Alberta Independence in 2020?
By Michael Wagner
In 2008, Dr. Roger Gibbins, then-president of the Canada West Foundation and formerly a long-time political science professor at the University of Calgary (where he specialized in western Canadian politics), wrote a short fictional account about an Alberta independence referendum in the year 2020. Although imaginary, the story is based on certain political realities in Canada and is definitely worth reading.
In this story, the price of oil rises continually, eventually reaching about $200 per barrel. Alberta becomes increasingly wealthy while the economy of central Canada declines, especially its manufacturing sector. The financial disparity between the western provinces (especially Alberta) and the eastern provinces becomes enormous.
Envious of Alberta’s wealth, the eastern provinces subsequently elect a new federal government under the slogan, “Canadian resources for Canadians.” Essentially, it’s the battle cry of a gang of thieves intent on robbing Alberta blind.
In Gibbins’ story, the new federal government “introduced a draconian series of tax measures to channel energy wealth into the national treasury. The need to address global warming was used as the rationale for sweeping carbon taxes, but the regional redistribution of wealth was the real driver.”
In other words, environmental concerns were used as a rationale to confiscate Alberta’s energy resources for the benefit of central Canada. In Gibbins’ account, however, the desire for financial gain is so overwhelming that Alberta’s environment soon becomes a casualty of Ottawa’s rapacious appetite. With resource management under direct federal control, Alberta becomes an ecological disaster. Ottawa has no qualms about destroying Alberta’s natural beauty in its quest for loot.
Seeing this, Alberta’s environmentalists begin to view the federal government as their great enemy. “The result,” as Gibbins writes, “was the emergence of a new and powerful political coalition in Alberta determined to lead Alberta out of Canada.” The environmentalists join with businessmen, farmers and ranchers in the movement for separation.
The story ends on the eve of the referendum vote, with separation being a likelihood. Alberta is about to choose independence.
Gibbins’ story is interesting and worthwhile, although the idea of environmentalists embracing separation seems far-fetched in 2018. Importantly, however, Gibbins also includes some factual information that is foundational to his story.
Most significantly, the background to his story is the clear legality of provincial separation under Canadian law. He writes as follows: “Back in the late 1990s, when the Quebec sovereignty movement was still alive and well, the Supreme Court and later Parliament, through the Clarity Act, recognized that the Government of Canada has an obligation to enter into negotiations if there is a clear expression of the will of the population of a province on whether the province should cease to be a part of Canada and become an independent state.”
He then adds: “Back in the 1990s, no one imagined that this option would be exercised by a province other than Quebec.” Nevertheless, the principles established to deal with Quebec also apply to each of the other provinces. Thus the legal pathway to Alberta independence has been created by the federal government itself.
If Albertans desire their province to become independent of Canada, they can achieve that through a referendum. A referendum on independence is a meaningful and viable option to protect Alberta from a hostile federal government. Considering that such hostile federal governments are a recurring problem, independence appears to be the only available alternative for patriotic Albertans concerned about the future of their province.
Gibbins, Roger. 2008. “The Curse of Alberta.” In Canada in 2020: Twenty Leading Voices Imagine Canada’s Future, ed. Rudyard Griffiths. Toronto: Key Porter Books.