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.
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 or contract with Canada, and has no unilateral 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. In this case, and using the same democracy logic of majority rule by a part to sever from the whole, Alberta could end up having quite a few separate Indian nations inside a nation called Alberta.
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. As it happens, Albertans are a wealthy population. in fact, are the highest median income earners in Canada. They cannot succeed in crying “poor”.
9) Canada’s own Supreme Court, after the last Quebec debacle, issued an opinion that a UDI is not possible in Canada. To wit:
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.