Mounting frustrations prompt increased calls for Alberta separation
Published Wednesday, December 12, 2018 5:00PM MST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 12, 2018 6:42PM MST
As Alberta continues to face challenges in the midst of an energy crisis that has prompted unprecedented action by the provincial government, a sense of alienation amongst some Albertans has some questioning whether the province would be better off on its own.
Ted Morton, executive fellow of The School of Public Policy, says the calls for separation should come as little surprise given recent developments.
“Frustration has been building since the cancellation and buyout of the Kinder Morgan pipeline last spring but, in (a period of) 48 hours, I think there was a one-two punch,” explained Morton. “At the First Ministers’ meeting Friday, the Quebec premier got up and said there’s not going to be Alberta oil going through our province and then the very next day it was announced that, in equalization, Quebec was getting a one-third increase in equalization. All of that equalization is basically paid for by Alberta and Saskatchewan.”
“I think people woke up Monday morning saying what the heck is going on in this country.”
Morton says the current situation in Alberta differs from Quebec’s flirtations with a separation from Canada. “One of the reasons Quebec never separated was that they are better off economically as part of Canada rather than being independent. On a straight economics view, Albertans would probably be wealthier economically outside of Canada.”
Morton suggests neither separation nor a continuation of the status quo would benefit Alberta. “Now, even more than then, our future is tied to global trade and global trade arrangements. We can’t afford to suddenly go back into the separation, the padded room, where we scream at each other for a couple years or a whole decade and ignore what’s going on with our trading partners and the rest of the world.”
Discussions surrounding the idea of a sovereign Alberta have popped up in decades past but never gained significant traction. Anger directed at Ottawa and its National Energy Program of the early 1980s prompted a grassroots separation movement and, decades letter, an activist by the name of Stephen Harper, the future Prime Minister, co-penned ‘The Firewall Letter’ that urged Alberta to withdrawn from several federal programs and ignited calls for independence.
According to Lori Williams, a political science professor at Mount Royal University, Alberta separatists have been around for some time and their sentiments are finding a frustrated audience through new mediums.
“There’s always been a very strong, consistent core of people in Alberta who think that separation is the solution to all our ills,” explained Williams. “Of course there are more people that are willing to consider the alternative given their frustration with the pipeline approval process and the fact that we have social media that is generating more momentum around this, more attention to it.”
“That sense that our natural resources are not being supported, are not being valued, that we are not politically able to have our voice heard as well as we would like and that we are contributing more financially to confederation than we are getting in return. In a nutshell, those are the problems that people associate with being part of Canada under its current circumstances and some of the people, in frustration, are saying let’s just get out.”
Williams says a separated Alberta would face the exact same challenges but without the support of the rest of Canada.
“The question is what would separation do to solve that problem and the answer is nothing. If we are out of Canada there’s absolutely no incentive for the rest of Canada to help get our oil to tidewater, for example, and we would be even more reliant on the U.S. market and the limitations associated with that,” said Williams. “I get the sentiment, I get the frustration, I get the sense of crisis and the desire to do something about it, maybe even to send a message to the rest of Canada to stop taking us for granted. But to suggest that separation is going to solve this problem is seriously mistaken.”
With files from CTV’s Kathy Le