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

Maybe Canada needs a Clarity Act for pollsters’ questions intended to gauge the level of support for provincial secession from Canada.

The Clarity Act, of course, is the federal law passed in 2000 in response to the scary 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum that came within 1 per cent of destroying Confederation based on a murky question.

Former federal intergovernmental affairs minister Stéphane Dion, possibly the best prime minister Canada never had (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Among other things, the law states that any question not solely referring to secession was to be considered unclear, and to be valid the referendum question on independence must be clear. It also says all provinces and First Nations must be part of any separation negotiation, and that an undefined clear majority of eligible voters within the province must support secession.

To a significant degree, it was the work of Stéphane Dion, then Jean Chrétien’s minister of intergovernmental affairs and later the victim of a relentless Conservative campaign of vilification. He is probably tied with the late Robert Stanfield for the title of best prime minister Canada never had.

The province where separatism is now supposedly blossoming is Alberta, the spoiled child of Confederation. Conservative Premier Jason Kenney has been trying to make it appear there’s a viable separatist movement here, the better to discomfit Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Liberal (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In this seditious effort, spread through the use of social media memes and videos, a pious Mr. Kenney casts himself as national saviour. “I will never give up on Canada,” he said in a recent video — at least as long as there’s a chance he can be prime minister. All the while, he has been ginning up a fake national unity crisis founded on the ludicrous notion that if Mr. Trudeau and his Liberal Party are re-elected, Albertans will stream to the exits.

This cynical and unpatriotic partisan tactic by a guy who claims to be “a Canadian patriot” has been aided and abetted by a couple of polls purporting to show support for secession at levels that are, quite literally, unbelievable.

This has been amplified by a cascade of stories in the U.S.-owned Postmedia newspaper chain, which dominates the press in Alberta with an unending stream of anti-Liberal and anti-NDP bias, that appear intended to give these dubious claims credence. (New separatist parties are springing up like dandelions. One of them, I kid you not, wants to call itself the Wexit Party!)

Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt (Photo: Canadian Lacrosse Association, Twitter).

After an Abacus Data poll in late July supposedly showed a quarter of Albertans favoured separation, Postmedia’s story made no mention of Abacus CEO David Coletto’s observation that separatist sentiment “is not at a level to cause serious concern.”

“The conversation about Alberta separatism that has been in the news lately clearly has some roots within the province, but it is very much a minority view at the moment and almost exclusively within the UCP and federal Conservative Party voter group,” said the Abacus commentary on the survey.

Well, if 25 per cent of Albertans actually do favour separation, that would be cause for legitimate concern. However, this is hardly credible. (The finding that 86 per cent of Alberta separatists think climate change is a hoax is perhaps less surprising.)

“Most people in Alberta don’t believe that Canada has been a bad deal for the province, including most of those who voted for Jason Kenney and most of those intending to vote for Andrew Scheer,” the pollster also observed. “There are political hazards in stoking resentment: while a minority of Alberta conservatives cheer talk about separation; for most, it’s a project they reject.”

Abacus Data CEO David Coletto (Photo: Abacus Data).

Remember also, this was an online panel of 1,500 Canadians. Abacus doesn’t appear to say how many of these were Albertans. Abacus has not yet responded to my query about this. So let’s just guess that it was 150 or fewer. From such numbers meaningful polls can be conducted, but this one sounds so unlikely it’s safe to assume no one who answered who wasn’t in on the Conservative agenda had considered the real costs of separation.

As for the Angus Reid Institute poll in February that Mr. Kenney’s supporters have claimed shows 50-per-cent support for secession, that’s not what it actually says. The meaning of the question — “to what extent do you consider Alberta separatism to be a real possibility,” with “could happen” as an option — is ambiguous enough to please even Lucien Bouchard.

None of this, though, has stopped Mr. Kenney from trying to peddle his fatuous claim Mr. Trudeau is trying to push Alberta out of the country — you know, by buying is a $5-billion pipeline and being prepared to pony up another $10 billion to expand it, just because we want it, never mind the fact the business case for the thing is mainly fantasy.

The late Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard (Photo: Simon Villeneuve, Creative Commons).

The implication the Alberta premier is trying to foist on the rest of Canada is that if they dare not to elect a Conservative government, the fate of the planet be damned, Alberta will separate and take all its money with it. His long game strategy is probably to hope the Liberals lose lots of seats, but not quite enough to lose the government. Then he can decamp for Ottawa to “save the country,” not really being all that interested in running Alberta anyway.

