Alberta Politics
Christmas at the Alberta Legislature, not a separatist in sight (Photo: Government of Alberta).

Peak Separatism has passed in Alberta, no thanks to Postmedia’s sly campaign to undermine the Trudeau Government

Posted on December 24, 2018, 1:32 am
9 mins

Happy Holidays! It may take a few days for its perpetrators to admit this, but Alberta has all but certainly already passed Peak Separatism.

The current 2018 spasm of Alberta separatist sentiment peaked late last week, probably some time Thursday afternoon.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

By the time we’re all saying Happy New Year to each other, the Alberta independence “threat” will be fading into history, again, worth a chuckle or two, like Ur-Western-separatist Gordon Kesler, and taken seriously by almost nobody – or, perhaps I should say, nobodies.

The whole thing was almost entirely ginned up in a couple of weeks by a parade of political commentators at Postmedia’s newspapers, basically providing background music for the campaign of United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney. The list includes Rick Bell, Lorne Gunter, Don Braid, David Staples, and Lawrence Solomon.

The purpose, presumably, was not actually to create a new member of the United Nations or even a new U.S. state, but to make it appear as if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is messing up so badly that the blue-eyed sheikhs, as Albertans used to like to call themselves, were not just going rogue, but full Brexit.

After all, that old Brexit cheerleader Mr. Kenney himself, his eyes in reality ever on Ottawa, still views Mr. Trudeau as his Main Enemy and Principal Rival. We’ll probably never know whether or not cash from conservative political action committee slush funds helped stir the pot.

Former Alberta Finance Minister Ted Morton during his unsuccessful 2011 run for the Progressive Conservative leadership (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

A few fast fading neoliberal ideologues obviously concluded this was a good bandwagon to jump aboard. I give you Jack Mintz, the University of Calgary economist who warned in 2015 that Alberta was about to turn into Greece (it wasn’t), Ted Morton, another public-sector ideologue from the U of C and political has-been (the worst premier Alberta never had), and Danielle Smith, the former Wildrose Party leader (now a right-wing talk radio announcer).

This time, Dr. Mintz told us, Alberta had an even better case for its own Prairie Brexit than the U.K. did when it voted to leave the European Union in 2016. Never mind that Europe’s not a country and Brexit hasn’t exactly turned out to be a stellar success for Britain. Dr. Mintz called this idea “Albexit.” How lame is that?

Dr. Morton apparently counts on the fact he was once Alberta finance minister to be taken seriously. He told the Sun’s Mr. Bell that Alberta would be better off economically if it were a separate country, although he made sure, ahem, that we understood he’s not a separatist.

Dr. Morton was a signatory to the now-almost-forgotten Firewall Letter – the sovereignty-association manifesto penned in 2001 with such other notorious Alberta sovereignists as the then pre-prime-ministerial Stephen Harper, Tom Flanagan (yes, also from the U of C), and the then-chair of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, whose name escapes me at the moment.

Talk radio announcer Daniele Smith back in the days she was Wildrose Party leader, just before the bloom was off the rose and she crossed the floor of the Legislature to join the PCs (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

They got away with it that time without facing the mockery they deserved – although the shrewd old premier of the day, Ralph Klein, gave their paper a D- and tossed it into the recycler, where it belonged. So perhaps Dr. Morton figured he could just repeat the stunt.

But it might have been smarter for him to stick with complaining about equalization. That too dovetails nicely with Mr. Kenney’s campaign of discontent. And while the case against equalization isn’t much better, it has marginally less potential to actually harm our country. That may not seem like a big deal, of course, to someone who can return to California or Wyoming whenever he pleases, but it matters to those of us who call Canada our home and native land!

Ms. Smith, who is also a former Fraser Institute apparatchik and Calgary Herald journalist, huffed recently that “Canada should consider itself on notice. Albertans have had enough.”

