Alberta separation angst

The quiet rumblings of Alberta separatism

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Illustration by Evan Brien

Growing up in rural Alberta, the name Trudeau was treated like a dirty word.

The introduction of the National Energy Program (NEP) by Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau in 1980 had never been forgiven. 

Prime Minster Pierre Trudeau introduced the program in October 1980 in order for the federal government to exercise more control over the Alberta energy industry. 

Alberta was outraged with the NEP and accusations were levelled at Trudeau that the nationalization of the energy industry would destroy investment. 

A Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 1982 ruled that the federal government was not able to legally tax provincially owned energy projects. 

The NEP came to an official end in 1985 and came to represent the doubt in the back of some people’s minds that maybe Alberta did not matter to Canada as a whole. People felt that the needs of the province were secondary and could be ignored in favour of national goals. 

Alberta’s separation anxieties lay dormant, with doubts rising whenever it felt like the people in power in Ottawa did not care about the province. 

We were not Québec, blatantly threatening to leave, but Alberta’s alienation was painfully acute at times. 

There was always a touch of resentment towards Eastern Canada, tinged with grumblings for how important Alberta was as a have-province, keeping all the other have-not-provinces afloat. 

While these doubts lay beneath the surface, in the end, Canada always came first.

I am proud to be a Canadian and an Albertan. These ideas are not mutually exclusive.

Alberta is having a difficult go right now. Our unemployment rate is in the double digits, while our main natural resource, oil and gas, has come under fire and, another Trudeau is in office.

However, this Trudeau government recently approved a plan to allow Kinder Morgan to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline to the west coast of B.C., a move that will help mend Alberta’s current economic woes. 

The Trudeau government is working to help Alberta rise out of the recession we are experiencing, even if the effects are not immediately felt. 

This is why it was startling to hear the rumblings from a small, but vocal, minority of separatists during Trudeau’s Town Hall Meeting at the University of Calgary on Jan. 24. 

They were dispersed throughout the crowd, some were old and some were young.

It was shocking to sit directly behind a group of six or seven student-aged people heckling Trudeau, and Alberta’s place in Canada. 

It is heartbreaking to hear whispers of Albertans who feel the need to separate from Canada. 

To be Albertan is to be Canadian.

“There has never been a government in Ottawa that acted in the interests of Albertans,” said Jeff Rout, founder of the Alberta Freedom Party, when asked about the need for Alberta to leave Canada.

Rout was not at the Town Hall meeting.

The Alberta Freedom Party was founded in order to pursue Albertan sovereignty. As of now, the party has over 9,000 followers on their Facebook page and has started a petition that has received 5,500 signatures in favour of sovereignty. 

“We want to increase democratic powers for Albertans,” said Rout, citing a need for citizen veto power through referendum, recalling legislation and increased citizen initiatives.

“[The federal government] know they don’t need a single seat in Alberta to get a majority vote,” said Rout.

It is easy to fall into the trap of blaming the nation for the province’s suffering instead of embracing and asking for our great nations’ help.

Alberta is not alone. We sit almost directly at the centre of Canada. 

While our population is small, in comparison to Ontario and Québec, our voices are loud and Canadian. 

“We stand up for each other and have each others’ backs,” said Mitch Brons, a second-year SAIT electrician student. 

“I notice between Alberta and Canada, we have an innate nature to help.”

We are known for our kindness and how welcoming we are [as Canadian],” said Brons, who was born and raised in Calgary.

“I don’t agree with [separation]. I’d never want to.”

Alberta can feel alienated, but we are part of a brilliant Canadian cultural mosaic. 

We are part of a great nation and the support we get from Canada is what makes Alberta powerful.

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