Western Canada’s artificial alienation: Catalonia here we come! Then again, maybe not …

Posted on October 22, 2017, 1:31 am
9 mins

Right on schedule, us Western Canadians are feeling alienated.

Really! Don’t just take my word for it!

The digital editions of the gutter press are full of the complaints nowadays of such alienated Albertans as United Conservative Party leadership contenders Brian Jean and Jason Kenney.

Likewise, we’re hearing lots of Western alienation talk from Brad Wall, who is apparently still the premier of Saskatchewan, and Jack Mintz, the reliably pro-Conservative University of Calgary “School of Public Policy” professor and perennial National Post bloviator.

Messrs. Jean and Kenney, as is well known, have been sending out regular fund-raising emails, press releases and other missives excoriating Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who has had the temerity to act pleased in public about the fact a pipeline full of Alberta bitumen won’t be running through his backyard any time soon.

The wannabe UCP leaders regularly demand an end to all federal equalization payments, posthaste, to ungrateful Quebeckers and anyone else insufficiently enthusiastic about prostrating themselves before the pipeline industry.

Since both men are former Members of Parliament in the now-departed government of Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, they presumably understand that the government of Alberta doesn’t mail a cheque every month to the National Assembly in Quebec City. They are likewise presumably confident that a significant number of their supporters don’t understand that fact.

“They’ve declared war on Alberta,” screeched Mr. Jean in a recent fund-raising email. Mr. Kenney apparently wants to go full Catalonia and pull Alberta out of Confederation if we have to give the country any of our oil revenues – a idea, if realized, unlikely to make Quebeckers and British Columbians more amenable to our pipeline demands once our neighbour to the south recovers its sanity, which is bound to happen soon enough.

As University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe noted in the Globe and Mail, Mr. Kenney’s proposed resource-revenue exclusion would actually increase the amount of equalization transfers going to Quebec – something the a canny former Ottawa insider is also presumably counting on his supporters not knowing.

Saskatchewan Premier Wall, who has promised to quit but keeps turning up in the news like the proverbial bad penny, huffed that “for the west to continue on like this in our federal system is the equivalent of having Stockholm syndrome.”

This prompted very little reaction outside the Prairies, which must have annoyed the uncongenial former Mr. Congeniality of Confederation. But then, if it limps like a lame duck, and it quacks like a lame duck, it probably is a lame duck.

For his part, Professor Mintz, in one of his regular screeds in the National Post, explicitly raised the spectre of Catalonia if Ottawa won’t do what we want to immediately get us that pipeline to New Brunswick.

Never mind that the closest thing to Barcelona in our alienated Western Canadian oiltopia is Vancouver, where anti-pipeline sentiment runs so fever hot it makes Mayor Coderre’s fellow Montrealers look positively Albertan by comparison.

Yeah, coastal British Columbians are feeling alienated too, perhaps even alienated enough to start dreaming of the Pacific Republic of Ecotopia, as the late Rafe Mair suggested not so long ago. But not because we’re building too few pipelines through their valleys. As for the Port of Churchill, I hate to disappoint you, but the Western shore of Hudson’s Bay is barely tidewater, in the sense we use the term in Alberta, and no one’s ever going to duplicate Barcelona there!

In Spain, meanwhile, the national government is about to strip Catalonia’s government of its powers and impose direct rule from Madrid.

Anyway, you can count on it, nothing like this is going to happen in Western Canada, if only because it’ll be impossible to find anyone in our beloved private sector to build the desired pipelines until the price of oil recovers – if the price of oil ever recovers.

This too is something all of the gentlemen referenced above understand perfectly well, of course. All this hot air about alienation is entirely for the benefit of local audiences.

Indeed, it was for that reason that two years ago to the day in the aftermath of the October 2015 federal election we were able to so confidently predict the return of this phenomenon here at AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Alberta voters may have returned the usual stereotypical Conservative hacks to Ottawa on Oct. 19, 2015, but enough voters in the rest of Canada chose Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to have Mr. Harper’s Conservative loyalists loading up their Conestoga wagons on the banks of the Rideau Canal in preparation for the long trek westward.