Mr. Kenney’s big threat in the event he doesn’t get his way? He’ll hold a politically and constitutionally meaningless referendum on … equalization, a program founded on contributions from all Canadian taxpayers that currently uses a formula put in place by the Stephen Harper’s government when Mr. Kenney was part of it.

When Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt echoed the words of the Abacus Data poll analysis on Sunday, Mr. Kenney’s official office Twitter account responded with a characteristically sophomoric attack. (This is the Trump-style account that blamed Mr. Trudeau for a federal research grant approved on Mr. Harper’s watch in 2015, and when exposed deleted the tweet without comment or apology.)

“Jason Kenney : ‘I am a Canadian patriot & am against separation,’” tweeted @UniteAlberta. “So called ‘political scientist’ : ‘Kenney stoking separatism’ What. A. Joke.”

Perhaps the way Abacus Data’s and Dr. Bratt’s similar observations rang true struck a nerve with the sensitive and ambitious Mr. Kenney’s digital Praetorian Guard.

After all, being exposed as a conniving politician willing to put our country’s future at risk for short-term political gain isn’t really a good look for a guy who still harbours his own prime ministerial ambitions. D’ya think?

Join the Conversation


  1. What Mr. Kenny should have said if he was being candid was probably “I will never give up on using threats of separatism to advance my political career, as long as it can be done in a somewhat plausibly deniable way”.

    Whipping up a frenzy against the Federal Liberals seemed to help the UCP win the Alberta election, so I am sure Kenney will go to that well again and often. He probably will not push it as hard during the upcoming Federal election, as I think he doesn’t really want Scheer to win or even do well enough to stick around. Therefore the crisis will really be ginned up again after the Liberal win re-election, when Mr. Kenney can ride into Ottawa from the west and somehow present himself as the saviour of national unity. Think of it sort of as a Lucien Bouchard in reverse.

    Now Kenney will need a straw man to do his dirty work – sound familiar? Unfortunately, I think Jeff Callaway will not be available this time and probably not interested having got burned once already by being Kenney’s dupe. The UCP will need to find someone to voice the separatist sentiment they want to stir up, that they can fund and control. Probably not someone with too much credibility, but that can get some media attention to give some appearance of reality. Perhaps a “renegade” UCP back bencher or maybe Fildebrandt will patch up his differences with Kenney.

    1. INHO, the future premier of Alberta avoided the CPC leadership race not because of any apparent JT-momentum—which didn’t discernibly happen until well into the 2015 election campaign just four years ago; rather, the future premier didn’t want his regressive bile diluted by that of nearly the whole slate of leadership candidates whose spiteful and divisive rhetoric, easily recalled now by ScheerCon rivals for deployment in the current federal race, had driven moderate contenders from the field and moderate conservative-minded voters to other parties, and remains a negative in Con-electability terms—not when he could spew his own bile without competition, unadulterated, and have it boil into an electability positive in Alberta.

      I don’t think Alberta is some kind of proving ground or spirit mountain that would viably descend a provincial politician upon the whole of Canada as Prime Minister. It’s more like a safe redoubt whence the neo-right can observe, plan and train for its victorious return to federal power, its mythological mainstay until that ‘glorious day.’ One difficulty: the vengeful imagery neo-rightists use to keep their base inside the wagon laager and on-script until that day of self-righteous justice is still a hard sell in the ROC+Que. (or AOC—Alta.).

      The repellant tRump presiduncy has the perverse effect of reinforcing the growing repugnance middle-of-the-roaders have for the very same rhetoric the Canadian neo-right appears to have adopted from our southern neighbours’ own, critical dichotomy.

      1. “A safe redoubt whence the neo-right can … plan … “ Hmmm… this sounds suspiciously like Bavaria in the 1920s … not that I disagree. Is Calgary’s Petroleum Club destined to become Alberta’s Bürgerbräukeller?

  2. Jason Kenney has to be feeling cranky about how things have turned out. Kenney was Stephen Harper’s right hand man, and generally regarded as the CPC heir apparent leader when Harper retired. Justin Trudeau appeared so unbeatable in the 2015 election, however, Kenney thought he would spend the rest of his career in opposition so he looked elsewhere. Four years later poor Jason must really be regretting that decision.

    I do wonder how much that explains Kenney’s nearly visceral dislike of our prime minister. (He has the depth of a finger bowl etc.) I really do wonder if at some time before the 2015 election, Kenney and Harper had some kind of long-term strategy discussion where the plan emerged that after the CPC won the 2015 election, Stephen Harper would retire in, say 2017, and Jason Kenney could ascend to the throne. Remember that by 2017 Mr. Harper would have been PM for over a decade. Is it only Justin Trudeau’s meteoric rise five years ago that has allowed us to avoid Prime Minister Jason Kenney running for reelection?

