Alberta’s Fair Deal Panel hosted a town hall meeting at Westerner Park in Red Deer Monday evening. Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff

Alberta’s Fair Deal Panel hosted a town hall meeting at Westerner Park in Red Deer Monday evening. Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff

‘Wexit’ should heed pitfalls faced by other separatist movements: experts

Western Canadian grievances largely centre on a perceived federal animus toward the oil and gas sector

Recent secessionist movements in the world offer few encouraging examples to western Canadians who are miffed at the federal government and think they’d be better off living in a separate country.

“Wexit” — an apparent play on the nickname for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union — was in few Canadians’ lexicons before October when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were re-elected, but reduced to a minority and shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Paul Hamilton, a political scientist at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., says separatist movements are usually born out of historic ethnic conflicts.

“And then there is another category of secessions, which are often the hobby horse of a couple of people with an internet connection,” he says.

“Or it’s done as a protest. Or it’s done as, frankly, a joke.”

Western Canadian grievances largely centre on a perceived federal animus toward the oil and gas sector and a belief that the region is making an outsized contribution to Confederation.

The “Wexit” movement aims to form its own political party, elect MPs and push for a referendum on separation. It has branches in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia.

Its platform says it intends to declare independence from Canada, secede from the British Commonwealth, elect a president as head of state and align with the United States. It also wants to establish its own defence force, police and currency. Costs and logistics are not detailed.

“Secessionists can always be counted on to make it sound easy. But that’s when you know they’re not serious, because it’s incredibly complicated,” says Hamilton.

Texas, which was its own country for nine years in the 1800s, has long flirted with separation from the United States. The Texas National Movement, established in 2005, wants an “independent, self-governing nation-state free from the control of the bureaucrats and political class in Washington.” It’s pushing for a referendum on “Texit.”

A recent article in The Atlantic magazine points out that an independent Texas would be on the hook for its share of the $22-trillion national debt and an “enormous transition cost.”

And just because a population votes for secession, doesn’t mean it will happen.

READ MORE: ‘Wexit’ applies to become a federal political party

Secessionist sentiment in Western Australia has bubbled up periodically over the years. None of its iterations has gone as far as a 1933 referendum in which the state voted to split, but Britain refused to let it happen.

The Spanish region of Catalonia voted for secession in a 2017 referendum that the central government deemed illegal. Criminal cases were brought against several Catalan separatist leaders, spurring recent mass protests.

Errol Mendes, a University of Ottawa law professor who has studied separatist movements, says ”Wexit” types should realize there is no automatic right to unilateral independence under Canadian or international law.

“The major teacher in all of this to some extent, whether willingly or unwillingly, is our own Supreme Court of Canada,” he said.

The top court decided in the landmark 1998 Quebec secession reference case that the province can’t split from Canada unilaterally, but could negotiate terms of separation if there was a clear referendum result based on a clear question.

“The duty to negotiate in good faith with the rest of Canada would be huge and potentially insurmountable,” says Mendes.

Splits can be amicable, such as the “velvet divorce” that led to Czechoslovakia’s dissolution into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in the 1990s.

“Would it happen with Alberta? I don’t think there’s a chance of that,” says Mendes.

The possibility of internal divisions in a newly independent state is also a huge issue.

Indigenous people voted overwhelmingly against Quebec separation. First Nations treaties are signed with the Crown, so a western split would be a “recipe for chaos,” Mendes says.

Even though Quebec didn’t separate, it has more control over immigration, pensions and other matters than other provinces.

“Quebec is the best example of a would-be state that has achieved the greatest degree of autonomy within a federal system,” says Hamilton.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has rejected secession and formed a “fair deal” panel to look at ways to reduce Ottawa’s influence.

Hamilton says: “Political elites are saying, ‘This isn’t going to happen, but we’ll use it to extract benefits from the central government.’”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Holly the stuffed Rottweiler has been missing from the front of Lucky Dog U-Bath since Feb. 24. (Submitted photo)
Holly the stuffed Rottweiler is missing from Duncan shop

Toy dog missing from front of Lucky Dog U-Bath since Feb.24

Martha Jane McHardy displays her knitwear in one of the windows at Imagine That! in Duncan this month. (Submitted)
Arts and Entertainment column: Lots to see in Duncan in March

Funding success, painters show, folk art, tell your COVID story

The Kinsol Trestle in Shawnigan Lake is a sight to behold. Funding for the expansion of the Shawnigan Museum celebrates its 100th anniversary. (Citizen file)
Shawnigan Museum expansion gets $480,000

Funds from Government of Canada Legacy Fund - Building Communities through Arts and Heritage program

A Cowichan Valley mom is wondering why masks haven’t been mandated for elementary schools. (Metro Creative photo)
Cowichan Valley mom frustrated by lack of mask mandate for elementary students

“Do we want to wait until we end up like Fraser Health?”

Clockwise from top left: Malahat First Nation Chief George Harry and councillors Steve Henry and Cindy Harry address community members in a video posted to YouTube on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Screenshot)
Malahat Nation confirms first two cases of COVID-19

Community has been under stay-at-home order since Jan. 7

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

The intersection of Melrose Street and Third Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Suspect in custody after two pedestrians struck in Port Alberni hit and run

RCMP asking for video footage, credit witnesses for quick arrest

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

Comox Valley RCMP had access to 20 Street blocked off between Cousins and Choquette avenues as they conducted a raid of a house on the block. Photo by Terry Farrell
Comox Valley RCMP raid Courtenay problem house, several arrests made

Comox Valley RCMP conducted a raid of a problem house on 20th… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

(Pxhere)
B.C. research reveals how pandemic has changed attitudes towards sex, health services

CDC survey shows that 35 per cent of people were worried about being judged

Most Read