“The Western Alienation narrative starts immediately,” I wrote at the time, and so it did.

“The immediate post-election consensus here was that we Albertans have been unjustly shut out of power by thoughtless and self centred Canadians in other provinces who don’t have the good sense to vote the way we do,” I wrote. “The idea that we might contribute to this ourselves by electing so many Conservatives with metronomic regularity appears to have occurred to virtually no one.”

“Count on this narrative to continue loudly here in Alberta and, with localized variations, anywhere else corporate media still manages to put out a daily newspaper, starting at once,” I wrote of the Western alienation narrative, again accurately.

I also suggested the rhetoric would get worse once the movers and shakers of the Conservative Party of Canada realized their next leader would have to come from somewhere other than Alberta if their party was to avoid sinking into complete irrelevance.

This happened too, the result of the intemperately spoken Mr. Kenney moving from Ottawa to Alberta in hopes he could launch, as a consolation prize, a Conservative Restoration in this province with himself in the van, or, in this case, the blue pickup truck. Mr. Jean had already made the trip.

The federal Conservative Party, meanwhile, boldly looked east for a new leader … to Saskatchewan! This must have just about made Mr. Kenney, a native of that province, weep when he realized what had happened. Oh well, he’s stuck with second prize now, and maybe not even that.

If we’re not exactly in lockstep thanks to British Columbia’s deepening green tinge, no matter, the artificial alienation of Western Canada will surely move ahead apace, at least in the imaginations of the opponents of Liberals in Ottawa and New Democrats in Edmonton.

16 Comments to: Western Canada’s artificial alienation: Catalonia here we come! Then again, maybe not …

  1. Anne Peterson

    October 22nd, 2017

    I think it’s BC you have to watch and they won’t want to hook up with Alberta or Saskatchewan. They’ll want to form Cascadia. And they have good reason. Already the spill at Bella Bella has devastated rich clam beds. It has never been cleaned up and probably never will be. There is no world class spill response. Right now it’s just a cheesy private company that is supposed to do it. A spill in the Vancouver harbour or the rich Salish Sea will break up this country I think.

    Reply
    • Scotty on Denman

      October 22nd, 2017

      You are so correct: it’s a mistake to presume BC fraternity with the land-locked spare-cloth provinces. BC and the 1905 confed-code area defy geographic fact and thereby define the federal “sea-to-shining-sea” policy. Both BC and Alberta, one cow-towed to and lavishly bribed to complete Canada’s strategic interruption of Alaskan and Oregonian pincer movements, the other begrudgingly granted parsimonious provicehood and subsequent quarter-century wait for control of its resources, retain their respective historical characteristics, that is, the prospect of enhanced North-South intercourse with their bordering Americans. But the two also retain substantial differences in any prospect, Canadian, American, or other.

      You correctly point out that BC’s natural tendency is toward Cascadia, a proposed confederation of BC and, maybe, Yukon, and three or four American states. Alberta’s tendancy, in contrast, is with the whole of America as it exists today. The questions remain, however, if those prospects are better than staying in Canada, or even if they’re likely.

      BC’s natural tendency is also that of spoiled bratdom cultivated ever since British disinterest was replaced with Canadian amorous ardour, something it could not expect from the hypothetical Cascadia which, if it included California, would outweigh BC demographically, and, anyway, Americans are used to non-contiguity, Hawaii, Alaska, and all: BC wouldn’t seem as special a puzzle piece for them as it did the lustful Canada. The spare-cloth provinces were confederated well before their populations warranted purely because Canada couldn’t tolerate non-contiguity. BC was almost a couple thousand miles away from Canada In 1871, and it could always threaten to join the USA instead.

      But does anyone really think Uncle Sam would tolerate the separation of the would-be Cascadian states that comprise the entire west coast of the Lower 48? Not likely to happen, and for about the same reasons as Canada’s for wanting BC so badly. One might as well speculate BC joining the USA as it exists now. Equally not likely to happen, not least because there are so many American expats living in BC, most having emigrated from their native land because of the Vietnam War in the largest single exodus of American citizens since the Revolutionary War two centuries previous.

