One of those “Alberta Fights back” billboards (Photo: Global News via Twitter).

It’s time, my fellow Canadians, for us to have a frank talk about the T-word.

Albertans who have been paying attention to politics for the past few years cannot have missed the fact certain elements of the right-wing ideological ecosystem have been sloppy and irresponsible in their use of terms like “treason” and “traitor” to describe ideas and people they disagree with.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is frequently smeared by the Alberta right as a “traitor” (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It is impossible in this province not to have heard the right-wing rage machine refer frequently to both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former NDP premier Rachel Notley, in this manner.

Conservative politicians like Premier Jason Kenney have been careful not to use this kind of language themselves, but they certainly encourage such rhetoric and attitudes among their supporters when it suits them.

Of course, the “treason” of which Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Notley were regularly accused didn’t fit the definition in the dictionary or the law. Rather, it amounted to advocating tax and environmental policies with which their accusers disagreed.

Since both Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Notley were making such remarkable efforts to encourage the success of Alberta’s fossil fuel industry, it seemed at times their sin was not being extreme enough to suit the most hysterical climate-crisis deniers among Canada’s movement conservatives.

In the case of environmentalists and ordinary Canadians in other provinces who had their doubts about Alberta bitumen being shipped through their territory, some well-known voices on the right – including one prominent holder of the Order of Canada, for heaven’s sake – called for their fellow Canadians to be hanged for this crime!

Former Calgary Herald editorialist Danielle Smith, early in her political career (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Needless to say, this does not foster a positive attitude about Alberta ands its fossil fuel industry in other parts of Canada – but in the short term, from the Conservative perspective, it can be said to have helped get Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party Government elected, and therefore to have worked.

The defeat of Ms. Notley’s NDP in April, instead of calming things down, though, appears to have driven the right-wing rage machine to new levels of fury.

As is well known, Mr. Kenney has announced he will build a “war room,” to crush democratic dissent at home and, he blusters, elsewhere.

Still infuriated by their loss of control in Ottawa to Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals in 2015, Alberta Conservatives and their allies in other provincial governments have turned the focus of this fury on this fall’s federal election.

In their blind rage, they have raised the spectre of Alberta separatism and the destruction of Canada as a stick with which to beat the rest of Canada and its doubting citizens into submission, or, failing that, to keep voters inclined to support the federal Liberals at home.

Mr. Kenney and his ilk, of course, have once again been very careful about how they phrase such threats, casting themselves as defenders of national unity, which they argue can only be preserved if Alberta’s fossil fuel industry is given carte blanche to do whatever it pleases.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If legislation imposing more rigorous environmental approvals on fossil fuel infrastructure projects and protecting the environmentally sensitive North Coast of British Columbia are passed, Mr. Kenney claimed recently, “this will be inflaming a growing national unity problem in Alberta.”

But for this threat to have any weight, there must be a credible separatist threat to back it up, and Mr. Kenney’s cheering section at Postmedia, on social media and in the mysteriously (foreign?) funded infrastructure of right-wing political action groups has been quick to gin one up.

Postmedia scribes have apparently been working overtime churning out nonsense about the threat of separatism.

“Former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall has compared the government’s environmental assessment bill to kindling, fuelling the flames of Western alienation, and its oil tanker ban to lighter fluid,” wrote the foreign-owned newspaper chain’s John Ivison in a June 6 screed attacking Bills C-69 and C-48.

Calgary Herald Columnist Licia Corbella (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“Not even a pipeline will soothe Western ire when this legislation sails through the House,” said the headline on the piece, in case you’re wondering how Postmedia will play a federal decision to approve the Trans Mountain Pipeline today.

“The national unity crisis is real,” screeched Matt Gurney in the same publication on June 12. “Trudeau’s talking point on national unity is dangerously wrong,” said the headline.

Licia Corbella’s hyperventilating meditation on the same Brad Wall observations in the Calgary Herald the next day was headlined: “Will pipeline approval quell western separatism rise caused by Trudeau?” She even trotted out the imaginary “Laurentian elite.”

