Ottawa and the rest of Canada should be paying very close attention to the “separatist threat” coming from Alberta.
It’s easy to dismiss Albertans’ separatist threat as just so much bluster, since Albertans have an indisputable history of being first and foremost “proud” Canadians. But bigger miscalculations have happened before.
Albertans have a great deal to be pissed off about. Alberta is the OTHER province that pays the way for All 10 provinces and 3 territories. The other province that pays for everyone is Ontario. However; Ontario maintains an enormous influence upon Ottawa, where Alberta is more or less treated as an also-ran.
And Quebec, which is a have not province of the highest order, gets all the attention and benefits.
Alberta is not going to separate any time soon. But that does not mean other serious UNINTENDED consequences won’t result from Albertan alienation, or the feeling by Albertans of being taken for granted.
In the early 1960’s, Quebec politicians embarked upon what they called the “Quiet Revolution”, where Quebec was finally going to be catching up with the rest of the world, and in doing so, they were also reevaluating their position within Confederation.
What they came away with, was the modern-day precursor to the separatist movement which gave birth to two referendums. The first in 1980. The second, which came close to winning in 1995. The “moderate” argument with the first Quebec referendum focused on “sovereignty-association”.
The second referendum focused on an equal partnership. That is: Quebec by itself should be equal to all of the other provinces and territories combined.
In the pre referendum era, the Québécois vision included the argument for a new Canadian territorial division, where the 4 Maritime provinces would become one political region, as would each: Quebec, Ontario, the combined 3 Prairie provinces and then British Columbia. In all, there would be 5 regions opposed to 10 provinces.
This new concept of Canada was accepted by the two most influential Quebec leaders of their time, Separatist leader Rene Levesque of the Parti Québécois, and Québécois nationalist leader Robert Bourassa of the Quebec Liberal Party.
What is far more poignant, is the confirmation of this new political reality, passed into law some 36 years later (Bill C-110) by Royal Assent on February 2, 1996. In essence, the FEDERAL government agreed that the FIVE regions of Canada would have a VETO concerning future Constitutional changes.
The relevant part of Bill C-110 is not the obvious intent of the law vis a vis constitutional changes. In my opinion, it is the accepted regionalization of Canada that was the ONLY important aspect of Bill C-110.
Bill C-110 is a part of Canadian law, which defines Canada as a country of 5 regions, which is exactly what the Québécois nationalists fought for from the 60’s to date.
Moreover; another federal interpretation and law coming from Parliament, the Clarity Act (Bill C-20), which was designed to become a legalistic roadblock against future Quebec separatist aspirations, actually laid out the map in the clearest of terms for a province to leave Confederation.
The Clarity Act, officially known as Bill C-20 was given Royal Assent on June 29, 2000 says:
WHEREAS the Supreme Court of Canada has determined that the result of a referendum on the secession of a province from Canada must be free of ambiguity both in terms of the question asked and in terms of the support it achieves if that result is to be taken as an expression of the democratic will that would give rise to an obligation to enter into negotiations that might lead to secession;
WHEREAS the Supreme Court of Canada has stated that democracy means more than simple majority rule, that a clear majority in favour of secession would be required to create an obligation to negotiate secession, and that a qualitative evaluation is required to determine whether a clear majority in favour of secession exists in the circumstances;
In essence, what the preceding Supreme Court ruling says is quite simple. Ask a clear question. Get a substantial vote of support. And the deal is done. The rest of Bill C-20 deals with the mechanism of negotiation to leave Confederation.
Therefore; given the fact that Alberta would probably do far better outside of Canada, rather than within Canada, the federal government would do well to tread carefully.
Without the burden of the rest of Canada, Albertans would be able to save an enormous amount of wealth, pay far less in taxes and enjoy their independent minded personal and social freedoms without having to worry about Easterners telling them how to behave within their own borders.
I don’t assume that Alberta is going to secede from Canada, not that that’s an impossibility. But I do believe, that unless things change, Alberta is going to create the conditions that are going to change Canada.
The federal government paved the way for Alberta to become far more independent as one region of five, rather than one province of 10, by the passage of Bill C-110 that recognized the regionalization of Canada, and then the right of a province to leave Canada under specific conditions with Bill C-20.
It would take little for the Alberta government to motivate its population to vote yes in a referendum that demanded far greater political, social and legal autonomy, OR ELSE!
It is very much in Canada’s best interest to pay close attention to Alberta’s complaints. Unlike Quebec, which uses the threat of separation as nothing more than a carrot and a stick in order to extort the maximum they can from Ottawa, Alberta means it.
Quebec can not afford to leave Confederation under any circumstances. Without Canadian transfer and equalization payments, in addition to outright grants, interest free loans to Quebec’s industries, and federal largesse showered in government offices and jobs located within Quebec; Quebec would collapse.
Quebec would also founder in terms of cross border trade and labor within Canada. Quebec gets away with draconian language and labor laws solely due to the unfair generosity of Canada’s Supreme Court, which routinely violates Charter of Rights guarantees in order to defend Quebec’s right to discriminate.
Without Canada, these anti-constitutional concessions in favor of Quebec would disappear in a heartbeat.
Now lets look at Alberta. Without Canada, what would Alberta lose? Alberta receives no largess from Ottawa, or from any other part of Canada. Alberta pays out mega billions of dollars every year in personal income taxes and energy taxes to Ottawa. And what does Alberta get for it in return? Not that much.
For the rest of Canada to be dismissive about Alberta’s angst, or for Ottawa to ignore a smouldering Albertan flame would be a serious miscalculation that could do more harm to Confederation, than all of Quebec’s pathetic threats and belligerent politically gestures combined.
Because of Quebec’s never ending demands, the federal government of Canada created the path and blueprint which Alberta can use to take a walk, or change the hegemony of our centralized country, so much so, that Canada would exist more like the EU, if Alberta really pushes the issue.
However; even with this knowledge, Ottawa still spends so much of its time, paying attention to a have not province (Quebec), which costs Confederation dearly, while it ignores a province that can change our country in ways not imagined.
Ottawa’s desire to control everything, and suck up to the provinces rich in votes (Ontario and Quebec) will cost us all dearly. If Alberta goes; kiss Ontario and BC goodbye as well. And then its all over but the negotiations.
In a forthcoming editorial, I will connect the dots between Western alienation and Ottawa’s quest through successive Québécois Prime Ministers, of the impending demise of Canada as we know it.