    1. Of course an established politician would hate Trudeau. Trudeau’s success is entirely due to his last name and the master manipulation skills of Gerald Butts. Trudeau’s only skills are looking good and having a good time. Like him or not, it would be tough not to claim that Kenney is where he is due to hard work.

      All of the party leaders are weak. The people behind Scheer’s curtain, i.e. remnants of the Harper apparatus, are less evil than those behind Trudeau, i.e. Telford and Butts. Singh doesn’t even have someone behind the curtain which is why he flounders.

    1. Not really. At least one PM newspaper can accurately asses Kenney’s importance.

      That said, in a sense I am sorry to hear that the rest of the country isn’t being exposed to Kenney’s idiocy, so they will know better than to consider him PM material.

  3. “The finding that 86 per cent of Alberta separatists think climate change is a hoax…”

    This clearly shows what sort of ‘information’ these people take in to inform their opinions. Clearly their information source does include anything that discusses the difficulty the UK is having from just withdrawing from a trade deal, if they think a couple of landlocked provinces can just walk away.

    I do wonder how much of the problem is from radio commentary. If you think about the context that someone listens to radio commentary, it is usually while they are doing something else – driving, operating machinery, doing house work etc. As such, they are only listening with half their attention, while the other half focuses on what they are doing. In this context there really isn’t any opportunity to run what is being said on the radio through a BS filter; the information just gets accepted as fact.

  4. This is pure politics meant to distract Albertans from the real issues..current and anticipated. Much the same as the Premiers ridiculous suggestion that his salary be cut by 10 percent and MLA’s salaries be cut by 5 percent.

    I want a premier who focuses on problem solving and growing our economy. Neither of these actions will serve Albertans well. Smoke and mirrors.

    Surely Albertans are not so dense as to swallow this nonsense.

    1. Kenney has focus on the two biggest problems facing Alberta: a hostile investment climate and unsustainable provincial spending levels. Non-renewable resource income is unlikely to rebound given the massive natural gas surplus in the US. Kenney needs to reduce per capita spending from its Canada if not world leading levels. The MLA pay cut is the opening salvo of rolling back all provincial, municipal, school, university and healthcare salaries by 5%. That action will only close about $1.5B of the deficit. Further 8p

  5. Yes ,the sputtering denial of not using the Premier’s office to stoke the fires of separation to get at another level of government is a reminder of “thou protesteth loudly.” And doing it to play to the base?
    “A shameful strategy devoid of leadership and, the worst type of politics.”
    Well, some of us knew a Kenney UCP was going to be a trainwreck. Time will tell as to how much worse it will be.

  6. Maybe Jason Kenney should check with Preston Manning to see if he has any of those: “The West Wants In” buttons from the last farcical Western separatist tantrum. What an embarrassing joke this premier has become. Sad.

    1. Most people in Alberta/Canada don’t know it but Jason Kenney takes his marching orders from Preston Manning followed by Stephen Harper and the Religious Right. Preston Manning’s Reform Party could never win in B.C. and took over the B.C. Liberal party fooling B.C. voters thinking they were voting Liberal when they voted Christy Clark a Reform Party Con. Alberta got fooled again by voting in Jason Kenney another Con.

  7. As I look at the commentary on the upcoming federal election one thing is very obvious, for Justin Trudeau to repeat as Prime Minister votes in Quebec will be more important than ever resulting in a campaign which will pander to eastern Canada. This is certainly nothing new and only people wearing ideological blinders could fail to see this. It is also very obvious that Alberta’s future ability to balance it’s budget with ever increasing energy royalties is not going to materialize. I think this cold realization combined with increasingly restrictive federal energy policies that will occur under a second term of Justin Trudeau will certainly make more and more Albertan’s question their place in Canada. For many years I have watched as Quebec essentially and very effectively blackmailed Canada with the threat of separation, I see no problem with Alberta employing the same game plan. Enjoy your day.

    1. The problem is that Alberta will always lack political influence. Despite having the 3rd largest economy and 4th largest population among provinces, Alberta has the fewest MP’s and Senators per capita. It also lacks institutions like media outlets, established universities and old money to influence government. With minimal leverage, Alberta’s only tack against hostile federal policy is to out work and out smart, which was key to the Harper government’s success.

