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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks at the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors meeting in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

During the federal election’s only English-language debate, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer had a prepared zinger he aimed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The PM, he said, was so “oddly obsessed” with Doug Ford and Ontario provincial politics that he should run for the leadership of Ontario’s provincial Liberals.

We are waiting for the moment when someone asks Alberta Premier Jason Kenney whether he’s given any thought to seeking the leadership of the Parti Québécois.

He has, after all, spent the last few weeks talking as if the blueprint for a more successful future involves Alberta consciously modelling itself after Quebec City, by always demanding more power from Ottawa, including over things the average Albertan couldn’t care less about.

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Yes, Alberta has economic problems. Yes, Albertans are feeling the pain, right in the pocketbook. Since 2014, the oil industry’s challenges have rippled through the economy. All of that is real.

But fostering a kind of provincial nationalism and feeding a desire for Alberta separatism, or at least separateness, is not the answer.

The group of experts that Mr. Kenney appointed last week to advise him – the Fair Deal Panel – should take an honest look at what the Premier is proposing and tell him that, if the goal is improving Alberta’s economic situation, what he’s put forward for their consideration misses the mark.

That may be exactly the answer Mr. Kenney wants to hear. He wants to be seen to be standing up for Albertans, so passionate in their defence that’s he’s walked out onto the ledge and is threatening to keep going.

But does he really want to jump? If he did, he could have already done so. He didn’t have to appoint a committee to measure the height of the fall, nor did he have to give it five months to do so.

Last week, Mr. Kenney laid out a list of steps that Alberta could take to distance the province from the federal government – to create some separation, you might say.

The proposals include a new Alberta tax bureaucracy, replacing Revenue Canada in collecting taxes for the province (just like Quebec); an Alberta pension plan, related to but separate from the Canada Pension Plan (just like Quebec); a provincial police force (bonjour/hi, Quebec) in place of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; a provincial constitution (Quebec has a quasi-constitutional law known as the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, similar to but also subject to Canada’s Charter of Rights); forbidding municipalities from entering into agreements with Ottawa without provincial consent (see, Quebec, province of); and “playing a larger role in international affairs,” including through provincial government representation in international talks and trade offices abroad. That last item is what Jean Chrétien once described as the provincial nationalism of “le flag sur le hood.”

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None of these steps has anything to do with Alberta’s economic challenges. They are distractions from problems, not solutions to them. Nevertheless, they carry great symbolic value. And symbols matter. They are the sinews that make a country, or unmake it.

If Alberta has a case that a provincial police force would save money, then it can go ahead and set up its own province police force, just like Ontario. The same goes for provincial trade missions abroad; Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, stuck in the sidecar welded to Mr. Kenney’s speeding motorcycle, says he will follow in the path of other provinces and set up his own trade offices overseas.

But getting out of the Canada Pension Plan in favour of an Alberta-only plan? Appealing to the province’s right-leaning voting base by promising to spend lots of taxpayer money building Revenue Alberta, a big new tax bureaucracy? Seriously?

Mr. Kenney’s dream is not to become Lucien Bouchard. He is not leading an Alberta separatist party; he is not promising an independence referendum. But just as Mr. Bouchard and Quebec separatists before and since portrayed every move by the federal government as yet one more “humiliation,” so Mr. Kenney’s rhetoric and demands risk inflaming passions that are already hot.

Mr. Kenney is trying to keep the Wexit fire on his side, but in so doing he’s giving it a lot of oxygen. He appears to be aiming for a controlled burn, to be extinguished once its work is done. That may not be so easy.

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