All this because Mr. Trudeau addressed the elephant in the room and observed, “it’s absolutely irresponsible for conservative premiers to be threatening our national unity if they don’t get their way.”

The day after Ms. Corbella’s effort, the Herald published an unhinged rant by its former editorial writer (and former Wildrose leader) Danielle Smith that bizarrely claimed, “Alberta’s energy industry has solved carbon dioxide,” and went on to trot out the warning that not giving Mr. Kenney his way will ensure “Canada is fractured.”

Then there’s Barry Cooper, another Postmedia perennial, musing on Global TV that we cranky Albertans aren’t just alienated, we’re practically separatists, also citing “Laurentian” boogeymen.

Alberta Economic Development Minister Tanya Fir (Photo: Government of Alberta).

And claiming to be BFFs with members of Mr. Kenney’s cabinet, Craig Chandler, the bad penny of Alberta far-right politics, reappeared on social media to proclaim, “most Albertans want to separate.”

Meanwhile, a mysteriously funded Conservative PAC is running billboards that ask, “Should Alberta ditch Canada?” They provide a link to a website that calls for a separation referendum.

Readers will get the picture.

Now, Mr. Chandler has a history of ludicrous comments and is not exactly a credible source. Nevertheless, he may be onto something this time. To give the man his due, he was campaign manager for Calgary-Peigan UCP MLA Tanya Fir, who is now Mr. Kenney’s minister of economic development.

Obviously, the financial and political oxygen for this fake separatist movement is coming from somewhere to achieve something.

The dictionary, meanwhile, defines treason as “the crime of betraying one’s country,” a notion that can include a multitude of sins.

The Criminal Code of Canada defines treason in part as waging war against Canada, or “any act preparatory thereto.” Treasonous activities defined in Section 46 of the Criminal Code may also include using force or violence to overthrow a provincial government, attacking the sovereign, disclosing “without lawful authority, military or scientific material to agents of a foreign state,” or aiding Canada’s enemies.

I am not, of course, suggesting that Mr. Kenney, other Conservative politicians or their overwrought journalistic supporters are guilty of treason, although I believe many of the things they say and do are extremely irresponsible and potentially harmful to Canada and Canadians. Nor am I saying that simply advocating separatism, no matter how ludicrous one’s arguments, is treason.

Still, given the words of the law passed by the Parliament of Canada, some of these Conservatives’ followers are starting to sail very close to the wind – and not just wing nuts on the fringe if Mr. Chandler is to be believed.

Given the frequent abuse of the T-word in recent Alberta political discourse, surely it’s now reasonable to ask: Just who are the real traitors here?

Join the Conversation


  1. Well, I hate to inform Albertans of the dingbat harumph variety still so enmeshed in the social mores of 70 years ago, but whatever scheme Kenney and the Brains Trust are dreaming up in war-rooms filled with wood smoke has so far been dashed on the rocks of a metaphorical seaswept shore and dissipated without effect. Not a soul of my acquaintance has paid the slightest bit of attention to yet more Alberta whining, a feature for fully forty years on the Canadian political landscape and which blindly passes them by as background noise, much as they do not really notice repeated climate change pronouncements.

    The populace is stuffed to the gills with messages from people advocating this and that, and rarely watches standard news broadcasts on TV – local news is far more popular. People watch Trump if he makes some outlandish assertion just to see if the world’s as nuts as they already thought it was. Everyone’s online, chattering away about nothing in particular for pleasure and avoidance of reality, and lining up their own news items if they even have an interest in that direction. Political disengagement reigns supreme. Who wants to be constantly surrounded by depressing BS and intoning bigheads, given their druthers?

