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Peak separatism has passed in Alberta

Christmas at the Alberta Legislature, not a separatist in sight. Photo: Government of Alberta

Happy Holidays! It may take a few days for its perpetrators to admit this, but Alberta has all but certainly already passed peak separatism.

The current 2018 spasm of Alberta separatist sentiment peaked late last week, probably some time Thursday afternoon.

By the time we're all saying "Happy New Year" to each other, the Alberta independence "threat" will be fading into history, again, worth a chuckle or two, like Ur-Western-separatist Gordon Kesler, and taken seriously by almost nobody -- or, perhaps I should say, nobodies.

The whole thing was almost entirely ginned up in a couple of weeks by a parade of political commentators at Postmedia's newspapers, basically providing background music for the campaign of United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney. The list includes Rick BellLorne GunterDon BraidDavid Staples, and Lawrence Solomon.

The purpose, presumably, was not actually to create a new member of the United Nations or even a new U.S. state, but to make it appear as if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is messing up so badly that the blue-eyed sheikhs, as Albertans used to like to call themselves, were not just going rogue, but full Brexit.

After all, that old Brexit cheerleader Kenney himself, his eyes in reality ever on Ottawa, still views Trudeau as his main enemy and principal rival. We'll probably never know whether or not cash from conservative political action committee slush funds helped stir the pot.

A few fast fading neoliberal ideologues obviously concluded this was a good bandwagon to jump aboard. I give you Jack Mintz, the University of Calgary economist who warned in 2015 that Alberta was about to turn into Greece (it wasn't), Ted Morton, another public-sector ideologue from the U of C and political has-been (the worst premier Alberta never had), and Danielle Smith, the former Wildrose Party leader (now a right-wing talk radio announcer).

This time, Mintz told us, Alberta had an even better case for its own Prairie Brexit than the U.K. did when it voted to leave the European Union in 2016. Never mind that Europe's not a country and Brexit hasn't exactly turned out to be a stellar success for Britain. Mintz called this idea "Albexit." How lame is that?

Morton apparently counts on the fact he was once Alberta finance minister to be taken seriously. He told the Sun's Bell that Alberta would be better off economically if it were a separate country, although he made sure, ahem, that we understood he's not a separatist.

Morton was a signatory to the now-almost-forgotten Firewall Letter -- the sovereignty-association manifesto penned in 2001 with such other notorious Alberta sovereignists as the then pre-prime-ministerial Stephen Harper, Tom Flanagan (yes, also from the U of C), and the then-chair of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

They got away with it that time without facing the mockery they deserved -- although the shrewd old premier of the day, Ralph Klein, gave their paper a D- and tossed it into the recycler, where it belonged. So perhaps Morton figured he could just repeat the stunt.

But it might have been smarter for him to stick with complaining about equalization. That too dovetails nicely with Kenney's campaign of discontent. And while the case against equalization isn't much better, it has marginally less potential to actually harm our country. That may not seem like a big deal, of course, to someone who can return to California or Wyoming whenever he pleases, but it matters to those of us who call Canada our home.

Smith, who is also a former Fraser Institute apparatchik and Calgary Herald journalist, huffed recently that "Canada should consider itself on notice. Albertans have had enough."

Unfortunately for these commentators, the cause of Catalonia by the Cordillera -- which I suppose would make Calgary Barcelona on the Bow -- immediately turned into a flaming clown car.

Surely the proximate cause of that was the announcement Thursday by former UCP bad boy Derek Fildebrandt's Freedom Conservative Party demanding full frontal sovereignty if Ottawa won't immediately bow to his demands.

This is a problem, of course, since absolutely no one except Fildebrandt and a few hangers on take the FCP seriously. Even the Alberta Conservatives and the vast majority of voters think Alberta separatism is a joke, as pollsters whose interest was piqued by Postmedia's mischief are starting to prove.

In case you missed it along with the so-called experts, Alberta is sovereign -- at least within the zone the Canadian constitution defines as provincial jurisdiction. Accordingly, the relationship we have with the Rest of Canada could be called "sovereignty-association." This is true of all provinces, including Quebec, by the way.

It's how a federation works.

That, in turn, is how Alberta came to be the principal author of its own difficulties -- despite the efforts of Postmedia's underperforming political analysts and Alberta's political elite to blame Trudeau and the current federal government for anything that goes wrong here.

Arguably, when they designed the thing in 1867, the Fathers of Confederation, God bless their testosterone-drenched little 19th Century boys' club, divided the powers of the federal government and the provinces in just about the right way to make a federation work properly.

But then they had the sorry example of the United States before them, which in case you missed that lecture in your American History class, had a fairly major internal conflict between 1861 and 1865 caused by separatist sentiments, an obsolete and immoral economic model, and a poorly drafted constitution.

Indeed, as history shows, that is where separatism ends up more often than not -- hate and bloodshed -- which is why it's fortunate for us, as the polls indicate, that the Alberta electorate ain't biting.

As my fellow Alberta political blogger Dave Cournoyer noted, "Alberta separatism is the political equivalent of a toddler's temper tantrum."

True enough. And as Cournoyer observed, it's embarrassing, at times even cringe-worthy.

But the squall is over, folks. Watch for Postmedia to start backing away soon as they start to realize how little traction this partisan claptrap has.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Government of Alberta

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