      Alberta is different for the same reasons as ever: it is continentally remote, land-locked and, nowadays, facing fresh water deficits due to its dependence on receding Rocky Mountain glaciers. It’s American prospects do not depend on any American states separating, but, even it was possible, it would take quite a few to achieve, altogether, access to deep water ( like, Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota, at very least, to get to Lake Superior. Still a long, long way to salt water, through many jurisdictions where oil tankers are unwelcome). On the other hand, two of those states are among the only jurisdictions in North America actually losing population, and it might be more likely America would acquiesce to their separation — but still almost unthinkable. Thus Alberta’s choices are restricted to simply joining the USA or remaining in Canada. The former is not as unlikely as it would be for BC to join the existing America.

      Two neighbouring provinces as different as BC and Alberta could only co-exist in a federal arrangement where each retains sufficient sovereignty to address their respective populations’ issues, wants and needs, many of those being quite distinct and different.

      There are, of course, many, many other differences between BC and Alberta. Oil and bitumen are only the loudest, and only because we view it in the present window.

      Naturally any Canadian province may separate from the federation with the approval of 50%+1 voters in a clearly worded referendum. Note that almost 40% of Canada’s geographic area may not avail this right as Territories are not sovereign like provinces, but rather are departments of the federal government.

      Nobody ever talks about what First Nations might have to say about separation or reconfederation with another federation, but with recent SCoC decisions regards Aboriginal Title in hand, it seems they might have constitutional rights to intervene, some as equal sovereign partners with the Crown ( in areas where there are no treaties like BC and Quebec ).

      Reply
  2. ronmac

    October 22nd, 2017

    Sometimes I wonder if that damn EE pipeline was just a red herring. They had no real intention of building it. It was put on the docks just so they can tear it down again to score political points and make the green crowd feel they at least won one victory while those other pipelines pushed thru BC.

    It also gave the western alienation crowd something to chew on too, sort of like throwing raw meat into a den of starving pit bulls. As if that’s going to make a diffeerece. Quebec is not going to say, “Well I see you guys are having your own country now. Bravo! Listen, why don’t you ring us up and we’ll talk. We’d love to have your pipeline.”

    Reply
  3. October 22nd, 2017

    Bashing Eastern Canada is just as common as singing ‘family values’, ‘law and order’, ‘balanced budget’, increased spending on health care and infrastructure’, ‘lower taxes’, and daycare policy.

    It is what politicians bring out in order to harness our votes while at the same time making zero policy announcements and no election promises worth keeping.

    Each of these can be interpreted in many ways, excuses can be made. Unfortunately this is what our politicians excel at.

    Reply
  4. Ufrick Ouirdeau

    October 22nd, 2017

    “once our neighbour to the south recovers its sanity, which is bound to happen soon enough.”
    Really? Soon enough for what? To save the human race from extinction? I hope you know something the rest of us don’t know.

    Reply
  5. Farmer B

    October 22nd, 2017

    Ronmac, why would a private company like TransCanada spend one billion dollars applying for pipeline approval just to make a political statement? Personally when they started the application process I thought their chances of success were slim to nil.

    Dave, I think you are missing one common thread that leads to feelings of western alienation, that being a Trudeau in the office of the Prime Minister. The last time westerners were this pissed off P.E.T. was our prime minister. I think that politics is a very carefully calculated business. Each different party plots a different path to electoral success. Justin Trudeau is certainly pandering to Quebec with support of Bombardier, the poisoning of the pipeline approval process and his failure to come right out and condemn the new religous neutrality law in Quebec. He is also trying to poach votes from the NDP with his failed attempts at progressive legislation like proportional representation and an extremely clumsy attempt at reforming the small business tax system. As a westerner I can’t think of one piece of legislation he has brought in that is a benefit to me. His whole platform has become the platitude support for the middle class and those working hard to join it, this is his answer to almost every question.