    The exception is older folk, boomers, whose habits from decades of practice still encompass a spot of national TV news. A lot of progressive bloggers are older people who can for the most part still spell, write a sentence, organize paragraphs and present a logical unity of thought in a post. Younger ones tend to often present a Youtube video made by someone else that they more or less agree with. I personally cannot sit around waiting for some pontificator to get to the point, when an essay could be read in a quarter the time, and if some point becomes unclear then it is easy to refer back to an earlier paragraph. Searching back on a video or podcast is an exercise in frustration that makes one forget the point due to mechanics/lousy interfaces interfering with the message.

    So Ersatz Sub Pope Jason The First of Alberta can shake the secession flag as much as he wants and threaten doom, but I daresay the 88% of Canadians who aren’t Albertans couldn’t care less, barring some BCers who don’t feel they should be forced to buy into Alberta’s dream of exporting more diluted bitumen and nascent CO2 through their patch to non-existent Asian markets, like the Mayor of Burnaby, itself no mere hamlet. No amount of screaming and hollering about Alberta’s rights from Jason is going to change their minds just as unctuously pompous judicial decisions upholding some out-of-date provincial rights statute made 150 years ago and of little relevance to today’s realities hold little sway either.

    The situation may well come to the fore if the feds ill-advisedly bring in platoons of RCMP, or heaven forbid the troops, to basically shut down all protest as the new pipeline is built. The average social media chatterers will awake and wonder what the hell is going on. It will also become obvious that the dissenting portion of the public’s view is for naught against the state, and all the fine words of democracy amount to nothing when money’s at stake. Who knows how things will unfold? Will Canadians be as acquiescent to naked displays of power as Italians and Germans of 90 years ago were and keep their heads down, with the blame shovelled onto indigenous heads for convenience’s sake? I believe it’s all quite unclear since there are endless tangents for either side to exploit to confuse the masses. And nascent storm troopers with highly racist views panting to give anyone who disagrees a black eye or worse are massing on the sidelines scratching their armpitz, ready to rumble at any sign of discord to fulfil their blighted agendas.

    Personally, I don’t give two tosses if Alberta secedes. Nowhere else except in parts of Quebec have I ever encountered such incuriosity at how other Canadians live. All the commentary is inward-turned and after picking out the lint from their belly-buttons, the resulting exposed navel becomes of surpassing interest to the exclusion of anyone else’s.

    The constant din about the downturn of Alberta’s oil patch is belied by production figures which constantly trend upwards as anyone who examines production figures available on the NEB webpages can see. But nobody in power in Alberta wants facts, they want a fight, to win, to lord it over others as we further poison ourselves, deny Insurance Industry near-term forecasts of 20% less moisture in the West and 20% more in the East delivered by gut-wrenching storms even as the West burns and crops fail. Let us not debate facts, say those pols, let’s argue and fight instead and ignore the looming outcome of what they have allowed and caused to be done.

    We’ve reached a stage where many things are coming to a head. Will we decide to shoot ourselves in the foot and claim lt feels really good? Or will someone with a bit of gravitas and reason come to the fore and guide us through our travails? Past experience and history, which holds little interest for most these days and is thereby dismissed out of hand, argue for the darker force of special interests to prevail. Lots of money can buy lots of propaganda. We want to be supremely happy as we choke ourselves to death while in thrall to the quick buck desecrators of our sovereign resources. I mean, they owe us that much in return, right?

  2. All this pro-pipeline, pro-oil rage is bubbling out while, at the same time, environmentalists, West Coast Indigenous groups and political opponents of the Liberals, including the federal NDP and Green Party and the BC coalition-in-all-but-name government, are demanding the Trudeau government put a halt to expanding Trans-Mountain. Elizabeth May in particular is also demanding an end to fracking, which is an important component of oil & gas extraction activity in much of Western Canada, including right here in the Peace Country.

