Opponents of Alberta independence believe that they have a trump-card in convincing Albertans to remain a subject of the federation: it would be landlocked.
On the surface of it, they have a point. It doesn’t require a cartographer to look at a map to realize that an independent West without BC would lack a coastline.
The argument goes that without direct coastal access, a vengeful rump-Canada would have a veto over all of Alberta’s affairs, and energy exports in particular. As difficult as it is to deal with other provinces now, it would be virtually impossible if Albertans were foreigners without recourse to the courts. This side claims that British Columbia’s leverage would grow, along with their ability kibosh pipelines.
Unlike rich landlocked nations like as Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg – whose commodities can be transported without pipelines – Alberta’s economy would tank, rendered subject to the whims of our neighbors. This is a major reason why many Albertans believe that their standard of living would suffer as an independent state.
Premier Jason Kenney shares this view.
“Landlocking ourselves through separation is not a solution. The green-left has been leading a campaign to landlock our energy. Why would we give them what they want?”
Kenney and the federalists ignore the elephant in the room: Alberta is already landlocked.
After the passage of bills C-69 and C-48, it is highly unlikely that any private investors will bother to even attempt to build a new interprovincial pipeline. The Trans Mountain Expansion appears likely to proceed, but it is hardly a ‘future’ pipeline, given that it has been pumping oil since 1953.
As a province, Alberta is bound by the constitution to respect the federal government’s powers over interprovincial trade. From milk, to beer, to oil, Ottawa has proven itself highly reticent to exercise these powers against offenders, giving an effective veto to politicians in Quebec and British Columbia. Even without a formal veto, these politicians have successfully intimidated potential investors with their pernicious rhetoric and threats of endless lawfare.
Alberta may eventually win long, dragged out fights in the courts, but the victory is a pyrrhic one.
Without the ability to inflict real damage on other jurisdictions blocking its right to trade freely, Alberta is bringing a spoon to a gunfight.
As a country, Alberta would have its hands untied, with the ability to retaliate in kind. Trade wars are almost always harmful, but the real threat of one is necessary. As Lawrence Solomon points out, “If Alberta were independent, its newfound bargaining power would certainly cause the Rest of Canada to capitulate, and speed to completion any and all pipelines Alberta needed to either ocean.”
An independent Alberta would indeed rely on imports and exports crossing foreign borders, but not without hugely expanded leverage. Threats of cutting Alberta off are hollow for the simple reason that Alberta would have an even greater ability to cut British Columbia off from the rest of Canada, and vice-versa.
If B.C. attempted to landlock an independent Alberta, she would quickly find herself a modern East Prussia, cut off from access to the mother country. All the trucks, trains and planes carrying Eastern commodities to and from B.C. ports, and Toronto-Vancouver flights, would be forced to route either through the United States, or the Arctic.
The vast majority of Alberta’s energy trade is north-south. While it would hurt, Alberta could survive even a total embargo from a rump Ontario-Quebec state.
By contrast, the vast majority of British Columbia’s trade is with the rest of Canada. Those keen to point out that Alberta has no costal access on the map, should also note that standing between British Columbia and Ontario, is Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. A trade war would cut B.C. off from the Rest of Canada, and the Rest of Canada off from the Pacific.
B.C. would have little incentive to turn off Alberta’s pipelines, knowing that Alberta could shut down the roads, railways and airways that keep B.C. alive.
A war of tariffs and tolls would hurt everyone, but not equally. Alberta would be injured, but British Columbia risks being decimated. More realistically, British Columbia and the federal government would opt for a genuine free-trade agreement with Alberta than a devastating trade war.
A vengeful rump-Canada might wish to wound Alberta, but doing so would punish British Columbia, and potentially drive it into the hands – oddly enough – of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Out of mutual self-interest, it’s most likely Canada would negotiate.
Canadian provinces hardly have free trade as it is. Just as it is easier for sovereign nations in Europe to trade with each other than for Canadian provinces, a Canada-West trade agreement might actually free our economy to a greater extent than it is right now.
Alberta would almost certainly obtain better access to the American market than as an appendage of Ottawa. As an independent nation, Alberta could negotiate for its interests alone, instead of horse trading to protect Ontario steel and Quebec dairy. Alberta has no need for protectionist side-deals, and could negotiate the most radically open free-trade deal it wanted. If successful, the remaining leverage of B.C. and Ottawa to landlock Alberta evaporates.
