Friday, December 12, 2008

The Eternal Case Against Western Separatism

Preston Manning warns against resurgence of separatism

Speaking at a Fraser Institute luncheon recently, Preston Manning issued a simple warning to Western Separatists looking to the recently proposed Coalition government as a pretext for promoting a resurgence of their movement.

"Don't threaten western secession," Manning warned. "An economic crisis requires us to pull together, not apart."

Manning admitted that, as Western Canada's representation (especially representation of Alberta and Saskatchewan) in such a Coalition has clearly been an afterthought for those supporting the proposed Coalition, it may be "tempting" for many to consider joining or re-joining the movement.

Certainly, some small-minded individuals have. At a recent anti-Coalition rally in Edmonton, a small group of people bearing signs advocating for Western Separation actually managed to go largely

But Preston Manning's words should sew caution into the minds of these individuals.

In making this pronouncement, Manning does what he has always done best: reminding pragmatic Canadians that, while political visions (and really, who is more visionary -- for good or ill -- than a separatist?) or activist crusades may demand otherwise, the first responsibility of any government is to do what is best for its citizens.

Considering the current state of the global economy, separatism should be furthest thing from the mind of any responsible Canadian in any part of the country. The implications of separatism fall, as they always do, across both the long- and short-term.

In the short-term, separatist agitation always breeds instability into the political order. In fact, this has been one of the most damning criticisms of the proposed Coalition government, the one that the coalitionists themselves cannot answer (to involve separatists in the political process is one thing -- to incorporate a destabilizing influence into the government is entirely another).

In times of economic crisis, political instability always decimates economic confidence.

Not to mention the short-term legal implications of seccession.

Denis Stairs provided an outline of the legal issues at the heart of separatism in his study of what the aftermath of a Quebec separation would have looked like. As they apply to Quebec, they would also apply to any Western province, or collection of Western provinces, that chose to secede.

First off, the presence of any representatives from a region that had voted to secede could not reasonably take part in the negotiations between that region and the federal government. Such MPs would suffer from a conflict of interest -- not only would the demands of their constituents conflict with their responsibilities to the federal government, but their interests (in this case, maintaining their own job) would conflict with the demands of their constituents. As such, the federal government would actually have to be reconstituted without those provinces before such negotiations could occur.

Secondly, the separating provinces would almost certainly have to pay for the costs of separation. This would only be added to the costs of establishing new political infrastructure to satisfy the responsibilities of that new state: responsibilities such as national defense, monetary policy and citizenship issues (including the issuing of recognized passports).

Third, the separating provinces would retain no claim to Canadian government property within their borders. "Scavengers" would inevitably be sent to recover that property.

Fourth, just as the west would have prevented Quebec from separating from Canada on favourable terms, Quebec and Ontario would prevent any western provinces -- especially Alberta -- from separating under favourable conditions.

The provinces would also have to establish new trading arrangements with other countries, and establish new diplomatic relationships. Entrance to defense alliances such as NORAD and NATO would also be complicated by Canadian resistance to their membership.

As daunting as these issues are, these are only the short-term implications. Longer-term concerns include what, precisely, would become of the western economy after oil in Alberta and Saskatchewan loses its value as an energy commodity -- an outcome actually much more likely than simply running out.

Within a united Canada, Alberta and Saskatchewan would at least have other federal partners to help develop alternative economic wealth -- although these two provinces should be doing this well in advance of such an economic blow. But within an uncertain and undefined coalition of western separatist provinces -- it could include British Columbia or Manitoba, but could just as easily be Alberta alone -- there would almost certainly be no such relief.

Sadly, all too few western separatists seem to have considered any of these issues. Instead, they seem to be relying whole-heartedly on an age-old dogmatic theme of western alienation: that of petro parochialism -- the notion that oil wealth will ensure the prosperity of the western provinces indefinitely.

Except that it won't.

