A quick scan of coverage of the Calexit movement by which California would separate from the union because of the policies of President Donald Trump suggests the notion is not exactly catching fire, to use a probably inappropriate expression for the Golden State.
Here in Canada, we have the Wexit movement whereby advocates say Alberta (and maybe its prairie cousin Saskatchewan) should split from the Canadian federation because of the policies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
While few would consider Wexit a serious threat, there is undoubtedly a rebellious mood out west, not that this is a new thing. The last big outburst was in the late 1980s when a combination of factors led to the creation of the Reform Party, an Alberta-based protest movement, which became the Official Opposition in Parliament in 1997.
That development shattered conservative forces in the country and paved the way for a long stretch of Liberal governments which in turn only aggravated western conservative discontent.
The current uprising is in reaction to the recent federal election in which the sole four Liberal MPs in Alberta were ousted and all but one seat went to the Conservatives, most in towering landslides. Having lost their bet the Conservatives would win the country, many Albertans are now crying foul.
And the foulest crier of all is newly elected Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Already notorious for his schoolyard insults in the direction of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Kenney has taken his attacks on the federal Liberal government to a whole new level.
At the core of the anger is the feeling that the federal government under Trudeau, whose father remains a loathed figure to many Albertans, has created obstacles to the expansion of the province’s dominant economic engine, the oil and gas sector.
Critics say excessive regulation and environmental safeguards, court challenges and general foot-dragging by a government controlled by easterners revolted by oil sands extraction have stalled pipeline projects to bring oil and gas to market and brought the Alberta economy to its knees.
True there has been a significant slowdown from the feverish development in the energy sector in recent years, but the overall Albertan economy is far from broken. In fact, with a population of 4.3 million, Alberta leads the nation with a Gross Domestic Product of $80,000 per capita, some $11,000 more than the province in second place, its complaining compatriot Saskatchewan.
Kenney directs his wrath at several grievances but one that seems to particularly irk him is equalization. This is the constitutionally guaranteed program of direct financial contributions the federal government channels to provincial governments with the aim of ensuring “reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.”
Kenney takes particular aim at Quebec, which next year will receive some $13 billion in equalization payments from Ottawa. The premier notes Quebec has posted a budget surplus thanks to the taxes collected from Alberta energy companies and their workers.
It has not escaped attention that the equalization formula currently in place is the work of the previous federal Conservative government of Stephen Harper which had a major western component, and of which Kenney was a senior member.
Kenney has vowed to pursue a “fair deal” for Alberta, setting up a panel to study the matter, and suggesting such gestures of independence as a provincial police force and a province-administered pension plan, in the style of Quebec.
Stripped of the overheated political rhetoric, it’s clear there is much genuine resentment and bitterness in Alberta. It is an issue of national unity the federal government cannot ignore, regardless of the limited prospects of political gain in the bedrock conservative province.
Trudeau made an initial move to address the problem this week in naming ministers to his new minority government cabinet. He has mandated Chrystia Freeland, perhaps his most impressive and effective minister, to deal with the situation in the capacity of minister of intergovernmental affairs. She will also be deputy prime minister.
Freeland, who is the daughter of an Alberta farmer, is no stranger to dealing with testy belligerents. In her previous role as minister of foreign affairs, she was the lead negotiator with the Trump administration on the “tweaked” NAFTA deal. That Trump called her “that nasty woman” might be seen as a badge of honour.
For someone viewed by many as the obvious successor to Trudeau whenever he decides to leave politics, taming Albertan anger may be the bigger test of leadership for Freeland than making a deal with Trump.
Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. Email him at: email@example.com.