Western Separatist Rhetoric Inevitable

Western Separatist Rhetoric Inevitable

As published in the Victoria Standard: November 20, 2019.

The separatist rhetoric coming from the premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba is based on legitimate frustration with the federal government’s hypocrisy regarding their resource-based prosperity. Although genuine statehood for any of these provinces is a practical impossibility, a form of enhanced provincial autonomy was outlined by Stephen Harper’s so-called Firewall Letter of 2001. Harper suggested things like a provincial police force, an Alberta Pension Plan and an Alberta income tax. While Harper’s letter was Alberta-specific, its suggestions are attractive to many in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

To protect national unity, Ottawa must address Western concerns before separatist agitation causes the sort of national instability previously wrought by Quebec separatists. Considering the fact that global oil production is actually increasing, is inconceivable that Western premiers will abandon their desire for new oil pipelines and the expansion of existing ones. They remain fixated on Canada’s relatively small contribution to global CO2 levels and like the federal government, are hesitant about serious action on the human role in harmful climate change. There is no comprehensive provincial or federal plan to retrain and compensate those oil workers whose jobs would inevitably disappear in a greener economy. Thankfully, both the Canadian and Albertan economies are currently robust.

Concerning British Columbia, sovereignty has been a concern only to First Nations seeking recognition and autonomy within that province. Since all three Western provinces lack ocean coastlines with modern ports, British Columbian cooperation would be vital to the sovereignty of land-locked Alberta and Saskatchewan. Manitoba’s small Churchill port boasts North Atlantic access but is vulnerable to Arctic weather conditions.

A careful examination of the complex and massively-expensive province to nation process reveals major obstacles to the realization of full nationhood. Western premiers and so-called Wexit activists must be privy to the same discouraging facts that I found with relative ease.

Any Canadian province seeking to establish formal nationhood faces enormous financial, administrative and diplomatic challenges. For instance, converting Alberta’s public service to a federal model would be incredibly difficult given the complex legalities governing modern bureaucracies. Added to that would be the massive expense of creating and managing a new provincial police force and military service. At least Alberta and Saskatchewan would be spared the need for a navy.

The RCMP's and the Canadian Armed Forces’ exit from any newly-sovereign province would initially reduce that young nation’s tax base and also undermine its service industry. Military and other federal facilities would be stripped of all equipment and weapons for security and fiscal reasons, leaving the new state badly in need of arms and other military hardware.

As part of an amicable separation deal, the newly-independent states of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba would also be required to assume a burdensome share of Canada’s national debt. Arguing for leniency on the basis of their historically disproportionate contribution to Canada’s treasury would be easily-dismissed on Constitutional grounds.
It’s worth remembering that the most ardent Quebec separatists vainly sought debt-free sovereignty and related concessions from the rest of Canada. So far at least, Western separatists have been less ambitious in their declarations.

The United States government must be keenly interested in Western separatist rhetoric given its history of annexing large areas of Mexican territory as well as seizing the Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay enclave. The natural resources of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba would be a great prize for Trump’s isolationist America. The United States’ oil self-sufficiency would not prevent it from controlling access to Canadian bitumen as it has manipulated Middle East oil supplies by supporting cooperative dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The achievement of formal independence by any or all of Canada’s Western provinces would render them vulnerable to potential offers of U.S. statehood although their relatively small populations would a liability under the American political system.

Canada has survived a variety of separatist movements and only Quebec’s so-called sovereigntists have managed to leverage secessionist threats into tangible benefits. It is rather ironic to see Western separatists adopting the proven tactics of the province that derives such disproportionate and even hypocritical benefit from their wealth. Perhaps such mimicry is inevitable in the cynical world of political agitation.