Unfortunately for these commentators, the cause of Catalonia by the Cordillera – which I suppose would make Calgary Barcelona on the Bow – immediately turned into a flaming clown car.

Surely the proximate cause of that was the announcement Thursday by former UCP bad boy Derek Fildebrandt’s Freedom Conservative Party demanding full frontal sovereignty if Ottawa won’t immediately bow to his demands.

Freedom Conservative Party Leader Derek Fildebrandt when he was an agitator for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This is a problem, of course, since absolutely no one except Mr. Fildebrandt and a few hangers on take the FCP seriously. Even the Alberta Conservatives and the vast majority of voters think Alberta separatism is a joke, as pollsters whose interest was piqued by Postmedia’s mischief are starting to prove.

In case you missed it along with the so-called experts, Alberta is sovereign – at least within the zone the Canadian constitution defines as provincial jurisdiction. Accordingly, the relationship we have with the Rest of Canada could be called “sovereignty-association.” This is true of all provinces, including Quebec, by the way.

It’s how a federation works.

That, in turn, is how Alberta came to be the principal author of its own difficulties – despite the efforts of Postmedia’s underperforming political analysts and Alberta’s political elite to blame Mr. Trudeau and the current federal government for anything that goes wrong here.

Arguably, when they designed the thing in 1867, the Fathers of Confederation, God bless their testosterone-drenched little 19th Century boys’ club, divided the powers of the federal government and the provinces in just about the right way to make a federation work properly.

But then they had the sorry example of the United States before them, which in case you missed that lecture in your American History class, had a fairly major internal conflict between 1861 and 1865 caused by separatist sentiments, an obsolete and immoral economic model, and a poorly drafted constitution.

Indeed, as history shows, that is where separatism ends up more often than not – hate and bloodshed – which is why it’s fortunate for us, as the polls indicate, that the Alberta electorate ain’t biting.

As my fellow blogger Dave Cournoyer noted, “Alberta separatism is the political equivalent of a toddler’s temper tantrum.”

True enough. And as Mr. Cournoyer observed, it’s embarrassing, at times even cringe-worthy.

But the squall is over, folks. Watch for Postmedia to start backing away as soon as they start to realize how little traction this partisan claptrap has.

17 Comments to: Peak Separatism has passed in Alberta, no thanks to Postmedia’s sly campaign to undermine the Trudeau Government

  1. David

    December 24th, 2018

    The over the top talk about separatism never made any real sense and could end up being political kryptonite, particularly to any western conservative like Kenney with any national political aspirations.

    A separate Alberta would still be landlocked, dealing with neighbouring jurisdictions and courts still reluctant to proceed with pipelines and even less influence with Ottawa. The biggest horror for them, as I suspect even slow learning Federal Conservatives have now realized, would be 25 fewer or so reliably Conservative MP’s in Ottawa, which would tip the Federal scales towards more likely to future Liberal Federal governments.

    Now that the UCP and Federal Conservatives have stirred up such a frenzy of anger and brought up the threat of separatism again, they must realize this is potentially backing themselves into a political corner that is ultimately not at all good for them. It will be interesting and entertaining to see how they try to back out of it.

  2. J.E. Molnar

    December 24th, 2018

    Hustle, rinse, repeat — it’s been the separation mantra of the alt-right in Alberta since Preston Manning and the Reformers chimed in with: “The West Wants In” — replete with those god-awful, aggravating buttons.

    Reading the recent thoughts from the gaggle of regular separation suspects (including the shameless media provocateurs Climenhaga rightfully chastises) last week proved to be just a generational repeat of fanning the flames of Western alienation. Straight from the conservative playbook — wedge, smear and dog whistle politics gets the UCP red meat base fired up and salivating just enough to try and bite Justin Trudeau’s head off — politically speaking of course. For most Albertans, we will file this latest conservative separation rant under: “Been there — done that — got the T-shirt (or button).”