    There does not seem to be any middle ground between the vociferous proponents and equally vociferous opponents of TMX and everything it represents. So, the question that remains is, which decision the Trudeau government makes will lose it more votes, approving TMX or delaying it further? If they approve it, they risk losing important votes in BC, especially the voter-rich Lower Mainland, and in Quebec, which is—as always in Canada—the key to electoral success. If they delay it further, they risk losing votes in provinces that are already electoral wastelands for Liberals, i.e. Alberta & Saskatchewan.

    Which choice do you think they will make???

  3. Alberta Separation – what a great way to sell newspapers!

    Apparently when Ezra Levant was sued he used as his defense that his writing was for entertainment value. I wonder if Postmedia would use the same argument with regards to Danielle Smith. She has zero formal education in climate science, and I am sure universities would be happy to provide people with scads of expertise on the topic so people could actually become more informed about the topic, but Postmedia runs her ideas instead of someone smart.

    As David has acknowledged, true treason is a bit of a stretch, but since conservative supporters have brought up the word, it is fair play to respond in kind. In that vein, people might want to consider this:

    Climate change has already caused fire deaths in California and Portugal; a lot of the immigration related deaths we hear about are a result of human migration necessitated by climate change. In the face of that, could active climate change denial, ie, campaigning to prevent governments from trying to reduce it, be regarded as a crime against humanity?

  4. There is little doubt who are the traitors; they are conservatives of every stripe. They have proven themselves to be racists, misogynists, nationalists, traditionalists, corporatists and fascists. None of these characteristics are appropriate in the 21rst century.
    Now, they want to kill people and damage property so that a few foreign shareholders and some red-neck rig-pigs can continue their irresponsible and criminal lifestyles. In fact, our conservatives have a ‘War Room’ set up to further exactly this.
    What is war? Killing the enemy and destroying enemy property.
    Who are they going to war against? Everybody not actively supporting the petro-industry.
    What is at stake in this war? Your kids lives and the environment they will live (or die) in.

    Make no mistake, these people are deadly serious. You will have to make a choice.

  5. Thank you DC, great post. I think it could be added that essentially no one outside Alberta is likely to believe that there is such a thing as western separatism. No military, no airforce, no harbours. Separate from what?

    The last time western separatism reared its head was with the election of exactly one MLA representing the Western Canada Concept in 1982. The WCC took a provincial by-election in Olds-Didsbury winning a previously Social Credit seat. (Gordon Kesler, lost his seat in the ensuing general election later the same year, a near-sweep for the PCs which also saw the demise of Social Credit in the legislature).

  6. Separation talk in Alberta just tells me that Albertans as a whole have bought into the baloney successive conservative governments told us over close to 50 years. What I see is a collective tantrum over being told no…or not even that. Being told there are limits and consequences.

    The pundits and politicians in this province have stoked the flames much like the Republicans in the US. I do understand the angst and pain people here feel with the long, hard downturn in the O&G industry but this is a global situation that has little to do with politics but hard facts and science.

    Alberta would do very poorly as a land locked country. The reality of that needs to be front and center because the stuff I read from the “victims” reflects an idea that Alberta the country would be paradise.

  7. As the old school yard taunt goes, he who smelt it, dealt it.

    Also, for this inclined to think this way, (*cough* Derek Fildebrant) one cannot be a traitor to a province.

  8. It’s not treasonous to advocate separation from the Canadian federation—it is heinous, though, for Alberta’s government to threaten it in order to preserve its moribund and beset polity.

    One is not a traitor for advocating separation—but one is a hater, though, the way Canadian neo-right parties want their supporters to behave when challenged by politics, world dilbit market prices or rapid, CO2-induced climate change.

    Climate change is not hypothetical—but it is hypocritical for Conservative cooperatives to incite heinous haters to blame the rest of Canada for their own denialist and separatist sentiments.

    As for separatism: is it a viable option for a landlocked province—especially when the provocating issue is about moving resource through the jurisdictions it’s proposing to separate from? The most important element for Albertans to consider is that if the province wants to leave the federation, it may, but the rest of Canada (not sure if the ROC abbreviation is appropriate, here, given it was an Albertan-Reform coinage back when Quebec was the applicant and the “West-Wants-In”-ers chanted, “Good riddance!”) will get to have a say about it.

