As American philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But so are those who never properly understood it in the first place, as Danielle Smith and the three not-so-wise men who concocted her campaign’s signature idea seem determined to prove.
The “Alberta Sovereignty Act,” after all, is apparently modelled on the strategy used by Quebec separatists, which cost that province billions of dollars in lost jobs and investment and turned Toronto into the financial and economic capital of Canada.
An op-ed by lawyer Derek From, one of the co-authors of the “Free Alberta Strategy” that underpins Smith’s signature idea, admits they think Alberta should follow in Quebec’s dubious footsteps. “Let’s start by asking ourselves whether Quebec gets treated as poorly as Alberta. If not, perhaps Alberta should act more like Quebec.”
For the record, Alberta doesn’t get treated poorly by anyone. It received more pandemic aid on a per-capita basis than any other province in Canada, and Ottawa purchased an increasingly expensive pipeline to tidewater to assist its oil and gas industry. That industry, by the way, will post record-high profits in 2022 on record-high revenues and — you guessed it — record-high production.
The willingness of federal politicians to pander to the needs of Quebecers, meanwhile, is informed by that province’s willingness to shift their votes around accordingly. Unlike Alberta, where the only question is whether every single seat will go Conservative, Quebec’s seats are always up for grabs. As I’ve written before, if Albertans like From are actually serious about getting the same sort of attention, they ought to consider putting their own votes in play.
Instead, the grievance peddlers who currently control Alberta’s politics will just shake their fists even harder at Ottawa. According to From and his “Free Alberta Strategy” co-authors, University of Calgary professor Barry Cooper and former MLA Rob Anderson, acting “more like Quebec” means waging constitutional warfare against Ottawa to get a bigger piece of the economic pie. It even means, as Cooper admitted in his own op-ed, passing transparently unconstitutional legislation in order to provoke a crisis. “We expect Central Canadians to screech: ‘Tax revolt!’ ‘Insurrection!’ ‘Constitutional crisis!’ Which is exactly the point.”
What they fail to realize, or at least refuse to admit to their followers, is that this would seriously shrink the size of their province’s economic pie in the process. As Michel Kelly-Gagnon, the president and CEO of the Montreal Economic Institute, noted in a 2014 column, “Before the election of the Parti Québécois in 1976, the populations of Canada’s two largest cities — Montreal, Quebec and Toronto, Ontario — were growing at about the same rate. Subsequently, Toronto’s population exploded while Montreal’s entered a period of stagnation.”
Major companies fled the political uncertainty being created in (and by) Quebec, with Canadian corporate giants like Sun Life, the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal moving their head offices to Bay Street. Between 1976 and 1985, the spread between unemployment rates in Ontario and Quebec tripled from two to six per cent.
To his credit, outgoing premier Jason Kenney understands the risks involved with Smith’s strategy. As he asked rhetorically during the most recent episode of his weekly radio show, “If the government proposes (a law) saying that we will rip up contracts, we won’t enforce court orders, we’ll ignore the rulings of the Supreme Court, we’ll choose which laws we enforce, we’ll ignore the Constitution, well, what investor in their right mind would put money at risk in Alberta?”
Why, then, would Smith and her fellow travellers want to follow in Quebec’s dubious footsteps? Perhaps because those footsteps led the separatist politicians of the day, and their enablers in the academic and intellectual community, into positions of power and influence. Sure, it would be bad for the province’s future and the ability of its people to adapt to a rapidly changing global environment, and would almost certainly send thousands of people and businesses scrambling for the exits. But that never really bothered the separatists in Quebec, either.
Opinion: The “Alberta Sovereignty Act,” after all, is apparently modelled on the strategy used by Quebec separatists, which cost that province billions of dollars in lost jobs and investment, writes columnist @maxfawcett for @NatObserver.
After all, the more the province lost, the more power its separatist politicians seemed to win. So it would be with Smith’s Alberta Sovereignty Act, which would either get blocked by the lieutenant-governor or overturned by some federal court.
Either way, it would give her another big log to throw on the grievance fire she’s been tending so assiduously — one that would keep it roaring for some time to come. That it might burn her province to the ground is a risk she’s clearly willing to take.
The question now is whether enough Albertans are willing to join her there.