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

Cattle Show set to return to Stettler Jan. 31st and Feb. 1st

“Stettler, historically, has been a very strong cattle community. It was a real hub for the cattle industry.”

RCMP Major Crimes Unit lays charges in Stettler death

Nicholas Climb Johnson, 32, of Stettler is charged with second degree murder in the death of his father

Stettler’s Big Brothers Big Sisters has plenty of events lined up for the first part of 2020

January is Mentoring Month across Canada and throughout North America

RCMP remind drivers about dangers of unlocked and idling vehicles

Leaving a vehicle running unattended creates a situation that criminals find difficult to resist

Stettler Junior Curlers traveled to the Wetaskiwin bonspiel Jan. 11th and 12th

Coming up on Feb. 8th and 9th, the Club will be hosting its own junior bonspiel with 28 teams registered

Canada to bolster screening of central China passengers for virus at 3 airports

Additional measures will include messaging on arrivals screens in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver

Rebels fight back from 3-1 Raider lead to win 4-3 in shootout

Two goals by Zak Smith key to Rebels comeback

PHOTOS: Eastern Newfoundland reeling, search underway for missing man after blizzard

More than 70 centimetres of new snow fell overnight, creating whiteout conditions

Prince Harry, Meghan to give up ‘royal highness’ titles

‘Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family,’ says Queen Elizabeth II

RCMP Major Crimes Unit lays charges in Stettler death

Nicholas Climb Johnson, 32, of Stettler is charged with second degree murder in the death of his father

Metis nations ask Ottawa to negotiate directly with them, not national body

Three provincial Metis nations will work through the national council until after the federal government releases its 2020 budget

Canada to give $25,000 to families of each Canadian who died in Iran plane crash

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also made it clear that Canada still expects Iran to compensate victims

Oil and gas industry applauds top court’s dismissal of B.C.’s Trans Mountain case

The high court’s ruling Thursday removes one of the remaining obstacles for the project

Sylvan Lake RCMP seek assistance in locating missing male

Mark Crier, 17, was last seen in Sylvan Lake on Jan. 13

Most Read