Amid a declining economy and questions about the federal government’s priorities, some Albertans are taking another look at separating from Canada.
The Alberta Freedom Party, a separatist party formed in mid-2015, is looking to grow support for the idea across the province.
The party was “created with the intention to promote the concept of Alberta sovereignty,” said founder Jeff Rout.
However that is not the group's only goal. “We also want to increase democratic control Albertans have over their government and so intend to introduce legislation towards that end regardless of sovereignty,” he said.
“Most of our feedback is overwhelmingly supportive. It is becoming increasingly obvious to Albertans just how little democratic control they have,” he added.
Some democratic controls Rout is looking for include ordinary citizens sponsoring motions to be voted on in legislature, the power of recall and the ability to petition for a referendum on decisions made by the government.
Rout said that most importantly, “Albertans should have complete 100 per cent autonomous sovereign control over all laws, policies, taxes, immigration, finances, military, trade, and diplomatic relations of Alberta.”
Rout added, “We prefer the word sovereignty as we want to illustrate that we are willing to negotiate and remain in Canada… but if we are unable to be sovereign in Canada, we would unhesitantly take separation over staying in Canada with no measurable control over the laws and policies that govern our lives.”
Jim Farney, an associate professor of Canadian politics at the University of Regina, said the chance of Alberta obtaining sovereignty is “pretty much zero.”
“It’s never been a popular political force. They’ve never gotten the type of support you would need to declare independence,” he said.
The political party in power is also a factor. “As long as the NDP stay in power provincially there, that’s likely to be very muted. If we were to get Wildrose...in office then we’d see things bubble up,” Farney said.
Although he doesn’t see sovereignty for Alberta being successful, Farney noted, “Where there has been a lot more political energy in Alberta is not on sovereignty per se, but renegotiating what federalism looks like, so Alberta becomes more autonomous.”
However, even with this route, there would still be many challenges and details to be figured out and that process could get very complicated, Farney said.
The impact on both Canada and Alberta would be substantial, he said. Questions about military bases, passports and federal debt would need to be negotiated.
“It would be an economic hit to the rest of the country, but it would probably also be an economic hit to Alberta because all of a sudden it’s this much smaller, much less stable economy,” he said.
“It’s an extreme articulation of a feeling that the Canadian deal is not doing right by Alberta. So I don’t think that separation is at all likely or a big political option. What does matter a lot more is just alienation,” Farney said.
Alberta has a history of wanting to part ways with Canada. In the 1980s, there was the Western Canada Concept Party. With Pierre Elliott Trudeau as prime minister, the party’s ideals revolved around oil pricing and representation in the federal government.
In 2003, the Separation Party of Alberta also tried to gain support for separation. Now, with Justin Trudeau as prime minister, some people in Alberta are starting to look back at the idea.