Signs of instability are showing in Ottawa as October’s federal election approaches.
While gripped by a corruption scandal and a string of high-profile cabinet resignations, Justin Trudeau is also having to contend with provincial secessionist sentiment.
This may be nothing new for a country which has historically had to deal with threats of independence from rebellious French-speaking province Quebec, however this time calls for secession are coming from quaint, conservative Alberta.
Alberta is heavily dependent upon oil extraction, an industry which many in the climate-conscious east of the country are keen to get away from.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault has iterated a desire to stop importing Albertan “dirty oil.”
Expansion of a pipeline to export from the landlocked province to coastal ports was quashed at the Federal Court of Appeal in August 2018, heightening resentment of a government that 60% of Albertans did not vote for in the 2015 federal election.
Moreover, equalisation payments which have historically seen eastern provinces rewarded far more than those in the west have led some to believe western money is being funnelled eastwards.
In December 2019, economist Jack Mintz wrote in the Financial Post claiming that Alberta could take inspiration from Britain and seek ‘independence’.
This sparked a social media debate, centring around the possibility of #Albexit. This discussion was not complete fantasy, with polls stating that support for Albertan independence sits consistently at around 25%.
The Alberta Freedom Alliance, who pledge to hold an independence referendum, are recruiting candidates for the Alberta general election in April.
The movement in general ties into the Canadian issue of ‘Western Alienation’, which has reared its head in the past.
Western Canada Concept, a political party promoting the split of western and eastern Canada, gained 11.8% of the vote in the 1982 Alberta general election.
Separatists claim that an independent Alberta would be able to strike its own trade agreement with the United States and thereby export its oil.
Others have mused the possibility of becoming the 51st state, another step toward complete US control of the continent, and manifest destiny.
Academics have however been quick to downplay the possibility of secession.
Professor of Political Science at the University of Waterloo Dr Emmett Macfarlane said: “The Constitution of Canada really does not contemplate the feasible succession of a province.”
This is in reference to the fact that any independence vote in Canada would have to be ratified by all other provinces, as outlined within the Canadian Constitution.
Moreover, the constitutional rights of Alberta’s indigenous First Nations, who own vast swathes of the province’s land, could not be ignored.
Dr Macfarlane suggests that this could cause the break up of an independent Alberta.
With reference to the problems surrounding Brexit and its comparisons to a potential ‘Albexit’, Macfarlane added: “In Canada it would be orders of magnitude worse.
“This is probably the most disaffected that Albertans have been since the early 1980s and polls still only say that roughly one quarter of Albertans would even talk about secession.”
There is a possibility that dissension is targeted more strongly at the current Prime Minister than Canada in general, as Albertans have a historical predisposition to be anti-Trudeau.
Justin’s father Pierre froze Albertan oil prices during the 1973 Oil Crisis and imposed a 40% tax on every barrel exported to the United States.
The Albertan Premier at the time called it the “most discriminatory action taken by a federal government against a particular province in the entire history of Confederation.”
The growing discussion on Albertan secession could be a result of anti-Trudeauism rather than a rebellion against Canada in general.
To this end, any chance of Albertan independence may actually depend upon a Trudeau victory in October 2019, and the maintenance of unpopular Liberal government while resentment is allowed to grow.
Rebellious Albertans may be hoping Trudeau survives this current wave of resignations, but this isn’t necessarily good news for the troubled Prime Minister.