  3. Jeff

    December 24th, 2018

    We need to cast off Canada the same way a boxer casts off useless, disgusting fat before a weigh in.
    Enough of the exploitation. Alberta needs to shed the chains and grasp our destiny.
    Vive la Alberta libre!

    • Expat Albertan

      December 24th, 2018

      It’s l’Alberta. Might as well try to get something right.

    • Hana Razga

      December 25th, 2018


  4. Thom Pardoe

    December 24th, 2018

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but under our Constitution, does Alberta – or any province really – exist as a separate entity apart from the crown/country?

    By this, I mean, aren’t the provinces just administrative divisions who derive their ‘reality’ from the Constitution? Whatever was here before there was a Canada is irrelevant, since Alberta as a political, economic, and legal entity has only ever existed as a territory of the Crown and later the government of Canada. There was no ‘Alberta’ until there was a ‘Canada’.

    This differs from many of the American states, which actually did exist as more-or-less distinct entities prior to the creation of the American government, or their bid for statehood.

    I may be wrong about this, but either way, separatism is just a parlor trick to distract the tired, scared, and angry from the behind the scenes shenanigans of people who just want to be in power.

  5. Scotty on Denman

    December 24th, 2018


  6. Lars

    December 24th, 2018

    Something that puzzles me about Alberta separatists (and other Canadian variants as well) is what sort of relations they expect to have with the rest of North America if they do succeed in forming their own nation. It should be evident from the last year or so that the Americans view trade negotiations as zero-sum games; what would Alberta have to bargain with? Tar? And the rest of Canada would be perfectly happy, I think, to just sit by and watch the new nation get swallowed whole by the behemoth to the south.

    • David Climenhaga

      December 24th, 2018

      The whole purpose of the Canada project in 1867 and thereabouts was to prevent British North America from being absorbed into the United States. It may not seem like it, but it would be a mistake to imagine this instinct is not still embedded deep in our national DNA. Anyway, why would the United States absorb a place with an electorate at least half of which would reliably vote Democrat. So they can control our low-quality, tarry oilsands? They already do. Moreover, as the Obama Administration showed, dependence on this stuff is something the American elite plans to move away from as quickly as possible. Trump is an anomaly. He will soon be gone. No, separatism would be a ticket to turn into poverty stricken dump, ignored and rejected by one neighbour for one reason, and the other (on three sides) for another. Albertans would be begging to be taken back, although our rulers, perhaps, not so much, on the theory it’s better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. That’s from something called Paradise Lost, by the way. DJC

      • Lars

        December 25th, 2018

        I was thinking more along the lines of getting coerced into highly unfavourable trade deals than being made an American territory – you’re right, I believe, in a lack of desire on the part of the Americans to actually fly the flag over Alberta. But look at the recent, sorry, ongoing, Trump trade war. It was bad enough for a united Canada – what would it be like for an isolated Alberta?
        Merry Christmas, David. Keep up the good work.

  7. Rocky

    December 24th, 2018

    A remarkable photo of Ted Morton. I’ve never seen one like that. You have a knack, Dave, for snapping unflattering photos. He looks remarkably like Donald J. Trump, or perhaps DJT’s slightly skinnier brother. Unfortunately, the similarity doesn’t end there. Alberta is truly fortunate this man’s ambition to oust Ed Stelmach and snatch his job was never realized.

    • Bob Raynard

      December 25th, 2018

      Agent Orange 2.0? I hadn’t seen it before; now I wish I could unsee it!

