Free Alberta! -

Free Alberta!


It certainly says something about a country when equalization payments are regularly a matter of national obsession. Exactly why the transfer of tax revenue from one part of the country to another, a topic about as sexy as unbuttered toast, is something worthy of excitement and outrage should be subject of another national obsession: the Royal Commission, chaired by “not that” Charles Taylor, perhaps, or maybe the lovely Jian Ghomeshi. (You know, for the kids.) Or maybe a CBC miniseries starring Sonja Smits, Brent Butt and a Québécois actor you’ve never heard of, with a special guest appearance of Bruce Gray as Don Cherry. Think of the ratings!

It usually goes like this: Quebec, home to rude separatists, $7-a-day daycare and  millions of upturned noses, gets $8.5 billion (an increase of 2.5 percent from last year and, as this Canadian Press story helpfully points out, enough to fund the province’s daycare system for five years) , thanks in large part to the Alberta’s messy, dirty, filthy rich oil sands. Inevitably, the ensuing outrage was framed in those other uniquely Canadian obsessions:  the national unity debate, the environment, and the west versus everyone else. “Frosty Front Splits Canada,” declares the National Post. “Time for Alberta to talk back”, wrote Calgary Sun columnist Dave Breakenridge, deriding what he called the “ridiculousness spewing forth from the leaders of Ontario and Quebec.” Alberta Preem Ed Stelmach even took a question about extracting the  Albertan teat from confederation. “Can Alberta separate?” asked one hopeful soul, via Twitter.

“I recognize from the question and other comments that are being made that there is some dissatisfaction in terms of Alberta’s role in the country of Canada,” Ed said. (Not if you keep sending those cheques, Uncle Ed!)

Seriously, though, there are some bizarre parallels between Alberta circa 2010 and Quebec circa the last 40 years: both are perpetually unhappy with everyone else. Both feel their way of life is being compromised by outside forces. And both have a unique (if inflated) sense of their own value to the rest of the country. In Quebec, the reigning belief is that the French fact is the only thing keeping Canada from being America with crappier roads, while Albertans seem to believe that without its oil, the country would, er, freeze in the dark. (Apparently forgetting that most of its oil is sent to the States, and the subsequent tax-revenue-generated increase in the Canadian dollar actually hinders exports in the rest of the country.)

So, here’s to a Free Alberta. By all means. We’ve tried it here in Quebec, so I offer a game plan: make a lot of noise, come up with a convoluted question, put it to a vote, fail miserably, threaten the rest of the country, try again and fail less miserably, then pout, whine but ultimately stick around, all sour and grumpy, for more noise and self-obsession.

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Free Alberta!

  1. "Apparently forgetting that most of its oil is sent to the States, and the subsequent tax-revenue-generated increase in the Canadian dollar actually hinders exports in the rest of the country."

    I've read that sentence several times now, and I can't make head nor tail of it.

    • Excellent. Patriquin'll make a fine economist then.

    • Doesn't matter — it's the thought that counts.

    • I've heard of this, I think it was in "Basic Economics" by Thomas Sowell. Resource rich countries have a tough time with other exports because the mineral wealth backs their currency when a lower currency would give an exchange rate advantage. I think it's Norway which is considered the textbook example…

      • It's the 'Dutch Disease', where job losses in manufacturing are not made up by job gains elsewhere.

        This didn't happen. Before the recession hit, unemployment in Quebec was at an all-time low. And much of the explanation for why is buried in north-east Alberta.

        • Serious question. Natural gas development/exploitation (the cause of the Dutch disease), relatively speaking, is not labour intensive – compared to an oil sands development and related infrastructure building.

          So, we know that the C$ exchange rate has gone up due to the resource boom. And we know that the resource boom has sucked up the employment losses in manufacturing. But what happens when the building boom is over in the oil sands, and oil production has tripled or quadrupled? Relatively speaking, an oil sands operation doesn't employ a huge number of people.

          Would this create the conditions where the risk of Dutch Disease would occur – high exports of oil/bitumen (so strong dollar), slow down in capital spending, previous loss of manufacturing capacity?

          • Possibly – but the Canadian economy has so far proved to be remarkably creative in creating new jobs in new sectors. It will be a question of finding something that oil money can be spent on.

          • If the "oil money" mainly goes to the shareholders, does it matter where they reside, assuming they can spend/invest it anywhere?

          • Bad omen?

            ‘Inefficient' Suncor further delays Fort Hills project

            Note the role of higher labour costs => layoffs , project delays, increasing dividends in lieu of reinvesting

        • Stephen, it happened IN the recession. Ontario's manufacturing sector has had a rough go.

          Ignoring the human aspects (for now), I don't have a huge issue with it because you shouldn't build a manufacturing base off of a under-valued currency…it doesn't really encourage productivity!

