Alberta Sounds Battle Cry for Sovereignty

Equalization rejection is just the start of rising confrontation
October 27, 2021 Updated: October 27, 2021

Commentary

Some Albertans may have fallen out of love with Premier Jason Kenney, but they know he is right about equalization.

As reported on Oct. 26 by Elections Alberta, 62 percent of voters want equalization removed from the Canadian Constitution.

That level of support could well have been 20 points higher if it were not so closely associated with Kenney. It was one of his campaign planks, and he is by far Canada’s least popular premier, with only 22 percent approval according to a recent Angus Reid poll.

Once we step back from that noise, the message is clear: Albertans have had enough of this policy monstrosity.

Equalization is the most prominent and explicit channel for wealth redistribution away from Alberta to the likes of Quebec and Atlantic Canada. Between 2007 and 2019, the scale of federal redistribution was an astonishing $280 billion or 6.4 percent of the Albertan economy.

A Lose-Lose Policy

The tragedy of equalization is that it has been a tremendous lose-lose. Yes, the so-called have-not provinces have received substantial funding for government provisions. However, this funding has rewarded failure and has for many reasons harmed the recipients.

There are predictable outcomes from sending boatloads of money each year to economically depressed provinces.

First, equalization inflates public-sector workforces. Second, it papers over the impetus for reform. Third, it undermines the culture. When public-sector workers live on an elevated level, people neglect private-sector opportunities and aspire to join the privileged class.

Sadly, as noted by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, the private sector also becomes more crony in orientation.

“[Private sectors] have become so dependent on government business or other government decisions that they have lost much of their independence and the business voice is correspondingly weakened.”

Not only has equalization bought off the private sectors of recipient provinces, it has undermined provincial autonomy and emasculated the political leaders. They have become pawns devoted to keeping the largess flowing.

He who pays the bills makes the rules, and recipient provincial legislators’ dependence has made them vulnerable and unable to reject mandates from Ottawa.

Sprouting Seeds of Discontent

Just as predictable has been the response from Ottawa’s political establishment towards the equalization referendum.

Affirming his contempt and lack of empathy towards Alberta, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described it as a political stunt and unhelpful. Similarly, Former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien said Albertans were complaining, with no hope of changing anything.

This condescension ignores legitimate concerns and fails to recognize that resentment and discontent have been brewing in Alberta and other western provinces for generations.

As the impediments to Alberta’s energy sector have risen, imposed from Ottawa, so too has the desire not only to end equalization but to leave the Canadian confederation. This vote was a de facto referendum on Alberta independence, or at very least Alberta sovereignty of the kind Quebec has. It was, in Kenney’s words, a “powerful statement.”

If there is one area of agreement between Alberta separatists and the Ottawa establishment, it is that this referendum alone is unlikely to achieve much. Calgary-based commentator Cory Morgan says the lack of any meaningful movement means “Alberta has to try a new approach.”

Wildrose Independence Party Leader Paul Hinman has stated that “Ottawa isn’t going to [scrap equalization]. Ever.” He and his party want to “end both Equalization and Ottawa’s control over Alberta. Permanently.”

Hinman is far from alone in his ambition.

A Mainstreet Research poll, commissioned by the Western Standard and released on October 19, found 40 percent of Albertans in favour of independence from Canada. Of decided voters, that number was 47 percent, with the strongest support in rural and northern Alberta.

This is not a mere one-off blip. Recent years have seen an unequivocal rise in support for independence—so much so that it is moving beyond a partisan issue.

Warning Shot Fired

The cannon of political revolutions is “Anatomy of a Revolution” (1938) by Crane Brinton. In it, he describes the common pattern or sequence of historical revolutions.

The incubation stage stems from severe fiscal mismanagement, two clear opposing sides, and a disgruntled, disaffected middle class before a weak, corrupt, and ineffective regime—all within a society that is not, broadly speaking, economically impoverished. There is “the existence among a group or groups … a feeling that prevailing conditions limit or hinder their economic activity,” Brinton writes.

The federal government has not yet lost support from the largely bought-off intellectual class, which is Brinton’s final feature of the incubation stage. However, the scene is set for an aggressive confrontation and the rise of radical factions that offer a more compelling, coherent proposal than tinkering with the status quo.

You can bet your bottom dollar you have not heard the last of the Alberta sovereignty movement. Not only is constituent support rising; so too is it coming from institutional, business, and intellectual spheres. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Alberta director told the media the province “won’t be taken advantage of anymore.”

Think tanks such as the Frontier Centre and the recently established Haultain Research Institute are offering ideas for how to redefine Canada to address what the latter describes as “structural inequities detrimental to landlocked Canadian provinces.”

Secession is not going to happen tomorrow, but incremental moves are on the horizon. They include a provincial police force to take over RCMP roles, a provincial pension scheme, nullification of federal mandates, and a potential implosion of the United Conservative Party, giving way to the Wildrose Independence and Maverick parties.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Fergus Hodgson is the founder and executive editor of Latin American intelligence publication Econ Americas. He is also the roving editor of Gold Newsletter and a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.