Alberta is already landlocked. Albertans need to decide if they want to be a landlocked province without the ability to do much about it, or a nation with the leverage to reach our potential.
FILDEBRANDT: Ottawa is at war with Alberta, and There’s no “Fair Deal” to be had
Ottawa isn’t just unfriendly towards Alberta. It is a colonial government at war with it. And the sooner we realized it, the fast we can begin to fight back with equal force.
On February 6th, I wrote on these pages that “If Trudeau kills Teck, It’s War“. Now, on February 23th, it’s war.
This marks the day when many at the Western Standard and elsewhere predicted, the Liberals would kill the $20 billion Teck oilsands mine investment, eliminating 7,000 jobs in the process. As predicted, the Liberals would not risk the political backlash of stabbing the Teck project in the heart. Instead, they would put it in a torture chamber of a thousand regulations and political hurdles that would be impossible to meet, forcing Teck to kill itself.
While the Liberals were not found standing over the body, they have been stalking it for months, warning that it would not be approved, and floating the prospect of an “economic aid” package to pacify angry Albertans once it was dead.
Teck Resources President and CEO Don Lindsay, explained in the politest language he could find why the project was being shelved.
“Global capital markets are changing rapidly and investors and customers are increasingly looking for jurisdictions to have a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change, in order to produce the cleanest possible products. This does not yet exist here today and, unfortunately, the growing debate around this issue has placed Frontier and our company squarely at the nexus of much broader issues that need to be resolved. In that context, it is now evident that there is no constructive path forward for the project.”
In short, warnings that the federal government’s butchering of Canada’s once sane energy approvals process is politicized, and there is no path forward without being required to meet unreasonable demands.
Lindsay continued, “Frontier, however, has surfaced a broader debate over climate change and Canada’s role in addressing it. It is our hope that withdrawing from the process will allow Canadians to shift to a larger and more positive discussion about the path forward. Ultimately, that should take place without a looming regulatory deadline.”
That is, it is no longer about the merits of a given energy project, but about the global crusade against fossil fuels, and Teck Frontier is public enemy number one. The “looming regulatory deadline” which the Liberals dragged to the last minute, made the decision politically explosive.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney issued a statement after word seeped out. He laid blame at the federal government’s feet, and was none-to-happy about it, but he shied away from more heated language. He refrained from calling out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by name – something he did daily before winning the 2019 election – and went to pains to emphasize how cooperative he has been with Ottawa on the Teck front.
“The Government of Alberta agreed to every request and condition raised by the federal government for approving the Frontier project, including protecting bison and caribou habitat, regulation of oilsands emissions, and securing full Indigenous support.”
It’s surprising that Kenney would admit openly that his government largely capitulated to many of Ottawa’s demands in an area of Alberta’s clear domain of interest, but he must believe that it is better to have appeared the victim that tried, than the victim that resisted compromise.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley took a different approach, blaming the entire thing – lock, stock and barrel – squarely on Kenney.
“The heated rhetoric and constant conflict generated by Jason Kenney and the UCP is the primary reason for withdrawal of Teck’s application.”
It is a bizarre line of attack most likely written by an over-caffeinated NDP staffer drinking the bathwater of the “Kenney is a crypto-fascist” cult.
If Keneny has any fault in the matter, it is for not taking a much harder line in forcing Ottawa’s hand. Since the October federal election, Kenney has radically changed his tone with the Trudeau government, and has gone out of his way to deescalate the rising tide of sovereigntist support in Alberta. While he has commendably commissioned the Fair Deal Panel to explore ways in which Alberta might better assert its autonomy within confederation, he has shied away from drawing a line in the sand.
Michelle Rempel Garner and three other federal Conservative MPs took up that challenge last week, when they issued the Buffalo Declaration. Not content to merely withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and RCMP, the Buffalo MPs demanded constitutional reform to make Alberta – and the West – equal partners in Confederation. The strong implication of their declaration, was “or else”.
While not quite coming out for independence themselves, they made clear where things are headed if things don’t change: “they [Albertans] will be equal or they will seek independence.”