      • Yeah, I thought it was something along these lines too. The higher our dollar (due in large part to oil exports), the less ability other industries have to export their products. i.e. US companies are far more likely to buy from a Canadian firm when they save 30% off the cost. When the dollar is roughly at par, those US firms will buy closer to home.

        (from personal experience I can absolutely vouch for this phenomenon)

    • I gotta agree with your, the idea that Quebec exports are hindered by Alberta exports is rather absurd.

  2. There used to be a movement in BC and Alberta called Cascadia – memebrs from Alaska, BC, Alberta, Washington State and Oregon – the premise was all joining together against the Eaterners – quite interesting and not outside the relam of possibilities – check out an old map as sometimes they change !

    • I think the point of Cascadia, dream of skinheads, is to join together to keep all the non-whiteys out.

      • nope – Cascadia was way before any of that stuff

      • There may be other references and poltiical movements using the term, but I know of Cascadia as a bioregion, in this case the area defined by lakes and rivers that drain westward to the Pacific. Bioregionalists advocate for ecologically senstive planning (economic development, trade) across artificial political boundaries.

        All but a tiny part of Alberta is located in separate bio-regions in which water flows east or north.

    • What about us Eaters out east. I just ate lunch and it was delicious, but I know what you mean… keep an eye on the menu!

      • so sorry got interrupted at work and no time to spell cheeck –

    • I've always pictured the "Cascadian" movement – a half-serious movement in any case – as being only BC, Washington and Oregon. The old Oregon Country reborn in other words. As well, it's mostly a left-wing sort of cause – the left coast and all that.

  3. I'm with that guy there what I seen that one time on TVO who thinks the transfer payment program should come with measures of effectiveness/accountability. If we could sort that out, the rest of us would be able to ignore the never-ending "We're the ones gettin' screwed" whine that passes for public sentiment in most of this country.

  4. What is the prime minister doing to counter the threats of separatism coming from Alberta?

    • The Wildrose represents a distinct nation within Canada?

    • Building a firewall, I believe.. it's part of the Economic Action Plan.

    • The leader of the new Wild Rose Alliance party said the other day in an interview that she has toured Alberta for the last 9 months and was not asked once about Alberta seperation. This is a non issue. Also to compare Alberta to Quebec is just nonsense. Have a good day all a proud Canadian who now resides in Alberta.

    • Funding sponsorships and advertising in Calgary.

  5. So, here's to a Free Alberta. By all means. We've tried it here in Quebec, so I offer a game plan: make a lot of noise, come up with a convoluted question, put it to a vote, fail miserably, threaten the rest of the country, try again and fail less miserably, then pout, whine but ultimately stick around, all sour and grumpy, for more noise and self-obsession.

    Love it. However, what's the point without getting any money out of the deal?

  6. "… both are perpetually unhappy with everyone else. Both feel their way of life is being compromised by outside forces."

    I'm sorry but you can not compare Alberta to Quebec this way and get away with it.

    Albertans are not perpetually unhappy and their way of life is in no way being compromised by outside forces. Please.

    You can try to place restrictions on their long guns…how's that working?

    You can try to blame global warming or climate change in it's entirety on the Albertan oil sands – you can try…good luck with that!

    And you can acknowledge that in the year 2008, the Province of Quebec collect $8 Billion worth of transfer payments and then promptly bragged about their "rainy day fund" of around $1.8 Billion.

    Surely you don't believe that Alberta is taking money from other Provinces and not spending it? The whole purpose of equalization is to ensure that all Canadians are entitled to the same services regardless of what province they live in. Not so one Province can rape the treasuries of the other provinces to create a rainy day fund.


    • "Albertans are not perpetually unhappy…"

      As long the gin keeps flowing.

      Yup, it's all sunshine and puppy dogs from the way the rest of us see it.

      • Gin?

        Have you ever imagined a redneck drinking gin?

        • Plying his date with lemon gin maybe …

    • Dear Kat,

      The comparison seems fair for the most part. Albertans are very upset that their oil money is heading east to among others, a province that claims it wants to separate from the country anyway. They also don't feel connected with the east. And in a way, their way forward could well be compromised by outside forces (ie. equalization among other things) – what would it look like and what would it be able to do if it didn;t have to pay out everyone for example? Just some things to consider.

  7. Albertans…born on third base, strut around like they hit a triple. Let them go. They'll be back when the gas reserves collapse and/or after the next oil price crash.

  8. Alberta separatism is constantly being exaggerated by the media. It is taken seriously by less than 5% of the population. Show me an Alberta separatist and I'll show you a kook.

      • That rather proves his point.

        • well certainly his latter point.

          • hint for those just tuning in… the point is under the hat

    • Believe it or not but most of the Albertans that I have met who are for independence are not kooks. Sure there are the axe grinders but most are well educated (I have a PhD) people who see how much better Albertans would be on their own. All it will take is another federal Liberal government attacking/exploiting Alberta to buy votes in Quebec and Ontario and then it's good bye Canada. No animosity, no recriminations, just a divorce of mature equals. Looking forward to it.