If these individuals don't buy the arguments forwarded by the peak oil crowd, who wait gleefully for the decline of oil production, they should buy it under basic common sense: barring a civilization-wide meltdown, oil and gas will inevitably replaced by cleaner, renewable energy sources. While Alberta and Saskatchewan certainly could be an industry leader in the development of these alternatives, neither province has done nearly enough to secure that outcome.

It's sad that so many western separatists don't understand this. It's sadder still that the proposed Coalition seems to be providing the western separatist movement with a pretext to spread.

Liberal MP Simma Holt has seemingly begun to champion this cause. "his cries out to us on the Pacific Rim: 'if any part of Canada should separate it is British Columbia,'" Holt recently announced.

The great irony in this should not be missed. Simma Holt served in the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau, a separatist-fighter even more prototypical than Stephane Dion. And just as Dion and Justin Trudeau have chosen to cozy up to the Separatist Bloc Quebecois in order to attain power. Now, Holt seems set to reinvent herself as a champion of western separatism -- in this case, British Columbia.

But the case against Western Separatism is as strong as the case against Quebec Separatism, and as strong as the case against this Coalition government.

Just as with the case for Quebec Separatism, or the case for the Coalition government, the case for Western Separatism is extremely weak.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

Right of Centre Ice - "What Would a Western Canadian State Look Like?"

Pearce Richards - "The Faulty Case for Western Separatism"

Big City Lib - "Ezra On Separatism: Then and Now


  1. A few things...

    1- Oh my god I thought Preston Manning had gotten hit by a truck a few years ago... as a French-Canadian I must say I miss his crazy antics.

    2- Of course the west is unrepresented in the coalition. Most of them voted conservative did they not? see here

    3- It's funny how just recently in the Quebec provincial election we saw a rebirth of the separatist movement with the PQ gaining something like 17 seats and me almost getting my ass kicked at the polls for speaking out against it in a PQ riding. The Western separatist movement seems to be intricately linked to the Quebec one. Every time some asshole in Quebec city talks about quitting this great land some nut job out west seems to think the same thing.

    4- Maybe our government should learn something from this... If Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec all feel left out maybe it's time to revamp and rethink our approach to governing such a diverse country and make everyone feel included... just a thought.

    5- Simma Holt is a quack. Period.

    6- Sorry for the long comment...

  2. I think there's only one small-minded individual, and that's you, Patrick. Get over yourself and grow up. It's about time!

  3. 1. No, Preston Manning is alive and well. Among other things, he's trying to develop an educational program for aspiring politicians. When last I looked, he was still looking at different Universities to run the program for him.

    2. Just because the West didn't vote for any of the Coalition parties doesn't mean they shouldn't be represented in the government, right?

    Prime Ministers are expected to pick Cabinets that offer regional parity. I don't think the Coalition can legitimately do that.

    3. I think many people in the western separatist movement have taken a look at the Quebec separatist movement and seen that they can get concessions out of the federal government. Others (hello, Werner!) can seemingly think of no other solutions to the problems they imagine in this country other than to separate from it.

    I think of it as an imagined solution to an imaginary problem.

    4. I agree, it is time to revamp and rethink our approach to governing Canada, and not just for Alberta, Saskatchewan, BC or Quebec, but also for our Aboriginal peoples as well.

    5. Simma Holt has done some fine work in the past. I have a copy of The Other Mrs Diefenbaker on my bookshelf at home. It's a fairly valuable -- but saddening -- piece of work on Diefenbaker.

    Life was harder on Mr Diefenbaker than many people realize, and he didn't always respond as well as we would have hoped he would.

    "I think there's only one small-minded individual, and that's you, Patrick. Get over yourself and grow up. It's about time!"

    This coming from a guy who thinks that deleting comments and blocking emails is a mature way to settle a debate?

    I'm not too surprised, Werner. I almost shared Jared Milne's disappointment when you suddenly turned separatist on us. I can't help but wonder when you'll finally decide where you stand on this country, but I'll tell you this much, I know where I stand: I stand for it. In defense of it. And if the only solution you can really imagine to the problems you insist this country has is to destroy it, I have no choice but to be your adversary.

