Albertans’ Post-Election Anger and the Attraction of Separatism

By Michael Wagner
Michael Wagner
Michael Wagner
November 2, 2019Updated: November 2, 2019

Despite the fact that Albertans voted overwhelmingly—almost 70 percent of the popular vote—for the Conservative Party, it was the Liberals who won the election. The result has many Albertans questioning the place of their province within Canada.

The reason for Albertans’ anger is easy to explain. The Liberal government has done much to thwart the economic development of the province’s energy resources, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to continue with these kinds of policies.

For example, in 2016, the federal government cancelled the Northern Gateway pipeline that would have carried Alberta’s oil to the B.C. coast for export to Asian markets. In 2017, the Energy East pipeline, which would have carried bitumen from Alberta to New Brunswick, was cancelled by TransCanada partly due to regulatory changes related to environmental assessment that were initiated by the federal government.

Earlier this year, the Liberal government also passed Bill C-69, dubbed by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney as the “No More Pipelines Bill,” and Bill C-48, which bans tanker ships from carrying Alberta bitumen along B.C.’s northern coast. These actions further hamper the development of Alberta’s petroleum resources.

Together, these policies mean that there will be substantially less economic activity in Alberta, leading to fewer jobs and lower royalty revenue for the provincial government. In short, they will result in less prosperity and lower standards of living, all due to deliberate federal government actions. As if to illustrate this point, a little more than a week after the election, one of Canada’s largest energy companies, Encana, announced that it was changing its name and moving to the United States.

Shouldn’t it be the job of government to implement policies that make life better for its citizens? Not if you live in Alberta. Here, what people see is the federal government working against their economic well-being.

With this in mind, it’s clear why some Albertans have become interested in the idea of separatism. An independent Alberta would be free to develop its energy resources and enjoy the prosperity that this would bring.

This isn’t the first time that many Albertans have seriously reconsidered their province’s place within Canada. The early 1980s also witnessed an Alberta separatist movement. Pierre Trudeau, father of the current prime minister, led a Liberal government that in 1980 implemented the National Energy Program, which amounted to an attack on Alberta’s oil industry. Separatist meetings were well-attended, and a separatist MLA was elected to the Alberta legislature in a 1982 by-election. Strange as it may seem, Pierre Trudeau is the father of Alberta separatism.

The current manifestation of Alberta’s separatist movement has a noteworthy advantage over that of the 1980s, namely, a constitutional and legal pathway to provincial independence.

In 1998, the Supreme Court of Canada issued the Reference re Secession of Quebec decision. It held that the federal government was required to negotiate with Quebec if a clear majority of citizens voted for separation in a referendum with a clear question. This decision essentially created a constitutional pathway for the secession of any province under those same conditions.

The federal government responded to this court decision by passing the Clarity Act in 2000. The Clarity Act basically provides the legislative framework to fulfill the process stipulated by the Supreme Court.

The separatist movement of the early 1980s did not have a clear constitutional method of pursuing independence, and such uncertainty could cause concerns that turned people away from supporting separatism. Now, however, with a clear constitutional avenue to Alberta separation, established by no less an authority than the Supreme Court, separatists can confidently advocate for independence. The constitutional legitimacy of provincial separation has never been so strong.

Will Alberta become independent of Canada? Of course, no one knows the answer to that question. What is clear, however, is that large numbers of Albertans are willing to consider that option in light of the recent federal election.

The first step toward separation is the formation of a separatist movement with wide support. That is occurring right now, as many people are joining groups such as Wexit and volunteering their time and money to push the cause forward.

Unless the federal government changes course, this phenomenon will continue to grow.

Michael Wagner has a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta and is author of the book “Alberta: Separatism Then and Now.”

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