    And especially a say about the diplomatic and economic relationship the remaining federation would have with its new, internally enclosed neighbour.

    I entertained the question and came up with about sixty permutations or possible scenarios that included, naturally the American federation and potential separatist, landlocked states which might confederate (or something) with Alberta in order to purchase their own accesses to tidewater (possibly the Lakehead of Superior connected by binational seaways to the Atlantic), and other provinces which might join contiguously with Alberta to achieve the same or some other realization of their self-perceived potentials. In this process I realized that the Northwest Territories through which Alberta could access Arctic tidewater cannot entertain a co-separation proposal because it is not one of the provinces, they being sovereign, the only signatories to their respective confederations, and the only entities that may separate from the federation. Perhaps if this Territory confederated as a sovereign province first…?

    Ironically, the most plausible co-separatist province would be British Columbia, chuck full of “treasonous traitors” as it is.

    I concluded that Alberta separatism is barely viable and most unlikely.

    But the real question is how viable is the moribund neo-right as it tightens its separatist bull’s arse.

    With fly season upon us, it’s sure to tighten some more.

    1. “ …As for separatism: is it a viable option for a landlocked province—especially when the provocating issue is about moving resource through the jurisdictions it’s proposing to separate from?… ” On that point, the separatists in Alberta have claimed that separation would in fact increase Alberta’s ability to push a pipeline across BC territory, allegedly because of some UN protocol that they claim gives small, landlocked countries right-of-way to ocean access, or “tidewater” to use the hackneyed terminology. I haven’t investigated this claim, simply because it seems implausible, but that’s what they say.

      Of course, the kind of people that are strongly for Alberta separation are also the kind that buy into conspiracy theories about the UN & the “New World Order”, so I can’t see an appeal to the UN being a viable solution for them to take up anyway.

  9. It seems to me treason is generally refereed at the national level, not at some sub national jurisdiction level. Therefore, if the national government does not do what some provincial or regional politician wants, it is not the national government being treasonous. If a provincial or regional politician threatens to separate from that nation because they do not get everything they want, it certainly isn’t the national government that is the one being treasonous.

    There is a saying about history repeating itself instead as a farce, and I think this is what is happening with some not too bright conservatives now in the west, attempting to copying Quebec’s separatist tactics, because that worked so well economically for Quebec, didn’t it? Several decades of high deficits, high taxes, high unemployment and many head offices leaving Montreal for Toronto which has never threatened separatism. Does Calgary really want to go down the path Montreal did?

    Of course Quebec’s bargaining power, however much it had, boiled down to two things, Alberta does not have – proximity to Ontario and it relative size. Also the debate in Quebec was mostly about provincial autonomy and powers within its own borders, not about trying to impose its way outside of its own boundaries. These distinctions are probably lost on the current proponents of western separatism who view it as a useful threat – sort of like little kids think when they tell their parents they are going to hold their breath until they get what they want (a pipeline across BC, a change of federal government, etc…). Most parents know how to deal with this sort of foolishness and I think the rest of Canada will react in much the same way.

    1. Remoteness is Alberta’s (and Saskatchewan’s) distinction, obviously and primarily remoteness from tidewater. But the kind of remoteness the UCP avails is also the historiographical and mythological, the same kind that envisioned the Mormon ‘Promised Land’ of Deseret, or a homeland for Métis-‘Indian’ political alliance, or a haven from Russian persecution, or, indeed, a Canaan of the New World.

      Remoteness is also the UCP’s conundrum and absurdity: it’s wanted to rally partisan supporters to the ‘everybody’s-out-to-get-us’ ilk to the circled wagon laager in the western prairie fastness, but at the same time it’s the thing Alberta wants ameliorated by transportation links to the outside world, if not by jurisdictional partnership like being part of a larger federation.