    And allow me to assure you, Werner: that is a battle that I will win.

  4. I guess I'll keep responding with numbers... it's easier that

    1- Holy smokes, I can't believe that someone will let Manning teach anything at all. I'm sorry, I'm just really not a fan.

    2- You are right the job of government is to represent everyone in the country. I don't think that the current conservative government has done so very effectively. I must concede your point on this one.

    3- That is why I so vehemently oppose any kind of separatist movement. Especially Quebec's. Whenever we (in Quebec) want something we cry wolf until Ottawa gives it to us. And it works. I don't blame the west for wanting that kind of privilege.

    4- yay! we agree

    5- I'm not disagreeing, but just as Dion went off his rockers siding with Duceppe, she's gone off the deep end on this one. Hence my previous statement.

    Small minded individual? Dude have you read his post in its entirety? It's detailed, informative and for the most part very accurate. If that isn't a grown up post I don't know what it. It beats the crap out of my posts let me tell you that much.

  5. It's small-minded to insist that the only way to deal with the problems in this country is to destroy it.

    It's shortsighted to pretend that separation won't have catastrophic long-term consequences.

    Also, Werner has a disturbing tendency to warble back and forth between anything and everything at any particular time.

    Trust me on this, he's just not a stable individual.

  6. Great post, Patrick. There are a couple of things I'd like to add, if I may...

    1) Consider how the rest of Canada has reacted to Québec's separatist movement. They have lost sympathy for any issues it may have had, especially as it is perceived to have been pampered by Ottawa for decades.

    How will it make us look, then, if we in Alberta decide to secede, even when we're already the most prosperous part of Canada? We'll look greedy and selfish, resentful of having to share with the rest of the country.

    Of course Alberta doesn't get the recognition we deserve when we help the rest of the country with our contributions to the transfer payment system, and I hate it when people call us greedy blue-eyed sheiks. But those accusations will only gain that much more strength if we take that step.

    2) One major reason that hardcore separatists in Quebec issued death threats to Stéphane Dion is because of the notion that the province would be subjected to partition if it separated. Many in English Canada hailed this as getting tough on Quebec.

    Do you honestly think we would get off any easier? A newly independent Alberta or West would suddenly have to deal with dozens of separatist movements at once, that would seek to secede from the new country and rejoin Canada.

    And I, for one, would devote all my time, talent and energy to those separatist movements. I am a proud Albertan, and a proud Canadian, and I will not see my province or my country torn apart in this way.
    3) Related to that, we as Albertans would be at each others' throats. Quebecers have been divided between federalists and separatists; noted Quebec intellectual Léon Dion noted the hostility demonstrated by some federalists to those who questioned the benefits of the federal system to Quebec; and separatist Quebecers have accused federalists of being traitors and sellouts, even to the point of heckling Stéphane Dion at Jean Beliveau's funeral.

    Again, we as Albertans would be bitterly divided. In Quebec, moderate and wise voices like Claude Ryan's were lost in the acrimony between supporters of the Trudeau way and the Lévesque way; what happens when the likes of Craig Chandler start accusing anyone opposed to secession of being "un-Albertan"?

    4) Finally (and this is a particularly interesting point) most of the western separatists I've seen are far-right libertarian/conservative types who decry such things as government intervention in society, and support strong and close ties to the United States, particularly in its own neo-conservative, arch-free market incarnation.