  8. Bob

    December 24th, 2018

    Confederation within Canada is about trade. If the rest of the country won’t allow Alberta to get there products to market than were being pushed out. Even as an independent nation we may remain land locked but if we did leave how easy are we going to be for Canada to negotiate with afterwards on rail shipments? Do you think we’ll allow BC’s major gas pipelines to flow east under our newly formed country? Do you think that we may all of the sudden have an issue with the major hydro dam that is going g to be built on the peace river? Head waters start in AB and I bet we’re going to try and kill that project with court challenges. How about flights. Van to Toronto won’t be a thing any longer. You’ll have to go around. Alberta holds more cards that your acknowledging. Alberta is looking for fair treatment and we are not getting it from our view. What people forget is our opportunities have already been taken from us so leaving the country is quickly becoming our reality and only option for economic prosperity. We are tired of the takers in this country that would rather stick there hand out than grow there own economies . Quebec has enough shale gas to add 6000-15000 jobs per year from recent data. The problem is they have no incentive to try to better themselves with the current programs. When confederation was set up Quebec had 29% of the population and the entire west was only 27%, now the west has 34% and Quebec has 23% but yet proper representation in the House of Commons doesn’t exist for Alberta. We needs to have the proper representation so that our western voices can stop being ignored. Alberta has the 4th largest population and there are east coast provinces that have more seats than we do in the house. We feel like we’re fighting up hill with so many others happy to sit on the side lines and creat obstacles. We certainly don’t want to leave Canada but if my economic opportunities continue to be driven away from policy changes than what other choice do we have? The oil market is not in a recession in the rest of the world, only in Canada. This has been caused by the Liberal government and the killing projects that were already approved in the northern gateway and energy east. They changed the rules after approvals were given and the process followed NEB all of the sudden included impact studies rules that were outside of there governing body of the board. Changing goal posts made the investors worried and drove them away while the Liberals blamed others. It bothers me when media gets 600 million dollars from tax payers through Justin Trudeau and then expect people to believe they aren’t puppets for the left. As the article said maybe the separatist movement is seen as a joke right now but continuing to pretend the problem doesn’t exist and that people aren’t upset will only bring this situation to its boiling point faster. Merry Christmas Canada, it is going to be an interesting year for us all.

    • Bob Raynard

      December 26th, 2018

      That is quite a paragraph you have written, Bob. For the record,

      1. The headwaters of the Peace River are in BC.

      2. With 34 seats, Alberta has more members of parliament than all of Atlantic Canada combined

      The only way your comment about east coast provinces having more seats is correct is if you consider Quebec an east coast province, which technically it is since it has some Atlantic coastline, but it also has a larger population than Alberta, so it warrants more seats.

      With respect to air & rail traffic, I expect treaties would be developed to continue both. If we tried to play hardball we would probably come out the loser, when the Government of Canada prohibited Alberta airlines from using Canadian air space, and blocked train traffic from bringing goods into Alberta.

      Quebec’s refusal to allow fracking could easily prove to be good public policy, given the unknown effects it can have on ground water and seismic stability.

      Bob, try to remember that media commentators are motivated by ratings, not good policy.

    • Scotty on Denman

      December 26th, 2018

      No, Canadian confederation was about strategy: when the world’s first modern war machine was idled (the American Civil War had racked up more casualties than all other US wars, past and future, combined—combined!) in the late 1860s, and the military surplus was turned upon Aboriginal nations in the West, talk of manifest American destiny reared up again (a generation and a half had elapsed and the British sack of Washington DC in retaliation for the previous flight of destiny had been largely forgotten). British North American colonies began to get nervous. After all, Britain generally sided with the Confederate States—and there was, for those who remembered, that little matter of the Capitol being burned down in 1814—the argument that BNA posed a strategic threat to the US was plausible and the Americans were certainly powerful enough to conquer each colony in detail.

      Britain was still the commercial and mercantile world-hegemon so the East Coast and down to Montreal were protected. The confederation of the four colonies (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the two Canadas) afforded Britain many commercial benefits with respect trade with the US. The US Canada frontier was inhabited by the fiercest Crown loyalists in North America. The border had already been alerted to Fenian raids based in the US. It made both strategic and commercial sense to confederate eastern BNA. Trade between provinces was, like that between colonies, negligible.

