By Michael Wagner
Peter Zeihan is a prominent American geopolitical strategist who analyzes global trends. In 2014 he wrote a book entitled The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder. Basically, he explains why the United States is a major world power as a result of geopolitical factors. It is a large resource-rich country with a growing population, and it is relatively easy to defend from potential enemies.
This book received some Canadian media attention because it contains a chapter about Alberta. Zeihan demonstrates that Alberta is paying much more than its fair share in Canada and that it will increasingly pay more in the years ahead. In his view, this continual transfer of wealth from Alberta to central Canada will lead to pressure for Alberta to separate.
Legality of Secession
Referring to the Supreme Court of Canada’s Secession Reference case of 1998 he writes, “Canadian courts have ruled that Canada’s provinces have full legal right to hold independence referenda.” That decision granted the legality of secession if a clear majority of citizens in a province votes for independence on a clear question.
The process for secession was subsequently laid out in legislation. As Zeihan notes: “Canada’s parliament even passed a ‘Clarity Act’ in 2000 to lay out the political process of implementing the court’s decision. The mechanics of Quebec’s efforts have inadvertently established just what any Canadian province would need to do to achieve independence.”
Sucking Alberta Dry
Zeihan points out that in 2012 Alberta paid $16 billion more into Canada than it received. Over time, Alberta’s contribution will increase and become even more disproportionate. He writes, “As the demographic and financial disconnect between Alberta and the rest of Canada grows, these younger, more highly skilled, and better-paid Albertan’s will be forced to pay ever higher volumes of taxes to Ottawa to compensate for increasingly older, less skilled, and lower-income Canadians elsewhere in the country. Plagued by rafts of elderly Canadians who are no longer paying into the system but instead drawing out, the net per capita Albertan tax bill is likely to breach $20,000 by 2020.”
There are many facets to Alberta’s financial future in relation to the rest of Canada, but it all essentially points to one particular conclusion: “Economic and political trends are pushing Alberta out of the Canadian mainstream just as surely as they are sucking it dry.”
Becoming the 51st State?
Zeihan believes that Alberta would be much better off if it separated from Canada. However, he does not think it should become an independent country. He writes, “While Alberta would do much better if it were not part of Canada, it would not do better as an independent country.” Instead, he thinks Alberta should join the United States. In his view, doing so would solve many of Alberta’s problems and bring it significant economic advantages.
A Terrible Solution
However, Zeihan does not appear to have considered some significant political factors. Most importantly, if Alberta were to join the United States, it would immediately lose some of the powers it already exercises within Canada. State governments have much less power within the US than provinces have within Canada.
Dr. Roger Gibbins, an expert on western Canadian politics and for many years a professor at the University of Calgary, made this point decades ago. The weakness of the individual states is reflected in the respective powers of American governors versus Canadian premiers. As Gibbins points out, “When governors go to Washington they take with them less power than do Canadian premiers.”
The American system was originally designed to be decentralized and to provide considerable power to the states. However, over time, and especially after the Civil War, the US federal government dramatically extended its power at the expense of the states.
Diminished State Power
Some of this transfer of power from the states to the national level has resulted from the success of the American system in representing local interests within federal institutions. Gibbins explains as follows: “Effective territorial representation within national political institutions has promoted national integration, strengthened the national government, broadened its reach, and reduced the power of the state governments to a degree un-imagined in the founding years of the American republic.”
Look at that last part very carefully: “strengthened the national government, broadened its reach, and reduced the power of the state governments to a degree unimagined in the founding years of the American republic.” The strengthening of federal power and reduction of state power has continued since Gibbins wrote those words in 1982. If Alberta joined the US, it would soon suffer under the oppressive rule of Washington, with no recourse. This cannot possibly be a positive alternative.
If Albertan’s want to control their own destiny they must choose independence. An independent Western Canada would be a viable and prosperous country. Joining the United States would result in Alberta being suffocated by a powerful central government based in Washington, DC. Alberta’s future would be in the hands of a distant and uncaring political establishment. Independence could improve Alberta’s current situation, but becoming part of the United States would only make things worse, likely much worse.
Gibbins, Roger. 1982. Regionalism: Territorial Politics in Canada and the United States. Toronto: Butterworths (Canada) Limited.
Zeihan, Peter. 2014. The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder. New York: Twelve/Hachette Book Group.