    Related to Patrick's final point, it's this similar mentality that's advocated for as little government regulation or intervention in the oilpatch as possible, and decries the idea of raising our royalty rates.
    Calgary journalist Andrew Nikiforuk has already written about our low royalty rates:

    Even the Calgary Herald got in on the act:

    And is it a matter of selling our oil for the highest price possible, or simply giving the United States a cheap and plentiful supply? After all, if we can get a higher price from the Chinese, shouldn't we do it? Peter Lougheed certainly seemed to think so:

    Would we stay in NAFTA, and abide by the energy provisions that prevent us from charging higher prices to the United States, or maintaining a safe supply for ourselves in case of an energy shortage?
    Shouldn't the Americans have to pay whatever prices the market will bear? It's not like we'd be treating them any worse than the Chinese-we'd just be selling at the market price. What could be wrong with that? Why give the Americans a discount, when we don't do the same for our own countrymen? Or do they just feel more empathy for the Americans than their fellow Canadians?
    Obviously, we need to assert our provincial rights to prevent anything like the nightmare of the National Energy Program from appearing again. But now, too, we need to cooperate with Ottawa and the rest of the country on how we handle our energy, a strategy advocated by no less than Roger Gibbins, CEO of the Calgary-based Canada West Foundation:


    Even Patrick Daniel, CEO of Enbridge, called for a 'national energy strategy' as cited in Mel Hurtig's "The Truth About Canada", page 306.

    Peter Lougheed actively used our oil wealth to develop not only our social safety net, but our economy as well, building infrastructure, schools, hospitals and everything in between. In the meantime, even a devoted Conservative cheerleader like Neil Waugh is criticizing the Stelmach government for its allowing our bitumen processing jobs to be shipped to the United States:

    Both Right of Center Ice and Is Just To Say (commenting on Pearce Richards' column) note that a lot of it is based on continentalism and far-right politics. The question remains is whether Alberta is even that far to the right, given our support for Red Tories like Lougheed and Robert Stanfield in the 1970s, the failure of Ralph Klein's Third Way attempts at privatization, or the fact that half the Alberta Liberal caucus has seats based in Calgary.

    Are we one of the more individualist, conservative, center-right provinces in Canada?
    You bet.

    So far to the right that we disdain any positive role for the government to play in society, and the need to help out people in need through some form or another of collective action?
    That's a much dicier question.

    In the end, I think we have much more in common with Quebec than we realize. Both Quebec and the West-and the Aboriginals, French Canadians in general, supporters of an active central government in Ottawa, Newfoundlanders, and Maritimers, among others, for that matter-all have their very own legitimate and real beefs, but we don't exactly understand where our fellow Canadians are coming from.
    How many Ontarians or Nova Scotians, do you think, know just why we were and are quite rightly angry about the NEP? How many people outside Quebec realize just how furious many of those Quebecers who voted NO in 1980 were when Trudeau screwed the province over in the 1982 patriation? How many people realize just why the Aboriginals feel they need to resort to blockades at places like Ipperwash, Oka, Gustafsen Lake or Caledonia?

    That's what we need in the West-a strong advocacy of just why we've been so alienated for so long, and a reminder to our fellow Canadians of the positive contributions we've made and continued to make, from our reinforcing provincial rights and contributing the notwithstanding clause and the amending formula to the 1982 constitutional amendments, to our pioneering advancements in support of women's rights and universal health care, the contributions our reform movements have made ranging from the United Farmers to the Progressives to the Reform Party even today, our contributions to the Canadian economy through the money from the oilpatch, both in transfer payments and the individual actions of migrant workers who send money home, to the strong, sensible contributions of gentlemen like Edmonton-area MPs John Williams and James Rajotte, who are excellent examples of the bread-and-butter work that many of our smartest and best MPs do behind the scenes while the party leaders jockey for position.

    Separation just causes the rest of Canada to overlook the very real good we've done for the country as a whole, just as it has for Quebec. The separatist movement-and I say this as a guy who has a deep love for Quebec and has souverainiste friends-has damaged that province's image and soured their relations with the rest of Canada.

    We could do worse than to learn from their example.

    Jared Milne.

  7. Looks like something went a little screwy when I tried posting the links. Copy and paste the entire link into your browser, without any spaces:

    Here we go again:

    The Calgary Herald link:



    The link to Roger Gibbins' articles:





    Neil Waugh's Edmonton Sun article:





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