It’s late in the year for fireworks, but we’re about to see the biggest display of political pyrotechnics in a while. On Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada will rule on the constitutionality of the Impact Assessment Act that was triggered by a reference case filed by the Alberta government in 2020. While the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled the federal legislation — better known as the former Bill C-69, or as conservatives like to call it, the “No More Pipelines Act” — intruded on provincial jurisdiction over the development of natural resources, the Supreme Court is expected to view the federal government’s appeal of that decision more favourably. If it upholds the constitutionality of the Impact Assessment Act, as most legal scholars expect, we’re going to see a nuclear-grade meltdown coming out of Alberta.

It’s a safe bet people like Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and her various proxies in the local media will start by going after the court, which they’ve long complained has a supposedly Liberal bias. Never mind, of course, that its chief justice was appointed by one Stephen Harper — for them, this will be another opportunity to undermine its legitimacy and politicize its judgments. That’s especially true given that Russell Brown, the most Alberta-friendly of the nine Supreme Court justices, stepped down from the bench earlier this summer after the Canadian Judicial Council began looking into his disreputable conduct during a recent vacation. Let the conspiracy theories begin.

It’s an even safer bet the Alberta separatist movement will use the decision to add fuel to its long-simmering fire. Witness Take Back Alberta’s David Parker, who tweeted recently, “Alberta will not obey Ottawa’s draconian climate virtue signalling. If they attempt to enforce it, we will separate. If you don’t believe that is possible, just watch us.”

The callback to Pierre Trudeau is a nice touch, even if the idea of Alberta separation is little more than a childish fantasy. The notion Alberta would be better off on its own ignores everything from basic geopolitical realities to the historical example of Quebec, never mind the risks associated with being heavily dependent on fossil fuels right as the world is transitioning away from them. But after years of being a very vocal critic of the movement and its obvious blind spots, I’m starting to have some pro-separation arguments of my own.

An independent Alberta, for example, would put an end to the tiresome and tedious debates around equalization, most of which are informed by a fundamental misunderstanding of how the program actually works. This has been a cottage industry in Alberta for years now, one that’s aided and abetted by politicians and pundits who profit from the confusion. Without them around to chum the waters, the rest of Canada would have more time and opportunity to talk about issues that actually matter.

An independent Alberta would also be forced to bear the full brunt of the global energy transition, one that it has about as much control over as you might over a passing locomotive. For Canada, this would almost certainly be a very good thing. After benefiting from Alberta’s resource-driven wealth and the surplus contributions they’ve made to the federal income tax and social security systems, the country would be free of any downside associated with the global transition away from burning fossil fuels. And the more than $200 billion in unreclaimed environmental liabilities which the oil and gas industry is supposed to pay for and the Alberta government seems utterly uninterested in collecting? That would be an independent Alberta’s problem — and it would be one of many.

Most importantly, an independent Alberta would lance a political boil that’s been growing on our collective backside for at least three decades. No longer would the rest of Canada have a province, and a substantial subset of its population, that’s actively working against its shared interests and priorities on climate change. The citizens of an independent Alberta would also benefit since its political leaders would no longer be able to blame Ottawa and the federal government for all of their woes. As masters of their own destiny, they would suddenly be accountable for their choices and the consequences that flowed from them.

This alone might be enough to deter any provincial or federal conservative politician from taking the idea of separation too seriously. They’ve been dining out for more than 40 years now on a sense of victimhood and injustice perpetrated by shadowy eastern elites, which they use to distract the public from their own political failings. To give up that familiar crutch would mean they’d finally, for the first time, have to stand entirely on their own merits. They, more than anyone else, might prefer to keep the status quo intact.

The problem with that status quo — well, one of them — is that it has allowed Albertans to avoid confronting the big questions about their personal and political future. Maybe, just maybe, a real conversation about separating from Canada will bring those to the fore, and move the province past its juvenile obsession with Ottawa and prime ministers named Trudeau. That alone would be a victory for Alberta — and Canada.

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Whoa there, Max! Not all Albertans are for separation. As the last election showed, Alberta is changing from an oil based backwater into a more forward thinking province. Danielle Smith is positively loathed by a large segment of the population and only the dumbest of her supporters would actually be happy with a ‘free’ Alberta. Her delaying of the transition to non-renewables blindsided even her corporate masters. I don’t think they would let her go all the way with separation. She is much more valuable to them as a thorn in the side of the Feds and to keep the support of the venal and the less aware segment of the population riled up. If it came to a vote, I think the majority of Albertans would side with Canada.
Thank you for the reporting.
Lucretia Martenet

Well funnily enough, apparently there are enough Albertans who agree with every word uttered out of Smiths mouth that they gave her another 4 year mandate didn’t they. And if there was a majority of Albertans who disagreed with her, you’d have an NDP government right now.
Voters may not get the government t they want but they ALWAYS get the government t they deserve. If there was a big enough majority who didn’t agree with Smith they did what? Didn’t bother to vote at all, or held their noses and voted UCP?

