Staunton, August 22 – When people talk about regionalism in Canada, they typically begin and end with Francophone Quebec and its challenges to the English-speaking rest of the country, Dmitry Sarutov says. But there is now gather forcing another “autonomist-separatist” movement in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia.
The historian and Urals regionalist says that the reasons behind the movement in Alberta and Saskatchewan are familiar: they are oil-rich provinces and send more in taxes to the rest of the country than they receive. There is even a term for their feelings, “Western alienation” (region.expert/canada/).
The situation these provinces find themselves in recalls that of the Urals and Siberia within Russian “and therefore it isn’t surprising that the postulates of Urals and Siberian regionalist in practice completely coincide with what supporters of Wex-it” in these four provinces are calling for, Sarutov says.
“Despite the fact that Albertans and Saskatchewans consider themselves ‘true blue’ Canadians, ‘the truth north strong and free,’ that that their demands to the federal center mostly lie in the economic realm, nevertheless, regionalists there point to a curious distinction between the western and eastern portions of the country of a historical-cultural character.”
Because Britain formed eastern Canada earlier and settlers from elsewhere created Western Canada after the US frontier was close, the Urals regionalist says, Wexiteers view “eastern Canadians as imperialists and Albertans and Saskatchewans as being infused with the American spirit of freedom not found in the east.”
Albertan separatism emerged in the 1980s in response to the liberal government of Pierre Trudeau who built his New Energy Program around the redistribution of the wealth of the oil producers to the rest of the country. At that time, separatist sentiment was sufficient for at least one of its advocates to get into the provincial parliament.
When Trudeau was ousted by the Conservatives who did away with NEP, separatist attitudes faded. But a new wave of separatist sentiment there and in its Western neighbors emerged following the return to power of Trudeau’s son, and the elevation of environmental concerns.
In 2019, the Liberal Party wasn’t able to garner a majority of votes in the elections but was able to hold onto office by a deal with Quebec nationalists. At that time, in Alberta and Saskatchewan, “not a single Liberal” was elected. And poll shows that 30 to 40 percent of Albertans and “about 30 percent” of Saskatchewans favored Wexit.
Now, Justin Trudeau hopes to strengthen his position with new elections on September 20. He may win them, but there is another upcoming vote that may have other consequences, Sarutov says. The Albertan prime minister has scheduled a referendum on October 18 about eliminating the constitutional provision calling for that province to help finance others.
“Such an explosive cocktail may provoke the next period of growth in separatism in Alberta,” he says, given that regionalists elsewhere in Catalonia, Scotland and Corsica have all made electoral gains on similar issues. The people in oil and gas rich Siberia and the Urals will be watching the other separatists in Canada with interest.