Not­ley re­jects sep­a­ratism while vow­ing to fight on

The Delhi News-Record - - OPINION - DON BRAID [email protected]­

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.

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