Does Any Province of Canada Have A Right To Separate?

Does Any Province of Canada Have A Right To Separate?

Here is a reply I wrote to a gentleman who informed me with a scary intensity that the Province of Alberta is once again thinking about separating from the Canadian Federation.
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My brief comment on any call for separation by any province in a (con)federation such as Canada was rehearsed with respect to the call for Quebec separatism in chapter 14 of The Trouble With Canada … Still! The internal situation with Alberta is somewhat different, of course, but the obstacles to separation are not much different.
Basically, while I understand Alberta grievances – many of which echo those of Quebec – I think we need to shine a light briefly on the deeper issues involved. Among them:
1) Canada is a Confederation, and not a simple democracy in which any part may hold a UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) and decide to leave the federation. Why? …. because:
2) The lines on the map demarcating each of Canada’s ten provinces are lines of provincial legal jurisdiction, and do not indicate ownership of those lands by the people who happen to live there today (but who may leave tomorrow for another province).
3) Alberta (like other provinces) opted into Confederation as part of a constitutional arrangement with Canada, and has no constitutional right to break the deal. Any referendum question put to Albertans would have to be agreed upon by both parties, as could happen if, say, Canada actually wanted Alberta to separate.
4) The land-area now controlled by Alberta was recognized as falling under Alberta jurisdiction as a province of Canada, and not as a separate country. No one knows what the territorial ramifications of an attempted unilateral separation would be, or in such a case, how much of those lands would be reclaimed by Canada (or by Indian nations).
5) If a “referendum” was ever agreed to by Albertans, it would have to have legal teeth. But no one is absolutely certain what those teeth would, or could, be. In the case of Quebec, for example, its last so-called “referendum” was not a legally-prepared and agreed-upon referendum per se. It was actually just a province-wide plebiscite, with no proper legal basis or widely-agreed formulation of the questions at issue.
6) Canada would have legal obligations with respect to any Albertan-Canadians who might choose not not support a referendum to separate. Suppose a little more than half the 4.3 million Albertans chose to separate? The other two million Albertans would very likely call upon Canada to protect them and their property (as well as all federal property in Alberta).
7) It is likely, as happened in Quebec with the Cree people, that Alberta’s Indians would themselves in turn declare a UDI to separate from Alberta if Alberta declared a UDI, and/or, a right to remain in Canada as Canadian citizens so they could continue to receive their massive tax-free handouts annually.
8) Unilateral Declarations of Independence cannot succeed without international recognition of the new “nation” declared. And generally, if ever recognized, such is generally only the case where internationally-recognized oppression, suppression, dictatorship, or other such hardship of all the people is present and is recognized internationally as such.
9) Canada’s own Supreme Court, after the last Quebec debacle, issued an opinion that a UDI is not possible in Canada. To wit:

“the Constitution does not permit unilateral secession: Canada is a federal state based on constitutional government – and subject to the rule of law. The courts have a duty to uphold that Constitution – and to ensure that no level of government exceeds its powers. Secession would affect the structure and scope of that Constitution – so it would require constitutional amendments,”

All the above would seem to put a heavy damper on the question of any province of Canada ever succeeding with a call to separate.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. The idea of Alberta separation is nothing less that a petulent threat, of absolutely no substance whatsoever. Firstly, I doubt that any more than 5 percent of the population would support it (and I lived there for five years, so I know the people). Secondly, how would separation address their current problem with resource development and the export of hydrocarbons? Would BC be any more likely to acquiesce to pipeline development if Alberta were an independent country? I hardly think so. Trade barriers would be worse with the rest of Canada than they already are, and Alberta would have great deal of difficulty resisting being absorbed into the United States (Texas started out as a republic, but before too long became a state). . So I’m not worried.

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