It's Fight Or Separate
The purpose of a strong separation movement and referendum, even if they are ultimately unsuccessful, is to force Ottawa into treating Alberta like an important part of Canada. Ever since the unsuccessful Quebec referendum, politicians in Ottawa have had their lips glued to Quebec's backside. No ruling party wants a separation movement to gain steam—let alone be successful—on its watch. Even an almost successful referendum would be political poison for a prime minister. Had there been viable contenders in the 1997 federal election, like a united conservative party, Jean Chretien could have lost following Quebec's attempt to leave in 1995. Chretien's Liberals lost more than 700,000 votes and some high profile cabinet ministers in the 1997 election, while the NDP, Reform and PCs made big gains. A strong separation movement and referendum would undoubtedly hurt Trudeau's Liberals in a worse way, because they would not have a divided conservative movement to pin their hopes upon.
Unless a massive scandal sinks him, Jason Kenney will be the next premier of Alberta. In any case, the next premier will have to fight for Alberta's interests or risk seeing a separatist movement rise up. Kenney hasn't denounced or attacked the separatist elements in Alberta, which is a wise political choice. He has acknowledged the rising separatist sentiments due to the destructive policies and neglect from Ottawa, but his solution is to hold a referendum—on equalization. It's a good idea and it might just quell some of the anger, but it if doesn't, he'll have to find another weapon to fight Justin Trudeau.
Kenney's threat to hold a referendum on equalization is more about the federal carbon tax, but it falls in line with how Alberta's economic potential is being impeded by Ottawa. Kenney's referendum would be a demand to remove non-renewable resource revenues from the equalization scheme, meaning Alberta would pay less to other provinces. There's no way to know if it would work or whether it would send the right message to the rest of Canada. Even if his referendum is successful, there is no way to know how legitimate or effective the result would be in forcing Ottawa to change anything.
The combined votes from Reform and PC in 1997 totalled more than 38% of the popular vote, matching the support received by Jean Chretien's Liberals. Had conservatives been united, Chretien's Liberals could have been defeated or reduced to a minority.
Kenney could position his equalization referendum as a first step toward something more serious. If the referendum is a huge success and Ottawa refuses to honour the results, that would likely be enough to anger Albertans even further—making separatist sentiments boil over. Either way, a referendum on equalization might be a brilliant political tool. However, only reducing Alberta's contribution to equalization may not be enough to fully satisfy the separatists.
Using Separatism To Beat Trudeau
With a federal election tentatively scheduled for October, Kenney has a huge opportunity to utilize the anger and separatism in Alberta. Alberta alone could significantly harm Trudeau's chances of winning another majority—if Kenney and other leaders step up and exploit the growing separatist sentiments. By exploit, I don't mean they necessarily have to support separatism, they just need to feed it from a distance and remain sympathetic or neutral to the movement. If the rest of Canada sees a potential separation movement in Alberta threatening the confederation, they could completely lose faith in Trudeau's ability to keep Canada intact and united.
When Kenney takes office this spring or summer, he'll need to act quickly. He has a strong federal Conservative opposition waiting to form government and a Liberal prime minister who has no chance of repeating his success from the 2015 election. Trudeau won nearly seven million votes in an election with a high turnout of 68%. That turnout won't repeat and Trudeau won't win seven million votes again. However, that doesn't mean he won't win another majority. Stephen Harper won his majority in 2011 with only 5.8 million votes. If turnout is low and Canadians aren't riled up or alarmed by what is happening in Alberta, Trudeau will win a second term.
Kenney's referendum on equalization should be put into motion immediately to maximize its influence on the federal election in October. To achieve maximum effect, it could be ominously called “the first of many referendums”.
Making That Choice
If Trudeau is re-elected in October, Albertans will be more willing to take drastic measures. Separatist sentiments are not new in Alberta, but this time is different. Trying to ignore or defeat separatist attitudes in Alberta could be as poisonous to the ruling UCP government as it would be to Justin Trudeau. If Jason Kenney is not willing to take a real fight to Justin Trudeau in his second term, these new separatist sentiments might overtake Kenney and his United Conservatives. Without a strong fight from Jason Kenney, Alberta will eventually see a new, populist political movement supplant the province's establishment and political class.