Quite frankly after 20 years of the increasing whining and complaining and blaming coming from Alberta, I and a great MANY other would be more than happy to help Alberta pack!

Indeed, but although Alberta is the most annoying, it's far from alone.
Our bigger problem is how many right-wing premiers there still are in Canada, despite the democracy-destroying context of Trump and the "big lie," (one less in Manitoba though, hurrah) AND how a majority of Canadians, at least in a poll, are somehow equally as unbelievably to what happened in Alberta's last election, not to mention the summer we all just lived through, apparently leaning toward Poilievre and the Convoy Party of Canada who obviously don't take ANY science seriously, including climate change!
But Alberta still has to up the ante by being the lead crazy, going for broke on that elusive conservative "agenda" we've all been dancing around ever since Presto Manning and Stephen Harper destroyed the Progressive Party of Canada. A big part of that agenda was hinted at when Harper boldly said "God bless Canada," American style. That love that dare not speak its name has officially blown its cover now and is known to be supporting Denial Smith's "government" in the form of a religious cult led by David Parker who's increasingly feeling his oats after installing several of his fellow believers, (superior human beings that they all of course ARE) as UCP board members.
He not only wants women back in their rightful place in society, he comes right out and says that this nonsense about climate change is just more liberal "virtue signalling."
I agree with Max; I say pull the pin and go for broke. Bring it on.

Yes on all counts......but by the end of a year or two, not many of the nose holding voters will be admitting to doing anything other than voting for Rachel. Many of these dummies just learned the hard way that you have to pretend to be a conservative, whether you know what that is or not......Alberta is a country of the same.

But its changing. Smith did not win by anything resembling a landslide. We need to watch what happens at their convention. If the TBA nuts succeed in taking over the party there will either be 1 a mass exodus of centrist conservatives or 2. a whole lot of conversion therapy going on.

By their decisions shall we judge them.

Fawcett: "After benefiting from Alberta’s resource-driven wealth and the surplus contributions they’ve made to the federal income tax and social security systems"

What surplus contributions? List them, please.
Alberta taxpayers contribute 14% of federal revenues. 14 cents on the federal tax dollar. Taxpayers in other provinces contribute the other 86 cents.
The bulk of federal revenues is generated outside Alberta — mostly by wealthy Canadians and profitable companies residing elsewhere. Ontario and Quebec taxpayers contribute 60% of federal revenues. BC taxpayers 14%. Quebec taxpayers contribute more to Quebec's equalization payments than Alberta taxpayers do.

Canada's top 10% of tax filers contribute far more than Alberta taxpayers do. Canada's top 10% pay just over half the taxes. Four times the sum that all Alberta taxpayers (a slightly larger group) pay.
Most of the top 10% do not live in Alberta.

In 2020 Canada's energy sector directly contributed 5.8% ($121 billion) to GDP. Including oil & gas, nuclear, hydro, coal, and renewables.
Petroleum accounted for 3.9% ($81.4 billion). Crude oil a fraction of that. Alberta oilsands a fraction of that.
NRCan Energy Fact Book 2021-2022

NRCan Energy Fact Book 2021-2022, p12: The entire energy sector's share of taxes (including corporate income taxes, indirect taxes (such as sales and payroll taxes, but excluding royalties and land sales) paid by all industries (2015-2019 average) to all levels of govt = 6.9%.
I.e., other industries contributed 93.1% of taxes.

Subtract (astronomical) externalized environmental, climate change, and health costs and subsidies.
Wealth that degrades our life-support systems is illusory. The costs of climate change and fossil-fuel pollution are prohibitive.

I think you've missed the point of the article.

On the contrary. Albertans' exaggerated sense of importance and self-entitlement feeds the non-stop rage and grievance machine that keeps the embers of separatism glowing.

One point you have missed, is the lesson of Brexit - emotional bullshit Trumps reasoned argument. It would be easy to rig a referendum to get the same result as first-past-the-post. And there is a LOT of emotional nonsense in the pro-sepratist arguments.
BTW, no one is talking about the limitations of a land locked republic and its current economic dependence on selling oil to the USA.
Imagine the emotional baggage that might come with discussion of Alberta becoming the 50-somethingest State.
But on the up-side, maybe BC could get an industrial corridor through Yukon and NWT to the ROC. Think of all the environmental protests and reconciliation battles we could enjoy over that!!