      1. In fact, as of the 2011 census, Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario have the same number of seats per capita, to within rounding error. Your statement is numerically correct, but very misleading. Deliberately misleading, I would say.

        The relative ages of Universities seems a strange factor to fixate on. The University of Alberta is one of the oldest Universities in Canada, founded in 1908, the same year as UBC; yeah, UT, McGill and few others are older, because Ontario and Quebec were established long before Alberta was dreamed of. Dalhousie was founded in 1818, 9 years before UT’s first incarnation as King’s College, and you don’t hear Ontario whining about that. You’d also need to present some evidence that this factors as such conferred some disadvantage to Alberta.

        Finally, what federal policies specifically do you consider “hostile” to Alberta, and why?

      2. Actually, the seat counts in the House of Commons fairly accurately reflect the population differentials amongst our provincial & territorial jurisdictions, allowing for some rounding error. Remember, there are about as many people in the Greater Toronto Area alone—the so-called “GTA”—as in all of Alberta; is it any wonder, then, that there are so many more seats in Ontario than in Alberta? Remember Sir John A & “rep by pop”, which in 1867 was a significant departure from the status quo ante, when Canada East and Canada West each had equal numbers of seats despite their differing population numbers. This principle still holds in our country, and is the reason Ontario has so many seats. It’s no different, in principle, from the House of Representatives south of the border, which has far more members from California (53) than, say, Wyoming (1).

        Yes, it is true that seat counts in the Senate are inequitable, but the Senate is not the chamber of Confidence and Supply, and does not regulate the fiscal position of the Government. Reapportioning Senate seats would also entail opening a Constitutional can of worms, which Canadians have had no appetite for since the Mulroney years and the failed Meech Lake & Charlottetown accords.

  8. Kenney has focus on the two biggest problems facing Alberta: a hostile investment climate and unsustainable provincial spending levels. Non-renewable resource income is unlikely to rebound given the massive natural gas surplus in the US. Kenney needs to reduce per capita spending from its Canada if not world leading levels. The MLA pay cut is the opening salvo of rolling back all provincial, municipal, school, university and healthcare salaries by 5%. That action will only close about $1.5B of the deficit. Further progress will require indefinite wage freezes, hiring restraint and some outsourcing / choice to break the bargaining power of public sector unions.

    1. Or they could just increase taxes. Alberta has managed to have the lowest taxes in Canada because of energy royalties, but now those royalties are dwindling and that revenue needs to be replaced. Non-petro state provinces use higher taxes to provide services. According to U of C economist Trevor Tombe, Quebec’s tax rates are roughly double Alberta’s; if we chose to adopt that province’s tax level we would have a surplus of $14 billion.

      1. Bob I did a quick bit of research to compare Alberta’s and Quebec’s tax rates. Personal tax in Quebec top rate for over $104765 income is 25.75%, in Alberta the top personal tax rate is 15% over $303900. So in Quebec when you combine the top provincial rate plus the top federal rate of 33% you would pay 58.75% income tax, imagine that. The corporate tax rate in Quebec is 11.6% and in Alberta the corporate tax rate was recently lowered to 11% from 12%. In Quebec the provincial sales tax is 9.75% and in Alberta 0. A couple other points of interest in 2017 according to Statscan the GDP of Quebec was $417.2 billion and in Alberta it was $331.9 billion. Provincial budgets, in Quebec they will spend $113 billion in 2019-2020, keep in mind over 10% of Quebec’s budget comes from $13 billion in federal equalization payments. No new budget yet for Alberta but we spent just over $56 billion in 2018-2019.

        Bob I would agree that Quebec’s tax rates applied in Alberta would significantly increase revenue, a 9.75% sales tax would in theory raise just under $10 billion and erase our deficit. I was interested to see that Quebec has a fairly reasonable corporate tax rate. Enjoy your day.

    2. Oil prices are not likely to rebound anytime soon and natural gas prices will be low for a long time. The PC’s under the leadership of Ralph Klein brought Alberta to this mess. He stopped all infrastructure spending such as road building, schools and hospital construction at a time Alberta had half the population and the last 8 years Alberta has been trying to catch up, plus natural gas prices were at record highs which made it easy for RK to balance the budget. If Kenney follows RK’s lead Alberta will be in a greater disaster situation 5 to 10 years from now, Kenney has already blown a 4.5 billion budget deficit by giving corporates a reduction in taxes with no guarantee that will benefit the Alberta economy. Under the previous government Alberta had the 3rd lowest number of provincial employees per population in the country. And RK’s outsourcing never worked and cost Alberta billions, just check the government financial records.

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