Notley rejects separatism while vowing to fight on
Premier Rachel Notley knows exactly where she stands on this Alberta separatism thing. “I say that my Canada includes Alberta, and my Alberta is part of Canada,” she says in a year-end interview.
“We have an obligation as political leaders to find a solution. . . . Nobody wins in the (separatist) scenario . . . what we need to do is continue to push the federal government to get the job done and we have to show leadership in Alberta to get the job done.”
Polls show nearly 70 per cent of Albertans oppose the idea of separation — and most do so vehemently. It’s still remarkable, though, that nearly 25 per cent of those surveyed had a positive attitude toward separation.
Separatist feeling is a persistent theme in Alberta history when national conflict flares. But it’s often a fleeting fancy.
No matter the provocations — and they are exasperating today — the separatist idea always founders on impracticality.
Alberta’s biggest modern frustration is lack of access to tidewater. Separation won’t bring an ocean any closer. It would, however, make negotiations for ocean access a great deal more difficult.
As a province, Alberta has legal and constitutional access to every coast, no matter how theoretical that seems at the moment. As a separate country, however, Alberta would have no rights at all and would need to be negotiate them all over again.
There’s also the fact that under the 1998 Supreme Court ruling on the federal Clarity Act, secession of any province is possible but complicated.
For all those reasons, even public figures who foment separatist feelings don’t actually advocate it.
“I do not believe independence is the answer today, but the status quo is unacceptable and merely complaining about it not enough,” says Derek Fildebrandt of the Freedom Conservative Party.
Celebrity investor W. Brett Wilson says: “My first choice is to renegotiate Confederation. My second choice is to leave Confederation.”
Despite all this, we should never imagine Alberta is powerless in Confederation. Every federal cabinet minister with a functioning brain recognizes that without Alberta’s resources, revenues and taxes, this country would face a massive deficit, rising debt, weakened services and lower standard of living.
The challenge for any Alberta premier is to change the national environment so that Alberta’s resources are welcomed rather than shunned.
To those who talk of independence, Notley says, “I get the frustration and anger, trust me. I also get the worry and the anxiety, because for a lot of folks who are frustrated and angry, it’s paired with the fact that they’re unemployed or underemployed.
“All I’m saying is that as gratifying as it might be to make the threat (of separation), it is not actually the path to the solution.”
There’s certainly plenty of frustration yet to come. Notley does not expect the Trans Mountain pipeline to be under construction before Alberta’s 2019 spring election.
“It’s more likely to be the fall . . . ,” she says, noting there’s a great deal that Ottawa isn’t able to do until the National Energy Board issues another certificate for the pipeline.
After that, “my ask of the federal government is that they put absolutely every single one of their best people on it, that there is one desk with nothing else on it except that file, and that they put every single resource into that file that it needs to have, and they put more in to make sure they get it right — and then right again, and then more right.”
Popular anger and even separatist pressure can help a premier with an argument like that. But we’re a long way from independence being a real prospect.