While I'm an Albertan and definitely not for leaving Canada, I do think it would be interesting times if the Federal government refused to rise to the separation bait, and said what essentially I thought we should say to Quebec during its separatist phase.
"If you want to leave, leave and good luck. We have no desire to hold a people hostage in their own territory"

It would put the onus on Alberta. What's more.........I don't think a separating territory should expect the return of taxes and other payments it made when part of the Federation. What's past is past....a sovereign Alberta should content itself with planning for its own future.
It would also provide an opportunity for me and my house to become separatists in our own right....pushing for Calgary to leave Alberta and become the 21st Centuries first City State.
Farce is what's left after Comedy's demise.

Good one Mary.

Amen to the thrust of Mr. Fawcett’s article.

I’ve been hearing the whining emanating from Alberta about “Western” separation since the late 60s when I was growing up in Calgary. Enough already!

Let’s not appease the Alberta rednecks any longer and challenge them directly — to their faces — to hold an all-in / all-out referendum on actual, genuine severance from the Canadian confederation. Go for it. And non of this “sovereignty association” claptrap.

Let’s remind them that there is the Clarity Act, and what giving up their Canadian citizenship really means, and what will be left once federal assets and interests are defended and protected. Railways, national parks, pipelines, highways, airports, military bases, co-operative public social safety net programs, federal grants and subsidies, etc. etc.

Let’s provide the economic, geographical and demographic facts about the consequences of separation, such as a lack of access to tidewater, renegotiating the Health Care Act after Alberta has already cut medical and hospital services to give more public subsidies to their outrageously profitable majority foreign-owned oil and gas benefactors, the cost of failing to address environmental liabilities, the power their own export markets and the world economy hold over them, and the shrinking of their domestic market once a million Albertans leave for a more stable post-separation life. BC, Manitoba and Ontario would welcome refugees from Albert’s egregious political stupidity for their commitment to the nation and their contribution to the regional talent pool.

Call out the loudmouth theocratic assholes on their damaging rhetoric that makes Alberta to be some kind of Promised Land. It is not. And BC and Manitoba — maybe even some parts of Saskatchewan and the inner city neighbourhoods of Alberta’s big cities — either bristle or are cold to the notion that the four Western provinces are on the same page, let alone in the same book or library shelf - as hard core right-wing Albertans. Coastal BC’s 3.5 million people have greater affinity with West Coast USA than to isolationist suburban and rural Alberta.

Mr. Fawcett alludes to the large size of the economic and tax contribution to federal revenues by Alberta. Well, the Greater Toronto Area makes an equal contribution to the national GDP as the entire province of Alberta, oil and all, in a good year. Moreover, the six largest cities contribute more than 50% to the nation’s annual $2.2T economy. With just 8.4% of national GDP comprised of the nation’s entire fossil fuel industry in good years (less than 6% in bad years), does one seriously suggest the remaining 91.6% of the economy can’t make up for a single-digit loss?

The evidence is pretty clear, Alberta would wither after separation only to face head-on and alone the transition to clean energy currently only at the beginning of its worldwide upward trajectory. Canada would feel the temporary pain of separation and an economic dip. But do not ever doubt that the nation will recover, perhaps even rejoice in cutting loose a selfish, tantrum-prone whiny child, and move on.

And bottom line, on that upcoming Supreme Court ruling, this will be two out of two decisions favouring federal over provincial jurisdiction in the context of the environment but with climate change finally reaching emergency status, the jurisdictional quibble truly becomes a moot point.
This places the CPC and the UCP where they belong-- together along the wall outside the room where serious discussion takes place.

"Canada would feel the temporary pain of separation and an economic dip."
I think you underestimate the emotional cost to Canada of any province choosing to leave. This is a country that prides itself on its ability to "go along and git along" and any divorce, never mind an acrimonious one, would cut right through our sense of togetherness [Canadianismo]. Once the precedent was set, it would be dominoes all the way down.


But I don't believe I'm underestimating the threat that Alberta will actually do it. I believe so much of it is run of the mill hubris, and my commentary is an attempt to pop that balloon to expose how deep their commitment really is. In my estimation, far less than a mountain, slightly more than a molehill, a mile wide, a millimetre deep, the product of extrovert emotion, the antithesis of rational thought.

There is no majority taste for actual separation in Alberta (a succession of polls over the years prover it), and the proponents haven't dared in 50+ years to actually try because if the threat was real, they'd lose a lot of political support and get some serious flak. In fact, I'd go as far as to say the average citizen recognizes the rhetoric as a device to gain more attention from confederation, not to actually leave it. But some of us folks who spent decades there and see the place with clear outside eyes also recognize the beginnings of extortion.

Alberta is not Quebec which is truly a distinct society with a different language and culture, they voted No in both their referendums, albeit by a hair's breadth on the first go. Still, No means No, and we'd be dumb to cave to the extortion.