Stephen Harper, the 2000 Federal Election, and the Case for Alberta Independence
Since the 1970s, some very thoughtful and intelligent people have expressed concerns about Alberta’s future within Canada. Beginning in the 1980s, one such person was Stephen Harper, the future prime minister. He was so concerned, in fact, that he helped to form and build the Reform Party of Canada, which was initially created to provide a voice for the West within the Canadian parliament.
Unfortunately, as the Reform Party grew, the original western emphasis of the party became eclipsed by the desire to elect a national government. Its purpose changed as it became a vehicle aimed at forming a conservative government in Ottawa, ultimately emerging as the Canadian Alliance with Stockwell Day as leader. However, even as an aspiring pan-Canadian party (whether in its Reform or Canadian Alliance mode), it was widely viewed as a western party.
The western nature of the party drew derogatory comments indicative of the attitudes of the Eastern Establishment. During the 2000 federal election, Liberal leader Jean Chrétien said, “I like to do politics with people from the East. Joe Clark and Stockwell Day are from Alberta. They are a different type. I’m joking. I’m serious.”
Chrétien’s comment clearly indicated that he believed Albertans were notably different from eastern Canadians, and not in a good way. As the prime minister of Canada, he was making a sharp distinction between different kinds of Canadians, and he viewed Albertans as somewhat inferior to easterners.
The results of the 2000 election were very disappointing to most westerners because so many of us had voted for the Canadian Alliance. The Canadian Alliance elected 66 MPs but only 2 were from ridings east of Manitoba.
In the aftermath of that election, Stephen Harper made the following perceptive observation:
“Alberta and much of the rest of Canada have embarked on divergent and potentially hostile paths to defining their country. Alberta has opted for the best of Canada’s heritage—a combination of American enterprise and individualism with the British traditions of order and co-operation. We have created an open, dynamic, and prosperous society in spite of a continuously hostile federal government. Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status, led by a second-world strongman appropriately suited for the task.”
Clearly, he saw Alberta and Canada as travelling along separate trajectories. They were going in opposite directions.
In light of these divergent paths, Harper made the following suggestion:
“Westerners, but especially Albertans, founded the Reform/Alliance to get ‘in’ to Canada. The rest of the country has responded by telling us in no uncertain terms that we do not share their ‘Canadian values.’ Fine. Let us build a society on Alberta values.”
Stephen Harper was never a separatist and he would undoubtedly repudiate separatism. He simply wanted Alberta to exercise more of its constitutionally authorised powers, especially on matters such as pensions and provincial police.
Nevertheless, someone with a separatist inclination could easily find inspiration from his words for an independent Alberta. Indeed, Harper’s analysis lends itself to a separatist interpretation. If the situation is as bad as he says (and it is), then establishing an independent Alberta seems to be the most logical solution. In a sense, his comments about Alberta’s situation in the wake of the 2000 federal election provide a concise summary of the case for Alberta independence.
Johnson, William. 2006. Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.