This is the clear and unmistakable line in the sand that many Albertans believe it is past time to draw. Justin Trudeau being nicer, or Peter MacKay reversing some of the most explicitly anti-Western policies is no longer enough. The constitution must be reformed to stop federal governments in Ottawa from attacking Alberta, or Alberta must take matters into its own hands.
Kenney would serve Alberta well to take up this call. UCP MLA and Fair Deal Panel Member Drew Barnes already has, coming out in support of the Buffalo Declaration.
Ottawa’s strangulation of the Teck Frontier oilsands mine isn’t just another injury that Alberta can abide. It is a clear and unmistakable sign that Ottawa means to “phase out” Alberta’s oil and gas industry, as Trudeau himself has put it. This isn’t a policy that would be tolerated towards any other region of Canada, but was welcomed with joy by throngs of eco-radicals in the East, and by a large segment of the minority federalist-left in Alberta.
Left powerless for all their tough talk, is Alberta’s federalist-right.
Alberta can no longer afford to brace itself and keep skating after hits from Ottawa. These attacks are deliberate, and in the long term, fatal to our exsistence.
Ottawa isn’t just unfriendly towards Alberta. It is a colonial government at war with it. And the sooner we realized it, the faster we can begin to fight back with equal force.
Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher of the Western Standard and President and CEO of Wildrose Media Corp.
ROYER: Eastern Canada was born of Imperial Loyalty. The West of Frontier Freedom.
It is difficult for those in the heartland to comprehend that there is an alternative; one that might actually be fairer and that it is firmly planted “out West”, in the hinterland.
The Teck oilsands mine decision and the related “rescue package” for Alberta are emblematic of the gulf in thinking between East and West. Alberta doesn’t want handouts and dependency; it wants investment, jobs and opportunity. The federal government – rooted in colonial thinking – believes that it can buy peace and compliance by offering trinkets.
History tells the story of this gulf in thinking.
Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec) were colonies loyal to the top-down imperial system. In 1780, the United Empire Loyalists fled the American Revolution with its crazy ideas of freedom, democracy and individual rights and came to Upper Canada, reinforcing subservient loyalty. Similarly, the mostly French inhabitants of Lower Canada would rather stay subjects of the British Empire than govern themselves as a U.S. state.
American expansionism threatened to encircle the Canadas. In the great land grab of the mid 1800’s, it became clear that if you settle it, you own it. Mexico lost one-third of its territory (Texas to California) because it allowed Americans to settle in its lands. Americans were also drifting north.
The Canadas decided to populate the prairies to stop the Americans.
However, there were not enough loyal British subjects to fill these vast lands. It was opened up to continental Europeans. They had no connection to the crown or the imperial power structure. Indeed, the opposite was true. They were fleeing the tyranny of Europe. They sought freedom, democracy and self-initiative as described coincidently in American recruiting.
The West became a colony of a colony. But its foundation was a desire for freedom, democracy and self-initiative. This is contrary to colonial loyalty in Upper and Lower Canada.
The Canadas were slow in relinquishing the colonial mindset. An Act of the British Parliament in 1931 finally cut the apron strings (Westminster Act). Australia held its independence referendum in 1902.
When Canada did exert independence, its constitution of 1982 (with no pesky referendum) did more to cement the power of English Ontario and French Quebec than to create equality for all citizens.
Over the years the Prime Minister’s Office assumed virtually all of the powers of the crown. Canada centralized and consolidated power (an imperial theme) even while Britain devolved it.
Canada’s Equalization Program is an economic cornerstone of colonial thinking. Central Canada takes 70 per cent of the wealth transfer. Canada is the only modern state to take from the hinterland to support the industrial heartland. In most modern countries, the opposite is true.
In the U.S. all states were admitted to the union with full and equal rights. Not so in colonial Canada. The prairies fought to gain control of their resources through the Progressive Party in 1925. The equality fight continues today.
The Sir John A. MacDonald’s National Policy was an instrument of economic colonialism, as was Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program. Today’s Teck oilsands mine decision is as well.
The historic legacy is that the West wants to be part of a representative democracy that supports freedom, democracy, self-initiative and the equality of all citizens. New arrivals take on that same thinking. Some of the most adamant supporters of the Western spirit have arrived from Eastern Canada.