    As for western separation, in the early 80’s if all 4 western provinces were unified as one country I think it could have worked. Today I think B.C. would be a problem. To be a successful country we would need coastal access and whether B.C. is inside Canada or part of a new western alliance I don’t think their outlook to oil exports would change much. As for Canada, our future economic prospects have dimmed due to the failure to build oil export infrastructure that diversifies are markets away from having only one customer, that being the U.S.A. Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau have attempted to satisfy the environmental lobbies but each time they meet a demand a new one is created. A position somewhere in the middle between Jason Kenney and Rachel Notley would be more appropriate but I think time will prove that no politician will be able to satisfy them. Just my thoughts, enjoy your day

    Reply
    • political ranger

      October 23rd, 2017

      I enjoy reading your comments Farmer. I have a question for you tho.
      You mention that young Trudeau has not brought forth even a single piece of legislation that would benefit you. My question is then, What legislative change would be a benefit to you?
      I’m not being quarrelsome, we all want our Canadian system to be fair, just wondering what would work for you.

      Reply
      • Farmer B

        October 24th, 2017

        My first thought would be a balanced budget. Canada’s economic growth has exceeded expectations in 2017 yet we still have a budget deficit. If Canada can’t balance the budget in the good times what will happen in a recession.
        As a farmer less than stellar rail service to the coast certainly hampers the profitability of grain farming in western Canada. The increased shipping of oil on rail has no doubt been good for CP and CN but hasn’t improved grain movement. Both Harper and Trudeau approved new pipelines, Keystone XL, Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain but no shovels in the ground yet. Harper had the right idea but was a poor salesman. Justin Trudeau is a better salesman but keeps changing the rules. Canada has plentiful natural resources but we need a clearer and more practical vision on how to get them to market.

        Trudeau’s imposition of a carbon tax puts Canadian industry at a disadvantage. I think when the U.S. brings in a carbon tax Canada should follow. The majority of our exports still go to the U.S. and putting our industry at a disadvantage with a carbon tax makes no sense. Progressives will argue that there are huge opportunities in clean tech industries. My thought is that we have the oil, we have created a lot of the technology to produce it, there is no way importing chinese made solar panels and installing them can create the same economic return as producing our own resources. We certainly have to be cognoscent of future technological change but we also have to have economic growth today to pay for it.

        One last thought, tax policy. Is there any group Trudeau’s Liberals haven’t attempted to squeeze more money out of. First small business, then retail workers, now type 1 diabetics. They seem to be lost. As far as corporate tax, could it be simplified with one rate that applies to both small business and large corporations. As it is now does the lower small business rate cause small business to try and stay small instead of dreaming bigger, just a thought. Not sure I answered your question Political Ranger, enjoy your day

        Reply
        • political ranger

          October 24th, 2017

          Yup, thoughtful answers, as expected.

          I asked because I get from your comments that we, you & I, have no issues in common despite the obvious knowledge and thought that goes into them. It’s hard for me to believe that that would be true.

          So … we could have a fruitful argument about balanced budgets I believe. And, likely, arrive at a mutually satisfying policy to address market cycles.
          I understand the rail service problem. This is more along the line of specific policy that I was fishing for. Shipping grain affordably is obviously tied into the petroleum industry as you point out. Another overweight factor affecting grain profitability that you didn’t mention is the Cdn. Wheat Board decision.

          I had hoped to make the point that you are but one (farm) business among the whole Cdn. business community and it is surely unreasonable to expect that a specific policy should benefit only you at the expense of the rest. But the grain & railcar issue defines your multi-factored business community even more accurately. I know that you know that whatever policy that pleases you must be negotiated with your neighbours in that grain farming community. I also know that you know that whatever policy shortcoming is lacking for you is made up for by belonging to that same Cdn. grain farming community.

          Your final 2 points are just one in my view. In my view, good governance is active government. When circumstance arise that require intercession, on behalf of the citizenry, in the environment broadly, in financial markets, in global business markets, in sovereign defense or any of the other myriad issues of the 21rst Century then I am in favour of government taking that action. Quickly, effectively, intelligently.

