Alberta is a lot of things: wealthy, proud, indignant and endlessly controversial. But a nation? That’s the argument Danielle Smith and her allies in the local pundit class are trying to make in their quest to defend her Alberta Sovereignty Act. It fits within her overarching strategy of poking Ottawa directly in the eye with a constitutional stick to provoke a response that could help get her re-elected. As she wrote back in August, “Quebec has asserted it is a nation within a nation… Under my leadership, Alberta will, too.”

In fairness to Premier Smith, Alberta already possesses many of the cultural prerequisites for post-modern nationhood.

It has a well-honed sense of victimhood and a political culture that rewards those who indulge it. It has a well-defined enemy (Liberal governments led by a Trudeau) whose apparent desire to suppress and oppress it dates back over multiple generations. And it is deeply invested in the belief that if only that boot was removed from its collective back, whether through the elimination of the carbon tax or removal of bills C-69 and C-48, it could finally thrive as it was meant to.

As Alberta Sen. Paula Simons once said, “For better or worse, and often for worse, the culture of grievance is baked into the DNA of this province.”

But while Alberta has all the requisite feelings for nationhood, it’s badly lacking when it comes to the facts. There are no distinct linguistic or cultural characteristics that would clearly distinguish Alberta as a nation, unless you consider the hoser dialect from the mockumentary Fubar to be an accurate representation of the province as a whole.

Unlike Quebec, which existed long before Confederation and had a clearly defined political and legal tradition that set it apart from the rest of what would become Canada, Alberta was part of “Rupert’s Land,” an administrative territory signed over to the Hudson’s Bay Company by King Charles II. Eventually, that land was bought out by the newly formed country of Canada in 1869 for the princely sum of $1.5 million, and Alberta was carved out from it alongside Saskatchewan in 1905.

Those two provinces, if joined together, might actually come close to resembling a nation — although one without any credible claim to its land, given the numbered treaties between the Crown and Indigenous nations that predate their creation. Sir Frederick Haultain, then the premier of the Northwest Territories, wanted to see them share the boundaries of a new province called Buffalo. But Sir Wilfrid Laurier, wary of creating a new province that might one day have enough power to rival Ontario and Quebec, decided to cleave it into two. Here, at least, is a historical grievance that has some merit.

So if not history or language, what is it that makes Alberta a nation?

According to the signatories of the Buffalo Declaration, a quasi-separatist manifesto headlined by Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner and released in February 2020, it’s a combination of economic circumstance and cultural inclination. “Throughout Alberta’s history,” the declaration reads, “we can see several distinct cultural themes. A struggle against a colonial government, a desire for individual freedom, a willingness and drive to achieve personal economic liberty; a deep connection and respect for our land; and an economy unique to other areas of Canada.”

Alberta's deluded ambitions to become a nation are grounded in a well-honed sense of victimhood and a political culture that rewards those who indulge it, @maxfawcett writes. #opinion #ableg

Ottawa was never a “colonial government,” though, and the desire for freedom and economic liberty, along with a connection to the land and an economy that relies on natural resources, is hardly unique to Alberta. If anything, that’s the story of the West, writ large, both in Canada and the United States — one that’s underwritten by the exploitation of the real nations who live there, the Indigenous Peoples whose history long predates that of any settler on their land.

Alberta isn’t the only Prairie province trying to seed this ground right now. Saskatchewan is also in the midst of an effort to claim nationhood for itself, one that seems driven almost entirely by a desire for more power on the part of Premier Scott Moe’s government. “Moe did not demand the province be identified as a nation based on culture or history,” CBC’s Adam Hunter wrote in 2021. “He did not explain how Indigenous people or the treaties fit into his idea of a Saskatchewan ‘nation.’ Rather, Moe's focus was giving Saskatchewan more influence over its ‘destiny’ through various policies, including immigration and child care spending.” In other words: power.

That’s almost certainly what’s happening in Alberta right now as well. After all, this nascent sense of nationhood seems to disappear whenever there’s a federal Conservative government in power. As political science professor Mike Medeiros wrote in a December 2021 piece for Policy Options, “Political movements that represent actual ‘nations’ do not care much about which party is heading the central government; they are more concerned with preserving and enlarging their autonomy.”

