Will Alberta Separation be an Election Issue?

There is a significant revival of Alberta separation sentiment surfacing again. How much of it is political posturing, an expression of economic anxiety, disillusion with the Federal government on the TransMountain pipeline, frustration over transfer payments, all of the above…and more?

The Angus Reid Institute has a very recent survey on the revival of western alienation comparing today with the old rise of “The West Wants In”Reform Party movement.

You can see Alberta is the most vociferous in the anger over perceptions of treatment by the Federal government and a dramatic increase (86%) now compared to (63%) in 1991.  For context the 1991 poll would be a scientific based survey that is more reliable than the unscientific, significantly less reliable internet panel based 2018 polling techniques.

The Angus Reid Institute study was based on the western provinces appetite for a Western Canada Party to represent the regional interests that is very conservative and seems “inspired” by the spirit of the old Reform Party.  This is mostly an emotional hypothetical response since there is no Western Canada Party, with no leader or policy.

There is support for the idea across all four western provinces but a distinctly stronger conservative consensus between Alberta and Saskatchewan.  That is most likely based on the frustration and economic anxiety due to the recession and uncertain state of the energy industry.

The impact of wide and devastating Differential Prices in Alberta’s oil, the 99% dependency on the USA for our market, lack of domestic tidewater pipeline capacity, plus the waste and poor oilsands project execution for on-time and on-budget delivery has eroded the faith in Alberta energy sector by foreign investors.  International energy companies have recently divested over $46B of investment the Alberta energy sector.

So, given this context, is Alberta Separation a real possibility?  According the Angus Reid Institute data indicates that 33% on westerners believe is “Could Happen” (22%) of “May Very Well Happen (11%).  That is a significant amount of minority consensus.   However in Alberta the separatist sentiment is much stronger where 52% say they “believe the west would be better off if it left Canada.”

For more details on the Angus Reid Institute survey click here.

My sense is that there are conservative forces who are willing to press the Separation button to lever the economic anxiety in Alberta, others are serious Separatists. There will be some significant effort by extremist conservatives to make Alberta separation as a provincial election issue.

I expect the UCP will play with this separatists sentiments and use it to pander to their Base.  They will do it by framing fear of threats from the Federal government and leverage their anti-Trudeau positioning. They will play off the Notley-Trudeau “social license” alliance on the TMX pipeline process too.

Don’t expect much of a UCP policy-based  approach that involves taking responsible action within Alberta’s power and jurisdiction.

Progressive Albertans can’t take the separatist sentiment for granted. While the survey evidence may be suspect as to the actual level of the threat, it is still real.  Conservatives will be leveraging it to whip up the anger, fears and economic anxiety in their Base.

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