Wexit might be a long shot, but that doesn’t mean we should underestimate it

Separatist sentiment in Alberta might be different than in Quebec, but we can still draw comparisons

I’ll be honest, when I first heard about Wexit I laughed.

Not because I didn’t think it was a decent or even a feasible idea (I’ve always been interested in the Cascadia and, to a lesser degree, Quebec sovereigntist movements) but because the sheer suggestion comes off as ridiculous.

“Hey, you know those four provinces which make up a little over 25 per cent of our country and a little under a third of our population? Yeah, they’re just going to peace out.”

But laughter quickly turned into introspection.

After all, while it’s easy (and perhaps comforting) to dismiss these problems as unsubstantiated ramblings of Conservative (read: Western) Canada’s unhappiness with the country’s most recent federal election, it’s also folly.

Let’s take a step back, because separatist sentiment is nothing new in Canada.

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When the 1995 Quebec referendum failed by a mere 54,288 votes (a 50.58 per cent result of total votes cast) then-Premier Jacques Parizeau famously stated the “No” side had only won because of “money and the ethnic vote.”

But while this was certainly an example of a historical crescendo, it was far from the beginning (or end) of a distinct French-English split in Canadian society.

Over three decades before it was the FLQ planting IEDs in mailboxes.

Nearly 25 years later, it is the passing of the controversial Bill 21 (a law banning public servants from wearing religious symbols) by a majority Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government.

Despite five decades of a cultural identity which has become analogous with sovereignty, separatism and a culture that identifies as Quebecois first and Canadian second, the province has become anything but a pariah when it comes to federal elections.

Quite the opposite, only three Prime Ministers — and no sitting Liberal prime minister (John Turner never sat in Parliament as PM) — have hailed from outside Quebec since Pierre Trudeau’s 1968 majority: Joe Clark (for eight months), Kim Campbell (for under five months) and Stephen Harper (for just over nine-and-a-half years).

Think about that. That’s over 50 years where every single Liberal prime minister of Canada has come from a province that has built a national identity around being decidedly separate from that same country.

Half a century — that’s whack.

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It also gives me pause about Wexit, either as an Alberta-centric movement or one that comprises one or more western Canadian provinces and/or territories.

While it’s very easy to gloss over the movement as reactionary (we all know how Central and Western Canada feel about Trudeau) to our most recent election, if I’ve learned anything from my interest in Quebec separatism it’s that once Pandora’s box has been opened, it’s tough to close it.

Sure, sentiment waxes and wanes (currently we are in a waxing stage, both in Quebec and Alberta) but just like Quebec separatism has been a central issue in Canadian politics since the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) provided the original impetus for the discussion, I fear sentiment in Alberta and western Canada will only grow.

In the months leading up to the 1995 Quebec referendum support for the “Yes” side — who wanted to leave Canada — consistently polled between the mid-30s and low-40s.

Compare that to 33 and 27 per cent, respectively, of Albertans and Saskatchewanians who said they felt their province would be better off leaving Canada in a Nov. 6 Ipsos poll.

That means in Alberta, right now, there is just slightly below the amount of support for separation as there was for the “Yes” side in the months leading up to the 1995 referendum.

That becomes even more significant when you consider that separatist sentiment, while it has existed in both provinces, was nowhere near where it was in Alberta a decade ago compared to Quebec.

While both provinces catalyzed separatist movements, Alberta’s seems to have grown exponentially overnight, whereas Quebec’s was more of a slow crescendo that has sustained itself generationally through the decades.

But while the movements differ in their trajectories, they are similar in that they both focus on a divide between the province and the country.

In the case of Quebec, it’s about language and national identity.

In Alberta, money and equalization payments the province feels hurt by.

So while it might be tempting to dismiss or ignore Wexit as a temporary movement, just remember how well that went for us with Quebec separatism.

Do we really want to go down that path again?

Because I, for one, like my mailboxes to be bomb-free.



trevor.hewitt@interior-news.com

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