Understanding is possible. But a quirk of colonial thinking is that it ranks people by colonial value. It is difficult for those in the heartland to comprehend that there is an alternative; one that might actually be fairer and that it is firmly planted “out West”, in the hinterland.
In an age where differences are supposed to be celebrated, why is it so difficult to overcome colonial stratification and even consider that we in the west think fundamentally differently?
Randy Royer is a Columnist for the Western Standard and the author of “Alberta Doesn’t Fit”
LETTER-WAGNER: Alberta is culturally distinct, but not so much for the reasons offered in the Buffalo Declaration.
The existence of the independence movement rises and falls like the stock market, depending on external factors. If, however, support for independence could be rooted in Alberta’s distinctiveness, then the movement could have staying power.
I was very pleased to read that four Conservative MPs had produced the Buffalo Declaration. It’s an important and articulate expression of the frustration many Albertans feel right now.
I was especially pleased that it contained a section entitled “Alberta is a culturally distinct region, but this has not been recognized.” In my view, one of the weaknesses of the Alberta independence movement is that it focuses almost exclusively on economic matters. This focus means that the movement rises and falls based on federal government policies. When those policies harm Alberta, support for independence rises; when those policies benefit Alberta, support for independence collapses. The existence of the independence movement rises and falls like the stock market, depending on external factors.
If, however, support for independence could be rooted in Alberta’s distinctiveness, then the movement could have staying power. Of course, economics will likely always be the main factor driving support for independence, but adding an element of cultural uniqueness would at least give it a foundation that doesn’t waver based on external factors.
Premier Kenney is certainly correct when he recently said, “A country is more than a balance sheet.” Although he was speaking of Canada, the same applies where Alberta is concerned. That is, there should be more to our Alberta patriotism than a desire for financial prosperity (important as that is). Hence, an emphasis on Alberta’s unique identity should form the basis of our Alberta patriotism.
That said, the Buffalo Declaration’s section on Alberta as a “culturally distinct region” is very disappointing. Some of it even seems to argue contrary to its intent. Saying, as it does, that “the percentage of Ontarians and Albertans of European descent are roughly the same,” does not point to uniqueness but to similarity. The fact that Alberta is populated by descendants of First Nations peoples and European settlers doesn’t seem particularly unique to Alberta, nor the fact that many Albertans have rural roots and want to be good stewards of our land.
There is much stronger evidence for Alberta’s uniqueness, but the Declaration inadvertently misses it. Perhaps this is a symptom of our society’s general historical amnesia. Providing a comprehensive account of Alberta’s uniqueness would take considerable space and effort, so here I will just suggest a glimpse.
During the 1950s, the University of Toronto Press produced a ten-volume series of books entitled “Social Credit in Alberta: Its Background and Development.” Included in the series were books such as Democracy in Alberta by C. B. Macpherson (a Marxist interpretation of the success of Social Credit in Alberta), Social Credit and the Federal Power in Canada by J. R. Mallory (an analysis of the conflict between Alberta’s Social Credit government and the federal government), and Sect, Cult, and Church in Alberta by W. E. Mann (an explanation of Alberta’s religious uniqueness that contributed to the success of Social Credit).
The purpose of all these books was to explain to the world why Alberta was so different from the rest of Canada. Different, as in unique. Academics in Eastern Canada thought Alberta was a weird place and they wanted to understand why. As these books explain, the Alberta Social Credit Party was not just another political party. It was an expression of Alberta as a “culturally distinct region.” What other province had three consecutive fundamentalist Christian premiers?
More could be added, but this is already too long. I hope it makes a point.
Yes, Alberta is culturally distinct, but not so much for the reasons offered in the Buffalo Declaration.
Michael Wagner is the author of Alberta: Separatism Then and Now
Letters to the Editor of the Western Standard are posted under this account. Letters do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of the Western Standard or its columnists.
FILDEBRANDT: Ottawa is at war with Alberta, and There’s no “Fair Deal” to be had
Frontier Teck pulls plug on Alberta mine
ROYER: Eastern Canada was born of Imperial Loyalty. The West of Frontier Freedom.
ANDRUS: Trudeau has bet double-or-nothing on Freeland to pacify with West
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