There was a time when Canadians looked disdainfully upon those wanting to break up our country.
Throughout most of the life of Canada, it’s been a faction of Quebeckers pushing to go their own way, represented in Ottawa by a separatist party – the Bloc Quebecois.
That has always galled many of us; taxpayer dollars are being spent providing support and lending legitimacy to a political party that has the ultimate goal of ending the country as we know it.
For years, some of the loudest cries over the injustice of the situation emanated from Alberta. Here were Quebeckers, living in a province that received billions in transfer payments, wanting to go their separate way. Go then, you could hear fed-up westerners say. If you think you’ll be better off on your own, don’t let the screen door hit your butt on the way out.
But times have changed. Now it’s Albertans you hear talking about going it alone.
It’s always been a minority, mind you, but a vocal minority. For his part, Premier Jason Kenney has always made it clear that while he shares the frustration many feel over the inequity that exists between how much the province has contributed economically to Confederation versus how much it has received in return, he doesn’t believe separatism is the answer.
“Either you love your country or you don’t,” Mr. Kenney said last summer on the subject. There is no such thing as qualified patriotism, he said. Mr. Kenney has always understood the perilous economic consequences that would await an independent Alberta, particularly at a time when oil is becoming a far less dependable source of wealth for the province than it has traditionally been. The UCP’s founding documents even call for a united Canada.
Which brings us to one of Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party caucus colleagues, Drew Barnes, the MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat.
Mr. Barnes drew attention to himself in October by writing a blog post suggesting that, for it to move ahead, Alberta needed to escape the shackles of Canadian rule and become a sovereign nation. He argued that as an independent country, the province would have the ninth-highest GDP per capita in the world, ranking it with Singapore and Switzerland.
The MLA was also part of the Alberta government’s Fair Deal Panel, a travelling road show aimed at hearing what Albertans had to say about what a more reasonable role in Confederation looked like for them. Ideas being pursued as a result of that panel include a provincial pension plan and police force and the establishment of an independent revenue agency.
It was understood that Mr. Kenney talked to Mr. Barnes about how unhelpful his blog post was. But if there was such a conversation it didn’t have much effect.
Mr. Barnes is at it again, this time with an interview he recently gave to Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell. In it, he called for an independence referendum to be held the same day as the next provincial election in 2023.
“Albertans are the ones who should decide if Ottawa is treating us fair and the best way for Albertans to have their voice heard is an independence referendum,” Mr. Barnes said. He said that if Albertans were asked to join Canada today, the answer would be a resounding no.
“It’s so wrong for Canada, for Ottawa, for the Laurentian elite not to give us equality, not to give us a fair deal, not to give us movement of our resources.”
Never mind that Ottawa is building a pipeline to the West Coast to get more Alberta crude to markets. One can only imagine the tariffs that might be applied on that oil if Alberta were to become its own country.
Mr. Kenney, as the student of history that he is, knows full well what can happen when talk of separatism gains any kind of foothold in a province. He surely remembers the investment that was scared off by separatist talk in Quebec in the 1970s, not to mention the businesses and families that fled the province for safer sanctuaries.
The Premier has dismissed Mr. Barnes’s proposal, but having a separatist amid his ranks is not a good look all the same. Having a member of caucus openly and defiantly advocating a position contrary to Mr. Kenney’s is not a good look for his leadership, either.
He should do the right thing and kick Drew Barnes out of his caucus immediately.
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