate from Canada. A provincial referendum needs to be held, with an overwhelming majority supporting separation, not just over 50 per cent like in Quebec in the 1990s.
The House of Commons can decide if the referendum questions were clear or not, and could require as much as 75% support in the province for separation, which is very unlikely since the Conservative party only picked up 69% of the vote in Alberta and that was just in a regular election. In addition, all provinces and First Nations would have to be part of the negotiations and the House of Commons can override the Clarity Act to prevent separation.
Long story short, separation won’t happen.
But if it did, Alberta would look forward to the following:
• It would be a landlocked country with no major ports, surrounded on three sides by the country it just left. Yes, Canada may want our oil but they could get it from Saskatchewan as well, or use the separation as a reason to push heavily into renewable energy.
• To reach international markets, it would have to send goods through Canada (for the most part), which would cost Alberta a great deal of money. We could send goods down to the United States, but much of what we could offer, the United States could get on its own within its own borders or other trading partners.
• Alberta would have to import nearly everything it needs from Canada with some exceptions, and there would likely be high tariffs and goods would cost a lot of money as a result. Even the United States might take advantage of the difficult position Alberta is in to negotiate unfair trade agreements that benefited their country more than Alberta.
• It would be part of no international treaties to start and have no trade partners except Canada and the US. Since Alberta would have to trade through those countries to reach other countries, it is unlikely the amount of trading partners would increase.
• It would be dependent on a tanking industry and have a very volatile economy.
• Alberta is also home to several Canadian Forces bases that employ thousands of people and put millions into the provincial economy. If Alberta were to leave Canada, those bases, or at least the people and infrastructure in the bases, would return to Canada.
Don’t think for a second that B.C or Manitoba would join this new country, as it is way more beneficial to them to stay in Canada. B.C could actually go it alone as a country and do pretty well thanks to its access to Asian markets, it doesn’t need Alberta to form a country and having Alberta would be more of a drain on B.C than a benefit.
Only Alberta and Saskatchewan would actually form any sort of western country, and that scenario is just as bad as if Alberta went it alone.
This is how democracy works. Sometimes you get a person you support in power, sometimes you don’t. Trudeau isn’t a traitor, he isn’t a bad prime minister, we don’t live in a dictatorship, so as a province we can stop acting like a child who is angry they didn’t get what they wanted and now wants to take their toys and go home.
Before Trudeau we had 9 years of Conservatives in power, before that we had 13 years of Liberals in power, before that we had 9 years of Conservatives in power. Elections go in cycles.
I will speak more on western separation and its history on an upcoming episode of my Canadian history podcast Canadian History Ehx.
You can e-mail me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.