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.

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I'm sure Smith's rural Alberta voter army will ensure years of entertainment for sane people

How ironic that Alberta received more funding from the federal Equalization Program on a per capita basis than Quebeckers at the height of the oil recession a few scant years back. To think that Jason Kenney himself was the last one to tinker with the equalization formula during his decade-long cabinet membership in the federal government of Alberta under Harper. No one there cares to admit to these inconvenient facts.

Quebec had two referendums on sovereignty, and both of them lost to the No side despite having a far deeper cultural and ancestral identity rationale than Alberta will ever have. Both of them also proposed one foot in Canada and the other in Quebec (well, maybe the first one was only a big toe extended to the Canadian side). And yes, it's true, Quebec suffered losses for decades afterward because the mere fact that a referendum happened on separation scared tens of thousands of people and businesses away.

Quebec's sovereignty aspirations were cultural. Alberta's are politically one-sided and are portrayed as an economic misbalance. It will not win a referendum based on attaining genuine sovereignty, that is, an independent country. Too many average Albertans hold their precious Canadian citizenship close to their hearts and will not give it up, not even for the false promise of oil wealth forever.

If Smith and her ilk ever win a referendum it will not be on actual sovereignty, but on some kinda mish mash that's conditionally anti-federalist, with the conditions cancelled out like magic if the Conservatives win Ottawa. That's not likely given the fact their preferred party appears to be splitting in two, one part moderate, the other a crowd with a few snarling pit bulls among the mostly white conspiracy believers and those who get off on anger.

Enough appeasement already. Smith must be directly challenged to let the people decide if they want a separate nation or not. Let her demonstrate what she actually knows about the Clarity Act and the constitution. Anything less is just political theatre and a series of staged local rage festivals -- and a complete waste of time.

Albertapolitics’ David J Climenhaga, who has met Danielle Smith, notes that in his assessment she is not a stupid person—rather, she thinks sufficient numbers of Alberta voters are stupid enough to buy into her preposterous guff.

Well, having had a major hand in destroying two parties of the right in Alberta, and apparently is now the frontrunner on her way to destroying a third (to be fair, the UCP might be doomed anyway, whether she wins the leadership or not), she should wonder, if she’s so smart, whether it really matters if party members or general voters really think Alberta can secede from Canada. It’s not, after all, entirely up to Albertans and, in any event, there is the Clarity Act, the federal law inspired by the second Quebec separation Referendum, which disallows any kind of “mish mash” question about secession.

Had the Clarity Act been in effect during Quebec Referendum number one, the ballot question asking if the voter wants “sovereignty association,” yes or no, would not have been allowed because such a thing had not been defined (and still hasn’t been; the explanation then was that the referendum didn’t really precipitate separation but instead, had a majority of voters voted ‘yes,’ the province would enter into negotiations about what “sovereignty association” really meant; but that’s not how most people in and outside of Quebec saw the question ).

On surface, it seems such a thing is impossible in a federation where each federate must be treated the same way as every other; “sovereignty association” seems to suggest a single province can have the relationship with the rest like a confederate within a confederacy, not a federate within federation—but that, naturally, cannot work for the remaining federates. Therefore it’s either in or out, and the question must be put something like that. It’s simply not possible to have a federation where some provinces are confederated under special constitutional terms.

The possible exception to take is that the Constitution already treats some provinces differently than others, for example, by the way Senate seats are apportioned (there are also Terms of Union unique to each province, but these primarily eliminate conflicts between the confederating province’s old, colonial or charter ‘constitutional’ accoutrements and the federal Constitution, eliminates redundancies, and addresses potential conflicts and disputes—like the sharing of riverine flow through Alberta to Saskatchewan, &c). But it seems to me that any exception taken on the Senate ground could be countered by the simple expedient of reapportioning Senate seats among the provinces in such a way that the current arrangement of special minimums for PEI and Quebec are not offended—for example, each province could be appointed as many Senators as Quebec currently has (IMHO, each province should have an equal number of Senate seats). Yes, apportionment and adjustments to the number of Senate seats have traditionally been brokered between the provinces and the feds, but since none of these adjustments has required a constitutional amendment, we might assume the convention is not constitutionally required. After all, there is no constituted body for provinces to make official motions in any regard: First Ministers Conferences are an ad hoc, political invention.

Smith rather appears more smart-ass than smart by proposing instead the “Alberta Sovereignty Act” which, as the article above suggests, is designed to smoulder rather than go bang—to keep the fire of faux outrage at least smoking.

Danielle Smith is not repeating history, rather she is continuing it—that is, scapegoating and identifiable person, ethnicity or nationality in order to justify certain allegations and vengeful reactions. It’s a tactic as old as the hills. In a federated state, special constitutional terms for individual federates like Alberta are impossible, so comparing Alberta with Quebec is just as preposterous in any kind of constitutional way as it is in any kind of political strategy. The only question is, why Smith is doing it?