      The next strategic task was to secure a border thence to the West Coast to avoid American outflanking. Time was of the essence since Britain had already ceded the Oregon Territory to the US in the 1840s and recently sold the Alaskan Panhandle to the Americans, threatening to pince the West Coast off from Canada. The threat was purely strategic since BC was a money-losing prospect from the British point of view and the Crown could just as well have abandoned the newly formed colony (the Hudson Bay commercial charter had been a near-wash ever since sea otter fir-trade had been exhausted). Securing the West Coast was of such strategic importance to Canada, however, that it practically bankrupted itself by paying various inducements to the majority ex-pat American population there (recently immigrated to the Cariboo gold rush) to confederate with Canada, two thousand miles away, and not the USA right across the border. However, BC was not on solid fiscal ground for decades after it confederated in 1871. There was no transCananda trade until the late 1880s (after the Northwest Rebellion had been put down by deploying Canadian troops through the USA—since there were no railways, nor even roads, across the trackless Prairies).

      Even after the transcontinental railways were built, trade between the USA and Canada dwarfed any between the provinces—indeed, dwarfed any bilateral trade anywhere, as it still does (with the recent near-exception of China, America’s single biggest supplier—yet Canada remains the largest bilateral trader, that is, China does not reciprocate equally in trade with the USA). In fact, North-South trade has dominated Canadian commerce since the beginning when Canada superseded Britain as history’s largest bilateral trader —and with the USA. Interprovincial trade has been lauded as a vital element of Canadian security and prosperity, but it certainly has never been all that important.

      The notion that Canada needs to protect itself from US trade policies is an old concern, but the fact is that nothing has ever interrupted the profitable relationship between the Greater Anglo-Saxons. During both the American Revolution and the War of 1812, bilateral trade between Britain—often by way of BNA—and the USA actually grew, despite the ostensible, strategic enmity. Similarly, during the Civil War, trade between the Union States and Britain continued to flourish and grow despite Britain’s favourable interest in the Confederate States. And when Canada plainly took strategic action against potential American manifestation of their supposed destiny—by confederating the four Eastern provinces, en bloc, and the single Western province thousands of miles away across unorganized, continental vastness, and spoiling American plans to connect Alaska to the Lower Forty-Eight—superlative bilateral trade with the USA switched from Britain to Canada and continued to grow and remains the largest in history to this very day. In short, nothing, not even war between each other, has dampened growth in trade. Donald Trump might threaten, but it’s as hollow as any previous threats or doomsaying ever was.

      Confedertaion’s border remains a strategic importance while huge trade crosses it daily. Confederation was never about commerce between provinces . It only comes up when the landlocked provinces don’t get to insinuate themselves into the big boys’ playroom.

  9. Sam Gunsch

    December 24th, 2018

    Authoritarian politics are in Alberta’s future because for decades the citizenry has been and continues to be misinformed and misled by this sort of crowd: ‘The whole thing was almost entirely ginned up in a couple of weeks by a parade of political commentators at Postmedia’s newspapers, basically providing background music for the campaign of United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney. The list includes Rick Bell, Lorne Gunter, Don Braid, David Staples, and Lawrence Solomon.’

    We’re probably doomed.

  10. Brett

    December 25th, 2018

    There is little doubt in my mind that Jason Kenney’s Primary goal is Ottawa. Alberta is just a stepping stone. This change in strategy was brought about by the unplanned defeat of Mr. Harper.

    So, now he will wait for Scheer to be defeated in the next year. Scheer hangs on for a year until he finally gets the message that the game is over, the usual knives are out, and Kenney’s team has sharpened those knives to a well honed point. That year gives Kenney time to bring his federal support up to full alert.

    In the interim, his campaign to be the next Federal Conservative leader will start ny being Premier of Alberta and making a name for himself by opposing the PM on anything and everything. Watch for his interaction with some other Premiers who he sees as rivals for the federal leadership.

    That is how I see it.


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