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Alberta separatism is a movement that advocates the secession of the province of Alberta from Canada either by forming an independent nation, or by creating a new union with one or more of Canada's three other western provinces.
Alberta separatism arises from the belief held by some that Alberta is culturally distinct from the rest of Canada, particularly Central Canada and Eastern Canada, and from the belief that Alberta is harmed economically by federal policies that disadvantage Alberta. In the past, tariff walls to promote the growth of tractor production in Ontario increased the cost of tractors for Alberta. In the 1980s, the National Energy Policy was seen as disadvantaging Alberta's interests. In the recent oil boom based on oilsands, Alberta ceased to be a "have-not" province ceasing to be a recipient of equalization payments and instead provided financial support to other provinces through the federal transfer payment program. The Alberta economy had been traditionally based on ranching, and in the last years of the 20th century, been bolstered by considerable revenues from oil and gas production. Albertans have been hostile to concessions to Quebec sovereigntists. Alberta has developed a political culture that is more conservative, in both economic and social issues, than the rest of Canada.
Alberta separatism takes many different forms:
- some advocate Alberta seceding from Canada to establish its own country;
- more common is the idea that Western Canada (Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) should separate to form one country, possibly including Canada's northern territories; or possibly nearby US states inclined to join
- one is that Alberta should separate only with British Columbia;
Separatism emerged in the 1930s within the Social Credit Party, which formed the Government of Alberta. The Government of Canada, at the urging of the banks and newspapers in Alberta, overruled legislation passed by the Alberta legislature to implement a form of social credit as being unconstitutional. Premier William Aberhart's followers started calling for separation from Canada, but Aberhart himself counselled moderation and rejected secession. The separatist movement was ridiculed by the media as a fringe movement of the uneducated.
In 1980, a separatist movement emerged in western Canada that attracted thousands of people to rallies and resulted in the election of a separatist to the Alberta legislature.
During the 1980s, when the National Energy Program (NEP) was created by the federal government under Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, support for Alberta separatism reached levels that (as of 2012[update]) have not been matched since. Gordon Kesler was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta in a by-election in Olds-Didsbury as a candidate of the Western Canada Concept party (WCC). In response, Premier Peter Lougheed called a snap election in which the party nominated 78 candidates in the province's 79 ridings (electoral districts). Although the party won almost 12% of the popular vote (over 111,000 votes), Kesler was defeated after changing ridings, and no other candidate was elected. The party's popularity declined after the Progressive Conservative Party, led by Brian Mulroney, defeated Prime Minister John Turner as in the 1984 federal election although the WCC still managed a strong third place showing in another by-election in Spirit River-Fairview held in 1985. Under Mulroney, the NEP was rapidly dismantled.
Political events in the early 21st century have led to a resurgence in interest in Alberta separatism. In the 2004 federal election, the governing Liberal Party of Canada was returned with a minority government despite allegations of corruption. Albertans voted overwhelmingly (61.7%) for the opposition Conservative Party, while only 22.0% of Albertans supported the Liberals. There is also significant opposition within Alberta to the Kyoto Protocol as the Kyoto treaty has been believed to have negative effects on the provincial economy, which is heavily supported by its powerful oil and gas industry. Alberta contains the world's second largest proven reserves of oil, behind only Saudi Arabia.
Despite these events, Alberta separatism is still a minority movement. Alberta's first past the post electoral system makes it very difficult to elect any candidate outside of the major political parties. As of 2006[update], no elected political parties or Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in Alberta unconditionally favour outright secession.
In the 2004 general election, the Separation Party of Alberta nominated 12 candidates who won 4,680 votes, 0.5% of the provincial total. No candidates were elected. This was less support than the Alberta Independence Party had attracted in the 2001 election, when 15 candidates attracted 7,500 votes.
Support in conservative parties
However, the notion of Alberta secession from Canada has gained sympathy from some figures within Alberta's conservative parties. Even after the federal Tories won the 2006 general election, a prominent Alberta Progressive Conservative and a candidate for the Tory leadership also refused to reject secession under all circumstances. Mark Norris, one of the contenders to succeed Ralph Klein as the Alberta premier, told the Calgary Sun in March 2006 that under his leadership, if a future federal government persisted in bringing in policies harmful to Alberta such as a carbon tax, "(Alberta is) going to take steps to secede."
Also, some politicians and at least one poll have indicated that a much larger percentage of the Alberta population may be at least sympathetic to the notion of secession than would be indicated by election results. In January 2004, Premier Ralph Klein told the Canadian edition of Readers Digest that one in four Albertans were in support of separation. An August 2005 poll commissioned by the Western Standard pegged support for the idea that "Western Canadians should begin to explore the idea of forming their own country." at 42% in Alberta and 35.6% across the four Western provinces
Although Klein has stated that he is committed to Canadian federalism, he has discussed measures that would distance the province considerably from the federal government. In 2003, Klein indicated that he was considering ideas on implementing what was called a political and economic "firewall". A top priority for many Albertans is withdrawal from the Canada Pension Plan, given the province's youthful demographics. Other proposals include establishing a provincial police force, collecting provincial income tax directly (rather than through the federal government), and withdrawing from the Canada Health Act. All these measures would be constitutional, since they involve powers and responsibilities assigned to the provinces by Canada's constitution, and all of them have been implemented in some other provinces with the exception of withdrawal from the Canada Health Act. None of the "firewall" proposals have been implemented in Alberta.
The Conservative Party of Canada, under Ontario-born, University of Calgary educated Stephen Harper won a minority government in the 2006 federal election, leaving the separatist cause with uncertain prospects, at least for the short term. Some pundits have predicted that this result will cause support for separatism to ebb away.
- 51st state
- Alberta Independence Party
- Athabasca oil sands
- Annexation movements of Canada
- Cascadia (independence movement)
- Politics of Alberta
- Quebec sovereignty movement
- Secessionist movements of Canada
- Separation Party of Alberta
- Western alienation
- Western Canada Concept
- Western Independence Party
- Howard Palmer, Alberta: A New History (1990) p 272
- Bell, Edward. "'Separatism and Quasi-Separatism in Alberta," Prairie Forum, Sep 2007, Vol. 32 Issue 2, pp 335-355
- Elections Alberta
- Elections Alberta
- Calgary Sun 19 March 2003
- Kevin Steel, "A nation torn apart: An exclusive Western Standard poll shows more than a third of westerners are thinking of separating from Canada. What's dividing the country--and can anything be done to save it?," Western Standard August 22, 2005 online
- CBC.ca 15 April 2003
- Bell, Edward. "'Separatism and Quasi-Separatism in Alberta," Prairie Forum, Sep 2007, Vol. 32 Issue 2, pp 335–355
- Larry Pratt & Garth Stevenson Western separatism: the myths, realities & dangers (1981)
- Michael Wagner. Alberta: Separatism Then and Now (St. Catharines, ON: Freedom Press Canada Inc., 2009) 138 pp, favourable account that concludes, "The odds of Alberta actually leaving Confederation are remote, at this point." However, he adds, "in my view, separatism has a future."
- Republic of Alberta
- Free Alberta
- Alberta Republicans
- Project Alberta
- Separation Party of Alberta
- "On the Trail of Alberta Separatists," By Joe Obad, Alberta Views, March-April, 2004