          Regardless of how interventionist you want your government to be, I think all agree that efficiency and effectiveness are key metrics of good government. For me, for what I want my government to do, requires money. Revenue means taxes. Every level of governance requires taxes. My level of governance requires greater taxation than yours. This modern idea of government without taxes is specious. That dog won’t hunt.

          I dare say that all the issues you raise would be helped by a more effective and efficient government. Certainly the grain business would enjoy huge benefits from an intelligent and aggressive intercession in both domestic and international markets. Big business are not, have not and never will be a friend to farm operators.

          I’ll just close by saying that despite how lonely it is out there in the back 40, most, not all but most of your Canadian neighbours are eager to help you help yourself. They just expect the same in return.

          Reply
          • Farmer B

            October 25th, 2017

            I will agree on one point that the oligopoly that exists in farm input suppliers is not beneficial to farmers but I have to disagree on the Canadian Wheat Board. My family has farmed in Alberta since 1906. I think my Dad’s outlook on the wheat board was formed in the 50’s and 60’s. I remember him talking about how grain was worth very little and the wheat board would allow you to only sell so many bushels per acre of wheat at a time. So to make money and market their grain they built a cattle feedlot in the late 60’s. Interestingly my Uncle on my mothers side starting buying cattle and putting them in a custom lot where he sold his grain during the same time period.
            The ability for farmers to move grain improved in the 70’s but certainly in my local area there were many beef feedlots looking for grain. Then in the early 80’s along came canola. It wasn’t under the wheat boards control, it could be grown for a profit and was easy to market. Today almost as many acres of canola are grown as wheat in western Canada. As far as the wheat board, I am glad it is gone. I have 5 companies in my local area I can sell my wheat to and many private brokers. When I sign the contract I know what I will be payed and it won’t take 18 months to get it, I am payed when the grain is delivered.

            I could go on Political Ranger but one short sentence sums up the difference in your and my outlook, you consider government the solution, I consider it the problem. Enjoy your day

    • Expat Albertan

      October 23rd, 2017

      But why are you ragging on Trudeau for being Québec-focused? Mulroney, Chretien, Martin, even Harper to an extent (remember the Québec nation thing?) all put more cards in Québec than Alberta… and, given population differences between the two provinces, it’s not hard to see why. No, I think Alberta just hasn’t gotten over PET and the NEP (even though Mr. Loughheed was also a signatory). But it’s more than that, really… the name ‘Trudeau’ is a convenient scapegoat….a kind of negative talisman if you will, that magically protects a certain segment of Alberta from realizing their culpability when the economy goes sour and making hard decisions about their future.

      Reply
  6. Lars

    October 22nd, 2017

    …the result of the intemperately spoken Mr. Kenney moving from Ottawa to Alberta is hopes he could launch,…

    I believe that there’s a typo in there, David – is for in.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      October 22nd, 2017

      Thank you, Lars. It’s been fixed. DJC

      Reply
  7. David

    October 23rd, 2017

    Snappy political slogans like “the West wants in” sound so much better than “certain conservative politicians who have been in opposition for a few years want to get back in power again”.

    Mr. Kenney did his political calculations figuring it was unlikely even his party would choose a leader from the same western Canadian city right away again. I am sure he also realizes there can be benefits or advantages to being a big fish in a ssmaller pond. In hindsight, he might have wished he had kept his Saskatchewan residency, but he is not quite the master strategist or as lucky as his previous boss. Meanwhile Mr. Scheer is dancing on the federal stage instead trying not to seem too much like Diefenbaker to better appeal to Brampton.

    Of course western alienation does not get votes in Brampton, Montreal, Halifax and not that much in Vancouver. It might play in Red Deer or Fort Mac so expect buckets full of it from Kenney and Jean and not so much from Scheer. It’s not so much the West that wants in as Kenney does.

    Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      October 23rd, 2017

      Nailed it in one. That is exactly what is going on….plus the sense entitlement that certain Albertans have distilled, as it were, from the bunker C of their resentment, into the firm belief that they and they alone deserve political power in Canada. It’s an interesting confusion: why should the economic importance of western resources entail the need for a permanent Arch-Conservative form of government?

      Reply

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