Basically, Jason Kenney has no choice but to acknowledge and eventually embrace separatism. If his fight fails or his fight is perceived as weak, he will be finished by 2023. If his fight is successful and he convinces the Trudeau government to build pipelines, ditch the carbon tax or change equalization, he might quell the separatist sentiments. Even so, along the way, he will have to embrace the idea of a possible separation.
Albertans aren't feeling too friendly these days. They have no reason to keep a bureaucrat in power who would rather suck up to Ottawa than put Alberta first. If Jason Kenney's long term goals of becoming prime minister show too strongly, Albertans will start to think he's in it for himself. Albertans want to know that Kenney is in it for them. Separatist sympathies would not go over well in a federal race to become prime minister of Canada, so if Jason Kenney isn't willing to take that risk for Alberta, he should let us know now.
At this point, attacking separatism in Alberta would be political suicide. If Kenney does it, he will be out fast. In a recent Ipsos poll, 25% of Albertans said their province would be better off alone, while 62% said Alberta isn't getting a fair deal from confederation. These numbers will keep growing as long as Trudeau is our prime minister.
Jason Kenney is one of the most freakishly competent conservatives in Canada. He likely knows exactly what to do and how to do it. Whether it is quelling separatism with a good fight, or embracing it and using it to his advantage, Kenney will undoubtedly one-up Justin Trudeau in the coming years. If Kenney is a real Canadian nationalist, his fight to quell separatism by undermining and beating the federal Liberals at their own game will be ruthless.
Surviving Another Trudeau Majority, Saving Confederation
Justin Trudeau has been nothing short of a detriment to Canada's status as a confederation. Like his father, Justin has divided Canada into West versus East by purposely isolating Alberta and favouring Quebec and Ontario. Letting important energy projects die at the side of the road, as well as passing stricter review guidelines for pipelines that include gender effects and consultations with communities nearby—not directly affected—has hindered the West's economic fortunes.
We might be able to count on provinces like Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario to catch on to Trudeau's divisive ways, but we shouldn't expect much from Quebec and the Atlantic provinces—or BC, for that matter. Neither of those provinces have shown any electoral effort to embrace Alberta oil, unify Canada or take a stand against equalization.
Justin Trudeau's inclusive “sunny ways” only seemed to apply to provinces with an axe to grind with Alberta.
Even though a recent poll shows that a majority of Quebeckers prefer Western Canadian oil, the results are as good as nothing. Quebec voters haven't done a damn thing to support Alberta besides tell polling agencies how much they prefer our oil. There aren't any boycotts. There aren't any angry op-eds from high profile Quebeckers. There aren't any pro-Alberta protests in Montreal. There aren't any political leaders from Quebec vouching for Alberta to get a better deal and there sure hasn't been an effort to elect anything other than resentful, left-wing socialists and separatists. Quebec's age-old resentment of the West is culminating into an equally powerful resentment of Quebec in Alberta.
Jason Kenney, being a self-professed Canadian nationalist, will try to beat Trudeau before really using separatism as a weapon. Luckily, he'll have friends in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and maybe New Brunswick to help him. If provincial conservatives across Canada can effectively beat Justin Trudeau, not necessarily in an election, but beat his policies, they could all quell Alberta's growing separatist sentiments.
If they fail, separatism will become the only remaining option leading up to 2023—from another four years of Justin Trudeau's exclusionary policies.
To beat Trudeau and his majority, provincial conservatives will have to use Canada's judiciary system to fight policies and laws that put Alberta at a disadvantage. Already, many of Trudeau's exclusionary policies could be considered unconstitutional—or as some critics have called them, borderline treasonous.
In the coming years, the answer to Alberta's woes will become more clear. It's fight, or separate.