Don Braid: Talk of Alberta exit is out in the open again

After lying dormant for nearly 40 years, talk of Alberta separatism is again boiling to the surface.

On Tuesday, Premier Rachel Notley said she’s well aware of the increasing chatter about giving up on Canada.

And she dealt with the question exactly as the first PC premier, Peter Lougheed, did back in the 1980s.

“I say to all those folks that we’re right there with them,” Notley said. “We, too, are very, very frustrated.

“But even as we’re angry, we roll up our sleeves and get to work finding the solutions. That’s the Alberta ethos I want to make sure we’re all focused on.”

It’s the only sensible strategy for a premier — don’t demean separatist feeling, but don’t endorse it either. Meanwhile, dig in and fight for provincial interests.

The earlier separatist wave faded after Lougheed won enough battles with Ottawa to show that Alberta could prevail, or at least survive.

Victory is far from certain today. And so, there’s rising separatist feeling, tinged with deep anger.

Exactly what we saw nearly four decades ago.

In this photo from 1975, Peter Lougheed speaks with Pierre Trudeau at an energy conference in Ottawa.

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Exhibit A is W. Brett Wilson, Calgary’s celebrity investor, philanthropist and former Dragon’s Den star. He’s suddenly presenting himself as the poster boy of Alberta alienation.

Recently, Wilson tweeted that environmental “traitors” should be hanged.

“Bastards, slimy bastards,” Wilson called them. He didn’t do that just once — it was a repeated theme over several tweets.

That brought him many rebukes, including one from Vivian Krause, the researcher who has pinpointed U.S. money behind opposition to the oilsands and pipelines.

“Hey, I understand your frustration, Brett, but it’s not helpful for us to joke about hanging each other,”

Wilson and Krause will share the stage Wednesday night at a Telus Convention Centre event where her subject is “the cause of oil price discounts.”

Wilson is putting himself out in front of the alienation surge with radio and other media interviews.

“My belief is we’re being pushed out of Confederation,” he told me Tuesday.

“I’m not a separatist. I’m a frustrated nationalist who doesn’t believe Confederation as designed is working in our favour.

“My first choice is to renegotiate Confederation. My second choice is to leave Confederation.

“But I’m not leading that charge. I’m saying, ‘hey guys, I want to renegotiate our place in Canada.’”

Wilson says his “current coffee shop polling is running 99 per cent in favour of getting out of Canada.”

Hardly scientific, but not entirely wrong. Many Albertans are hearing the same things — or saying them.


Alberta’s separatist talk, unlike Quebec’s, always draws scorn from down east.

But the rest of Canada should understand that this is no sneering matter. It’s a serious expression of deep alienation and even desperation.

Albertans are as corrosively angry today as they were in the early 1980s, after the introduction of Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program.

I covered and wrote about that whole bleak period. It was ugly.

Back then, two parties called for either separation or the rebuilding of Canada — Western Canada Concept and the Confederation of Regions.

They were both deeply kooky and often racist. But Western Canada Concept elected an MLA, Gordon Kesler, in the Olds-Didsbury byelection of 1982.

Later that same year, WCC won 11.8 per cent of the vote in the provincial election — only a half-dozen points behind the NDP led by Notley’s father.

Today, there’s no registered Alberta party with a separatist agenda. The obvious question is whether Wilson wants to start one.

“I don’t think it would serve Alberta well to bring forward a separatist party right now,” he says.

He wants UCP Leader Jason Kenney to win the next election, and then use his promised referendum on equalization as a wedge to open a much larger negotiation on radically revised terms for Alberta within Canada.

Albertans will be listening to all this.

We can only hope Ottawa listens, too, without sneering.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

Twitter: @DonBraid

Facebook: Don Braid Politics

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