      As any map of North America shows, Alberta has already ventured farther north from the 49th parallel than any other part of Canada, with networked transport-links, roads, rail and pipelines fanning out in every direction, excepting the north of which Alberta is the natural and infrastructural frontline when northern development eventually does happen. This Alberta-based network gives the impression of a place that doesn’t want to be alone.

      In this sense Alberta is like Quebec—or perhaps any other place in Canada, excepting BC (owing to its tidewater proximity to California and East Asia, and original, perennial aloofness to Canada, some of the things Alberta covets )—where ardently demanded, outright Quebec independence cooled to “sovereignty association” when push came to shove: ‘separate’ from Canada except for all the stuff that makes federal partnership so advantageous: a larger national bank and stable, respected currency, an experienced standing armed force and long-cultivated, respected international diplomatic and economic relationships. Not even the gigantic, populous and venerable Habitant Homeland really wanted to be so alone, and settled for recognition of its cultural, historical distinctiveness in the end.

      The chance of that recognition happening to Alberta is, shall we say, much more remote.

  10. Con’s will say anything in the alternate reality they are creating with Postmedia assistance. Like Trump and Fox News.

    Scheer: ‘ I don’t believe he actually wants it built.’

    Conservatives have gone down the Trump-style with more today from Scheer about Trudeau, on TMX.


    “I doubt his [Trudeau’s] sincerity because he hasn’t actually done anything. Show me the pipeline. He doesn’t support our energy sector … he failed to tell Canadians on what day construction would actually start,” Scheer said.

  11. Ms. Smith’s claim the Alberta energy industry has “nearly” perfected zero-emissions natural gas sounds like magical thinking.

    Yes carbon dioxide can be combined with other things to make synthetic fuel and materials, but that comes at a cost in more energy use. This is interesting in a laboratory setting but hardly commercially viable anytime soon. However, it does make for a “gee-whiz-oh wow” presentation.

    More realistically, Ft. Mac could cook their tar using cheap BC hydro power from the new Peace River dam, but doing that is no free perpetual motion machine either. That junior high school physics is just so unpleasant.

  12. One of the most significant examples of manipulation of the media occurred in the fall of 1990 when a group of PR firms in the US used the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter to relate a completely false story about Iraqi troops murdering Kuwaiti babies who were torn from incubators. The story of the Rendon Group, Hill and Knowlton, and other professional [email protected]#*ers deliberately misleading Americans in order to gain public acceptance for the Desert Storm show was eventually well-publicized, and one would think that anyone in the news media would be familiar with the scandal. But not Licia Corbella. In the lead-up to the 2003 illegal destruction of Iraq, Corbella reiterated the Kuwaiti preemie story as common knowledge of the wickedness of Saddam Hussein.
    There is little evidence that Corbella is any worse than the other Kon-bots referred to in the article.
    Some of them are creepier than they are stupid. This little bit about Cooper’s Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda pretty much sums up the role of the University of Calgary:
    “The invitation came from E. Burke Inlow, another American, and the first head of U of C’s political-science department. An expert on Iran and the Far East who died last year, Inlow himself had been recruited directly from an assignment with the Pentagon. There, according to his son, Brand, a Calgary lawyer, he was engaged in “cultural work—providing intelligence to people we (the U.S. government) were sending to the Middle East.””

    It’s hard to say whether Chandler is the single worst thing ever imported from Ontario, given the Stockwell Day and Harpo himself are contenders for the title

  13. Conservatives willing to ape Trump to win elections…

    EXCERPT: Responding to Trudeau’s announcement on Tuesday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer went so far as to suggest that Trudeau didn’t even really want the pipeline built — which comes close to suggesting the last few years in federal politics have been part of a very elaborate, and very expensive, ruse.

    Trump-style i.e. ‘just make shit up’.

    CPC and UCP have noticed Trump’s popularity with his base has not been hurt by just total BS.

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