How Quebec paved the way for a separation movement in Alberta

One Albertan in four said ready to go, but secession threats are no way to run a country


The most intriguing aspect in Alberta’s gradually developing election campaign is the almost total absence so far of any serious discussion of education. The election has not been called as yet, but the call is expected daily. Meanwhile, with jobless totals soaring into te hundreds of thousands, with scores of local businesses rapidly departing to the U.S. and elsewhere, all because of the pipeline paralysis, the central election issue to date has been our rapidly disintegrating economy.

This focus on economics is therefore altogether understandable. Because of various “interest groups” — i.e., natives, environmentalists, and other assorted vehicles of leftwing ideology –the province now finds itself sitting on a veritable ocean of fuel it can’t sell because there is no way of transporting it to market.

Meanwhile, we Albertans are left in the hapless hands of a socialist government, run by a political party which for years has opposed the whole fossil fuel industry, chief economic engine of the province’s spectacular growth in the 20th Century. How we could have elected such a government defies explanation. It is certainly helping to make worse what is rapidly shaping up to become the greatest economic calamity in the province’s history.

So what is the solution? One answer is to move the oil by railway instead of pipeline. This is so much more expensive that it renders the product virtually profitless to the companies that paid to produce it. As for its threat to the environment, rail transportation is infinitely more dangerous than pipelines. So we find ourselves protecting the environment by exposing it to infinitely greater perils.

All this notwithstanding, the dithering government of Alberta announced this month it was preparing to spend $350 million to buy enough rail tank cars to clear the huge oil glut by train. As though to underline the dangers involved, in the same week the tank car plan was advanced, a 115-car CPR grain train went off the rails in the area of the Spiral Tunnels. Four railway men were killed. If those cars had been carrying oil instead of grain they would have hopelessly polluted much of the river system in two national parks.

Some suggest a political solution and they point to Quebec. Imagine a parallel situation in which Quebec’s unemployment was reaching into the hundreds of thousands because native groups in New Brunswick and whales swimming around Prince Edward Island were deemed threatened by a pipeline project that would save Quebec from financial ruin. Ottawa’s frantic alarm would be indescribable. Look what happened last month when one of the province’s pet corporate entities was threatened — a mere economic trifle compared with what’s going on in Alberta. The Prime Minister’s Office turned itself inside out to protect the favored company.

So the lesson is there. If Quebec doesn’t like the way it’s being treated by Ottawa, or the rest of Canada, it simply threatens to call another separatist vote. Whatever Quebec wants, it gets. Yet in a way Alberta should be grateful to Quebec. That province has forced Ottawa to create a formula under which a province can legally separate from Canada. When it provided this legislation, the government did not have Alberta in mind, of course. It still refuses to take the possibility seriously. That may prove to be an error., I’m going from memory. but one poll I’ve seen found that one Albertan in four ready to leave Canada. However, there is no tangible movement in place–yet.

One hopes there won’t be. It’s true, I think, that the election of one separatist member to the Alberta Legislature would probably be enough to get at least one pipeline built– natives and whales notwithstanding. Harsh, yes. But so is the loss of work for ten or twenty thousand more families.

Even so, yielding to threats to secession is no way to hold a country together. Even so, when a smaller province legitimately acquires wealth, there needs to be some constitutional mechanism to protect it from outright pillage by the federal government. If as is likely, the Tories regain power in the coming election, the provision of such guarantees should be high on a new government’s agenda.

Anyway, that all these considerations should supersede the education issues is unavoidable. However, the education issues remain, and in the long run might prove even more important. I hope to be writing about them weekly from now to the election because things are being planned and done to our children, which will and should shock many people. Now is the time to deal with them.

Ted Byfield was founder and publisher of Alberta Report news magazine, general editor of Alberta in the Twentieth Century, a 12-volume history of the province, and general editor of The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, a 12-volume history of Christianity. His column on education appears in The, a web journal. He has aslo authored three little books on modern pedagogy: Why History Matters, The Revolution Nobody Covered and most recently The Time is Now. You can order copies here.

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