Support for Western Separation is Growing
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, August 13, 2005

In yet another bribe-and-conquer attempt to undercut Quebec separatism and bolster its own faded electoral fortunes, the Liberal government is hoping to attract Quebec’s “ethnic” - if not exactly its “money” - vote by appointing Radio Canada host Michaëlle Jean as the governor general designate. Like much else in the Liberal political lexicon, this appointment is proving more divisive than cohesive.

While the symbolism of a black, multilingual woman as governor general is welcome, the Martin government’s political opportunism is not. Never mind many ethnics left their countries of origin to escape such tactics, even if they work and the federal Liberals are successful in Quebec, what happens when Alberta decides to separate?

The possibility is no longer far fetched. On July 17, the Calgary Herald published a 2600 word essay calling for an independent Alberta. It was written by Leon Harold Craig, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alberta and one of Canada’s most distinguished political theorists. And this week, results of a poll conducted around Canada Day for the Western Standard made national headlines: 36% of respondents throughout Western Canada, including those under the age of 30, think their provinces should consider separation.

That’s roughly where Quebec separatist sentiment sits on a routine basis. Worse, should the next federal election produce another Liberal government, these numbers swell to near 50% in Alberta, almost double those provoked by the National Energy Program over twenty years ago. Most significantly, interest in separatism is no longer the preserve of aging populists cranky about gun control and an unelected Senate.

It is in this fertile context that Professor Craig plants his call for independence. The twelve billion dollars Alberta sends to Ottawa in equalization payments could be better used creating North America’s most attractive economic environment, he says. Albertans must face the reality that the sponsorship scandal is not an aberration, but the “epitome of the Liberal party’s secret of perpetual success”.

The depth of Canada’s political sickness becomes most apparent in the passive acceptance of the Gomery revelations by, and therefore a debasement of, a majority of eastern Canadians. “Thoroughly propagandized in the fantasy that Canada is the greatest country on earth, (eastern Liberal voters) are too cowardly to admit the fact that it’s become a third-rate nation, a disgrace to its own history and traditions, and is governed like a banana republic. And so they haven’t the gumption to throw the rascals out.”

Any hope for reforming the system is futile, he says. Why stay in a country so alien that demonizing Alberta – portraying it as “rustic, benighted, intolerant, selfish” – is the Liberals’ most effective electoral strategy?

Why stay, when an independent Alberta would flourish. North-south trade is as important to the economy as east-west, after all, and the population would increase dramatically as disaffected Canadians of enterprise and sensible social views moved to Alberta. The new country would be just as viable as Norway, Finland, Denmark or New Zealand.

To be sure, the Western Standard polling results are merely indicative, taken as they were while westerners were still smarting from Belinda Stronach’s defection and a budget confidence vote stage managed by stealth. Alberta won’t become independent tomorrow. But Professor Craig has given even these separatist leanings respectability, an intellectual foundation and the beginnings of a vision for an independent Alberta that’s never before existed - one that can only grow under continued Liberal provocation.

Whether the subject is Quebec or Alberta separatism, the stakes for the next federal election just got higher. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein’s departure in the fall of 2007 with the well-connected former Alberta treasurer Jim Dinning his obvious replacement are mitigating factors. So is a booming economy where concerns about a huge labour shortage trump even Liberal government corruption. And, who knows, Premier Jean Charest may just hang on in Quebec. Still, as Alberta separatism awaits the emergence of credible leadership, Quebec’s “ethnic” vote will be considering its options.

Whenever or wherever the constitutional crisis arises, the probable extension of a minority federal government means our new governor general could have some far reaching decisions to make. Will she be part of the problem or part of the solution? Why is it necessary to ask the question? At a time when Canada’s highest office needs substance not symbolism, Paul Martin’s appointment is not merely cynical, it is reckless and potentially dangerous.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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