Ahead of the election, I got a lot of emails featuring a proposed “Wexit” - a western Canadian exit, similar to the U.K.’s Brexit.
I didn’t think it made any sense, but after last week’s election, the concept has exploded. My friends are seriously talking about it.
The idea of western separatism has usually included B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba splitting off to form their own country. That isn’t going to happen. All four leaders of the provinces in question denounced the idea last week. This is how asinine Wexit is – it’s made Jason Kenney, Scott Moe, John Horgan and Brian Pallister actually agree on something.
I’ve done my own research into Wexit. It would be devastating - for westerners, that is.
This will be the first and last time, God willing, I cover this subject in our pages, so let’s bury it for good.
First, let’s assume a Wexit includes just Alberta, since most support for this idea has come from there.
The main way a province would leave confederation would be a referendum. The federal government’s Clarity Act details how a province can leave. First, a referendum across the entire region with a clear question is needed, along with a majority of people voting to leave. Whatever happens after that (ironic for the Clarity Act) is unclear. After all, no one’s ever gotten that far.
How has Quebec separatism has gone so far? Six decades of abject failure and two failed referendums later, we’ve still got 10 provinces. Quebec also had a larger gross domestic product than Alberta the past five years - over $30 billion more in 2018.
Every trade deal and business partnership Alberta has is tied to Canada. No Alberta-specific deals exist. A separate Alberta would need to hastily work out trade agreements with the entire world.
Alberta is landlocked. A rebel Alberta would be surrounded on three sides by Canada, one side by the U.S. and on no sides by coastline. How will they get all that precious crude out? Will the government you just kicked out accept pipeline offers? Alberta’s economy is heavily oil-based - in any pipeline deal, Canada would have all the leverage. Is any port in B.C. going to be under any obligation to ship separatist oil?
Alberta will require substantial imports, just like anywhere else. Where will they come from? Again, the world has the leverage.
Other nations will have leverage - namely, the Siksika, Blood, Samson Cree nations and others. Treaties 4, 6, 7, 8 and 10 all apply to Albertan land, but are signed to the Crown and Canada. Those would be tossed in an independent Alberta. Imagine a First Nations group re-opening a legal case over possession of Treaty 10 land, including Fort McMurray.
Look at all the federal government does in Alberta. Good luck getting money after you retire in a sovereign Alberta - the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security are Canadian programs.. The Canada Border Services Agency would no longer be there - at least, not on the Alberta side. Canada Post would stop delivering mail. The Canadian Forces wouldn’t send troops or planes. The province would not be covered by any existing military arrangement, like NATO. No more RCMP either, so say goodbye to all police service in rural areas. The Dairy Commission and Food Inspection Agency would no longer be monitoring all the food they’d need and the Public Health of Agency of Canada would not be there as a backstop against food-borne illnesses.
Botulism, anybody? I hear it tastes minty this time of year.
Say goodbye to using Canadian money and the services of the Royal Canadian Mint. Got any fives and twenties left? Can you eat them?
Infrastructure Canada would no longer be in charge of keeping roads, bridges and sewers shipshape. Corrections Canada would no longer run Alberta’s seven correctional facilities. Who’s going to keep hundreds of convicts? Who’s going to track violent criminals or sex offenders once released? Not the Parole Board of Canada.
Speaking of hell to pay, let’s talk debt. According to the Canadian Taxpayers Association, Alberta’s current share of Canada’s national debt is about $66 billion. Do you think Canada would just let Alberta out without demanding that debt back - like, next week?
There is a small but vocal group of Wexiteers (gah) who wish to join the U.S.
That’s a bad idea. First, that would assume the U.S. would welcome, with open arms, a new rebel state in direct opposition with its closest trading partner. Even if that’s overcome, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, Alberta’s closest neighbours down south, are deeper in debt to Washington than Alberta is to Ottawa. That same fate awaits a 51st state.
There’s so many other questions I don’t have space for. What happens when the oil market, the backbone of this hypothetical nation, crashes like it did in the ‘70s, ‘80s and 2010s?
Why on earth would you want anything like Brexit? A three year debacle that’s thrown out two (possibly three) Prime Ministers and tanked the pound? That’s really what you want?
What ties would the Russian government – which has documented ties to aiding separatist movements in the U.S., U.K., Ukraine and others – have to this new nation? What ties does it have to the Wexit movement right now?
Western alienation is real and we shouldn’t discount it or forget it. That said, the answer is within, not without. Don’t take your ball and go home crying. Play to win the game.