Alberta, like every federate of any federal state, has beefs with the federal jurisdiction. To make those beefs appear more outstanding than those of any other province, to make them more emotive and urgent is scapegoating 101. When Alberta was new, the bitching was about “Eastern elites,” a slogan that’s endured as, for example, “Let The Eastern Bastards Freeze In The Dark,” the bumper sticker thumbing its nose at Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program (which pegged the domestic price of Alberta oil, regardless the price potential elsewhere). But it was the federal aspiration of the western regional Reform party which, in order to shoehorn itself into the federal arena, resorted to the most base form of scapegoating by singling out the most distinctive, visible minority among the “Eastern Bastards”, francophone Quebec, cultivating overtly bigoted blaming against the province by alleging it was getting special treatment at the West’s expense.

Today, after considerably more rhetorical sharpening and reaction to changing climate and social mores, that mythos has been given a keener edge by focusing on a single scapegoat, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, allegedly a “traitor” and “elite,” and his supposed, single victim, Alberta, the “Firewall Province” (replacing, in general, Quebec and the West, respectively). Repeatedly blaming a single scapegoat for each and every problem is basic große Lüge, or “Big Lie,” but in Smith’s case it’s about copying the audaciousness of Donald F tRump more than repeating Nazi propaganda tactics (the stakes and most of the ethological factors are completely different if one dismisses her maudlin claim of Alberta victimhood). It is rather more a continuation of an old trope, tweaked for currency, and adopting the crassness of tRumpublicanism.

I think the reasons why Smith is taking this approach can be divided into two: one relating to the dilemma all nominal conservative parties in the Western World find themselves, including—obviously—the UCP, the other having to do with her own political career. As news of Pierre Poilievre’s leadership victory pipes over the radio, we can equate the CPC’s central problem with that of its Alberta arm, the party Smith hopes to lead: the drastic shift to the far-right is basically a rearguard strategy which guarantees continued diminishment but, in true Redoubter fashion, is hoped (and prayed) to allow eventual recuperation rather than an existentially terminal schism.

It is not genuinely Smith’s strategy but, rather, the same one nominal conservative parties—the ones usurped by globalizing neoliberals—have deployed for their own, respective sakes. It is fraught with risk of course: increasing extremism which Smith herself represents in the UCP is virtually certain to drive what moderates —and maybe even a few erstwhile dupes—remain, for now, in these parties (I include Poilievre’s CPC). The resulting frustration of the extremists recruited to compensate for steady erosion of support is, ironically, what painted the lot of them into the corner where they hiss like rabid skunks. It is a ‘vicious circle,’ a terminal spiral.

Fortunately, they won’t be taking Alberta with them.

The other risk is that instead of moderate Tories migrating to, say, the Liberals (who have occupied centre-right territory the CPC has abandoned), they will up and create a new party that espouses true Tory mores (national patriotism and sovereignty instead of stateless corporatocracy, &c). A new party might be out of contention for a term or two but I, for one, think it would be well received. I believe there’s a bigger reservoir of centre-right moderates out there than most people recognize and, though I don’t vote conservative myself, I would welcome contributive voices on the centre-right.

Secondly, Danielle Smith has aspired to a political career ever since she was elected to a public school board (where she was recruited to promote SoCon policy). She was riding high as leader of the Loyal Opposition Wildrose party until her rookie chops were revealed when, just as she was polled as the next premier of Alberta, one of her candidates committed a campaign boner by promising a “lake of fire” for gender-liberated citizens—the 40-year veteran ProgCons reaping a win by their opponent’s ‘bozo eruption.’ Thence Smith crossed the floor to the PCs, taking half the Wildrose caucus with her, a move that smacked of her desire to get as close to the levers of power as quickly as possible under Manning’s rubric of “unite the right”—only in the most perverse way imaginable. The PCs were subsequently defeated after 44 uninterrupted years in power (by a socialist party, no less) —it says something about the ire her betrayal of Wildrose provoked. And given her latest bid to lead the the party that was cobbled from the smouldering ruins of the two parties she insinuated herself into, the United Conservative party which is already polling lower than the NDP, with only half a year left before the next scheduled election, it is likely she is saying whatever she thinks the far-right faction wants to hear in order to win a spot, if not a seat, in Alberta politics: she’s not so dumb as to really believe in her preposterous “Alberta Sovereignty Act” —but she reads that her supporters are. It only happens that ginning the far-right is the rearguard strategy all pseudoCon parties (there are very few, if any true Tory parties left anymore) now pursue —and that is convenient camouflage for her personal agenda.

All things considered, Smith is frontrunner to win the UCP leadership and probably destroy her third party of the right in Alberta. We can only hope that she’ll have a go at the federal CPC after Poilievre is devoured by his red-meat Freedumbites buddies when he, like all losing CPC leaders before him, is accused of betraying Freedumbite ‘mores’—as he certainly must risk by trimming his rhetoric for the general contest among the quintessentially middle-of-the-road Canadian electorate.

But it has little to liken it to Quebec separatism—for a thousand or more reasons I shan’t trouble with at the moment.