Sunday, 23 February 2003

Can Alberta go it alone?

Christopher Johnson of the Midwest Conservative Journal notes the recent use of the “S word” — secession — by Alberta premier Ralph Klein. Christopher's analysis seems spot-on:

Assuming British Columbia decided to stay put, could Alberta go it alone? It would be difficult; Alberta would have no port facilities and would have to arrange something with Vancouver or get real chummy with Seattle. But independence would not be impossible. Money would not be a problem; the United States would quite happily buy as much Albertan oil as Edmonton was willing to sell and its transport south could be facilitated with as much American capital as Alberta desired.

Would Alberta become the 51st American state? It probably wouldn't have to. Relations between Alberta and states like Montana and Idaho would be extremely intimate regardless of what Washington thought about it. Indeed, an independent Alberta or Western Canada would be a powerful attraction to many western American states during their periodic outbreaks of anti-Washingtonism. Theoretically, Edmonton could have all the benefits of close association with the United States without the burden of bureaucratic oversight from Washington.

As a practical matter, an independent Western Canada (or just Alberta on its own) would probably be a more functional solution for post-breakup Alberta: there would be no need to conform legal systems, or interminable debate about whether a parliamentary legislature is compatible with the Constitution's guarantee of a republican form of government. Unlike Québec, Alberta is a net financial contributor to Canada's federal government, so financing the needs fulfilled by Ottawa would not be difficult (although disentanglement with the rump Canada might lead to some short-term problems).

Should they do it? Beats me. But it would probably be less painful than even the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, generally regarded as the most amicable national divorce on record, and clearly a lot of Albertans are fed up with their isolation from, and lack of input to, federal decision-making.