Commentary – Ignoring problems is no answer

Jeff Burgar

Alberta separation is a dead topic? Don’t stir up old resentments? Don’t give people ideas?

British Broadcasting News, at bbc.com, in one article, said more than any electioneering or speeches by any of the candidates in this election about “Wexit.”

Wexit is the “Western Exit” from Canada’s confederation by Alberta. Perhaps also, by one or two other western provinces and maybe even a chunk of northern Ontario and northern British Columbia.

The article actually said little. Barry Cooper, a political scientist in Calgary, argues separation isn’t about Western alienation. It’s about representation. Equalization. Oil. Alberta gets a bum deal over all three.

With about 10 per cent of Canada’s population, that’s the votes Alberta gets in the House of Commons. But Alberta contributes 17 per cent of gross product. Alberta also contributes billions to the “have not” provinces. Quebec gets a large amount of that through equalization. Yet Quebec itself has its enormous hydroelectric wealth exempt from the money formula. Alberta pays and pays, even though it lost 100,000 oilpatch jobs between 2014-16 and was in recession.

Last but not least is the big driver in Alberta – oil. As far as Central Canada, and enclaves of other anti-oil like lower B.C., Alberta is an environmental stain on the nation. They are happy to share in the wealth, but at the same time want to put energy out of business.

Two provinces, B.C. and Quebec, have gone to court to prevent pipelines built across their lands. The Trans Mountain pipeline is yet to be built. It is all quite a smosh of circumstances.

Quebecers argued for separation based on saving their culture. The counter-argument was to tell Quebecers, you can do whatever it takes, yet still stay Canadians too.

It can be said Albertans have at least as strong a case when they are fighting for their homes, their jobs, and just putting food on the table. But nobody says Albertans can keep all that and still be Canadians. 100,000 energy workers have so far found out different.

Western separation is supposed to be an answer. But it’s just as hard to carve out Alberta as it would be for Quebec. Maybe a better answer is bring back the elected Senate. You might remember the one – it was called “Triple E.” Elected. Equal. Effective.

The idea is to have a counter-balance and a check on the House of Commons. Of course, these days, so much power in the Commons is concentrated in cabinet, and finally, in the hands of the prime minister, one wonders if any rejigging of the Senate and our confederation would actually work.

Good news is, arguing about a new Senate might take 20-30 years. Politicians love kicking cans down roads.

As for little mention during the election, maybe for the best. If it isn’t talked about, separation of any kind just goes away all by itself. Right?

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