The twin push for Prairie nationhood, by contrast, seems almost entirely informed by those sorts of political dynamics. If an election was called tomorrow and Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives won, this talk would disappear overnight. It’s also underwritten by a certain degree of hypocrisy, given how little Stephen Harper and his decade-long Conservative government did to advance the interests of Alberta and Saskatchewan — and how conspicuously quiet the Alberta and Saskatchewan nationalists were during that time.

So no, hating Justin Trudeau, federal Liberals or their climate policies does not constitute nationhood. Neither does a desire for more power on the part of certain provincial politicians.

If Alberta and Saskatchewan want to merge and recreate the province of Buffalo, they can fill their cowboy boots. But claiming some unique sense of nationhood, and drawing a straight line to the precedent set by Quebec, falls somewhere between wishful thinking and outright delusion.

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There's something more in there, too. American Conservatives also figure they are a "nation" unto themselves - they just want the whole of America as their plot of land. Except the ones who still want the South to secede. Or Texas, lots of nationalists there, too. In Canada, there's the phrase, "Ford Nation" - try that concept out with "Singh" or even "Trudeau". Even the Dad has "Trudeaumania" but never the "Trudeau Nation".

There's something in the psychology that wants to be part of a mighty group, not just a voting individual. It's weird, since the attested psychology of the strongest conservatives is always about "individual freedoms" against "collectivist tyranny".

I think what you keep getting are groups with great Independence passion, but no leadership, as they hate all leadership. I give you the Convoy as example.

A fascinating analysis.......but we could extend it beyond the conservative many of us.
We all want to be part of a hegemony, but many of us also want to be the chief spokesperson for that movement. We've seen it for years on the right........everyone knows more than they actually know, so finding a leader who they trust is difficult. If the poor guy or gal doesn't do what they feel is most crucial in his first few weeks in office, they start getting disillusioned.
Smith may have figured it out. Promise the earth and the sky in the first then, behind closed doors, do what you can to make Alberta's oil and gas industry happy and free. The Sovereignty Act is a red herring....a false flag....and a fantasy piece of legislation. But maybe it will keep the entitled crazy know it alls on side long enough to win the provincial election in May.

And then...the real gong show can begin. With four years a head of her...Smith can drive her crazy gas guzzling freedom vehicle into a lot of propitious accidents. Drill baby drill...and stay calm and frack on.


But Alberta's majority foreign-owned oil and gas industry is already happy and free -- to do nearly anything its tiny heart desires. It's been that way ever since it bought out the Alberta government just a few years after Peter Lougheed left office.

I've often reiterated former Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft's comment that the personnel sitting at the Alberta government cabinet table are not just occasionally interchangeable with the oil industry's corporate board rooms high up in the towers of Calgary and Edmonton, but that it's literally like a constantly swinging two-way door to a beer hall. And that applies to public policy, which has come from those boardrooms too many times. The only thing Kenney and Smith succeeded in was oiling the door hinges.

The reality of it is that the Alberta government is not free. It is shackled by industry, right down to running the regulatory agency mandated with protecting private interests that overwhelm the public good, especially on the environment file. Or at least going light on them. The narrative spouted by Smith et al is that Trudeau the younger is following in. his father's footsteps and has them handcuffed. In reality, the owners of the shackles live in Houston, Tx., and they have the Kid in cuffs too.

TVO's interview with Kevin Taft, talking about his 2015 book 'Oil's Deep State.'

"Alberta is a lot of things: wealthy, proud, indignant and endlessly controversial."

Not to mention terminally outraged. Cranky, ignorant, self-entitled, arrogant, anti-science, dogmatic, reckless, endlessly susceptible to conspiracy theories. The crazy uncle of Confederation.

"A desire for individual freedom" regardless of the cost to one's neighbours. Some call that irresponsibility and anti-social behavior. Hence, Alberta's pathetic COVID stats, worse than all its neighbours'.

"A willingness and drive to achieve personal economic liberty" married with a neoliberal penchant for throwing billions of public dollars at its largely foreign-owned oil & gas industry, now raking in record profits.
Subservience to our oil baron masters is complete. Any opposition to O&G is unpatriotic and traitorous. If you criticize O&G, you "hate Alberta". No line between the public interest and the interest of our leading industry. Profound apathy and indifference, meanwhile, to the welfare of indigenous communities on the frontlines of O&G "development".

Alberta is a place where human pathologies congregate, root, and fester.
Something in the water.

All true. You missed alcoholism and misogyny; Alberta "leads" in both.
What I cling to is the con penchant for going WAY too far, which is what Danielle Smith is the poster girl for, along with Poilievre. And although it's months away, it's hard to imagine her NOT continuing to do what they all do-- disrupting, dismantling, and dismaying, which should make the NDP more welcome than the spring prairie breezes.

It could be the hydrogen sulfide (sour gas) in the air. I used to sniff it while growing up in the Calgary suburbs and often wonder if it altered my reality a little bit. All the mumbo jumbo about independent Alberta spirits did start to appeal, not unlike Garner Ted Armstrong's preachings at the time, always trying with droning, nonsensical talk to get you to wait for the Answer To Life at the end of his sermons, which never arrives. Essentially wanting to take your money for religious subscriptions and a never-ending search for The Answer. Too many brain cells shrivelled with H2S dulls one's ability to resist the religious and political bullshit.

Leaving in the late 70s with the last wave of hippies did clear my head.

(I've never been able to understand how the religious right can be so fervently defensive about their religious beliefs, so perfectly conditioned to Following the Leader, and still view themselves as "independent minded.")

Judged by the highfaluting adjectives it looks like you had a good time getting your ya ya's out on this one - none of which accurately characterizes "Alberta".

"We will govern ourselves as the FOUNDERS intended???!!" Wow. Derivative much? Ahistorical much? Embarrassing much? This is what she says in the link to her article for the Edmonton Journal, along with the United Clown Posse's laundry list, which also serves to remind us who the malevolent masters of misinformation are.
All I want in 2023 is to no longer hear any serious discussion around anything to do with the conservative's suite of stupidity.
Good article Max. Keep addressing the manifest dangers of "wishful thinking" and "outright delusion," and in that vein, when this whole nightmare wanes along with the winter from hell, you could consider addressing the role of religion in this post-truth era.

I almost snorted coffee out of my nose over "... respect for the land..." in reference to a government that wants to relax environmental regulations for the ever growing scar that is the tar sands (I grew up in Calgary and remember an exhibit at the Stampede from the early days of that industry and that was what THEY called it. Not sure when the luke warm greenwashing turned it into the oil sands). And maybe they should have an annual minute of silence for the travesty that is the growing list of orphan oil wells and groundwater sources contaminated by fracking operations?

My hope is that Smith is challenged to hold a referendum on separation during the election campaign this spring. All this circular talk about sovereignty never seems to end up in a genuine referendum. Armchair complainers never tire, but they also don't have enough energy, it seems, to get up and do something to see their beliefs through. This tells us that they cannot be taken seriously, and certainly should never be feared. Media pundits who warn folks to not rile the Wexiters and convoyers are naive and don't know Alberta's history.

Max Fawcett's article is good, but he needs to dive a little deeper. The grievance / victimhood bitchfest has been ongoing for 50+ years, yet there the chronic complainers are, still part of the great Canadian confederation.

Hold a referendum once and for all, or shut up. Put it to the people to have the final say.

Have a realistic plan for Yes, and the loss of 500,000 youth fleeing to BC and Ontario, like young Russian conscriptees feeling mobilization for a needless stupid war, followed by a half million families and educated professionals permanently giving up on Alberta as the feds dismantle their interests (please -- start with TMX!) or put a firewall around First Nations communities and national assets (airports, the Trans Canada Hwy, national parks, military bases ...) in that province. Have a plan to map your new boundaries, likely ending up as a rump nation straddling a small, rural middle section of the current Alberta-Sask. border.

Have a plan for No, and to deal with the shock to whacko, deluded Wexiters who will be armed and angrier than ever. And for the the fallout of economic decline as national and international climate initiatives continues to expand apace in a province with an historically steep carbon dependency that will face widespread decarbonization in their target markets soon enough.

On the other hand, the saner majority may defeat Smith and her anti-confederation ideology in May, and cause the second coming of Rachel Notley who will face the same challenges.

Then what?