      • Well educated is not the same as wise. Highly specialized may not mean broad minded.

        • No, but isn't it the same as elitist? At least isn't that what we hear from our friends in Alberta?

          • Elite? I suppose. Elitist? I thought that was more of an attitude.

    • Hey, I'm an Alberta sepa… oh, I see what you did there.

  9. Time for the rest of the country to learn to stand on its own two feet. No more Alberta money for $7-a-day daycare and cheap tuition in Québec!

  10. Oh, God, where do I sign up, asked Dave, originally from the east coast, now in Ontario.

  11. A referendum to separate? Why would Alberta want to do things the Quebec way? Quebec's strength, that has allowed it to blackmail the ROC, is its unique culture and language. Alberta's strength is its contributions to the federal government coffers. So, to play to that provinces strength, a different question would be required. Let the province of Alberta vote on suspending its share of equalization payment for a year.

  12. Let the rest of Canada hold a referendum on whether Alberta and Saskatchewan (both creations of Confederation) should revert to territories.

    • Want to reset the provincial boundaries for ON and QC to 1867?

      • Will we get Maine?

        • The Maine line was settled in 1842.

  13. Why are the Conservatives letting all those Harris clones from 905 tell Albertans how to run their party? It's humiliating …

  14. Lol, that was fantastic. This is the kind of exchange of insults that gives me confidence in the future of the country. Just enough F-U to make out a solid basis for a lasting relationship – like old romance movies where you know who's going be in the final scenes together because they're the ones fighting it out through the middle.

  15. Exactly why the transfer of tax revenue from one part of the country to another, a topic about as sexy as unbuttered toast, is something worthy of excitement and outrage should be subject of another national obsession

    That is one ridiculous statement. BY that argument, you wouldn't mind then if I transferred your bank account into mine, because, after all, we're just transferring revenue.

    You might consider the fact that it's also one group of Canadians transferring to another group, and the two groups essentially never change.

    • It's true. A lot of Alberta-bashers don't really grasp the frustrations that are experienced by Albertans when other provinces seem to view them as a perpetual ATM. Alberta gives a whole lot more than it receives, but this doesn't stop politicians in Quebec and elsewhere from turning it into Canada's perpetual whipping-boy.

      • Crit, you have a point. But then, I live near the Centre of the Universe. You know, Ontario, otherwise known to Albertans as Toronto (or is it the other way around?) Sure am glad Ontario never got bashed in all the years we were the ATM of the country–including Alberta!

        And you know, if you ask Ontarians today most of us would still say Canada first, Ontario second. But maybe not as many as would have in the past. Still, not a one would bring up something like a "Cascadia"

        • Well, of course there's no Ontario separatist sentiment. Ontario usually perceives itself as being Canada, and you can't separate from yourself.

          • Really? Because I have seriously never, not once, heard that before. And that is such a shame. But you don't really believe that Ontarians think they are Canada (as opposed to Canadian) do you? Because that simply isn't true. While we're at it, Ontarians don't think we are the Centre of the Universe, either (although I wouldn't necessarily say that about Torontonians :) )

          • It really does seem like Ontario feels like it speaks for Canada at times. Perhaps more specifically the angst would be directed at Toronto not Ontario as a whole. Then again that's part of the byproduct of close to a quarter of our population existing in one metropolitan area.

            I will echo crit's statement that most Albertans do see themselves as Canadian first and Albertan second. And that a serious Alberta seperation movement is ridiculous to imagine – it just wouldn't get the critical mass. When year after year you're sending billions of your provincial revenue to other provinces it's not hard to see why that would be a point of tension.

            On another note, look at the campaigns of the various other parties and you can quickly see why alberta is pure blue. It's not that we're all right-wing. When 3/4 of the options want to shut down the source of the province's economic expansion or even blame it for problems elsewhere in the country; when the candidates ran in the province aren't even visible in many ridings for the duration of the election: how can one expect the result to change?

            We're a diverse country. And it's been a long long time since any party has tried to provide a platform that appeals from coast to coast. Economically-strong but seat-poor Alberta is a good area to take advantage of in order to appease areas with more seats available. The current Conservative government gets to do it while keeping almost all the seats even because what alternatives do Albertans have ;)

          • Well this is a good conversation we're having. We should have it more often. That's two Albertans I have heard say they are Canadians first, Albertans second. That's two in my entire lifetime! And yet I've lost count of the number of Albertans I've heard profess to be perfectly happy to chuck our country for some other thing.

            And so, I had dismissed any and all Albertan complaints as "whining" because hey, as far as I knew you weren't going to be happy with anything, anyway. Now that I know differently, perhaps I will see Albertan complaints more legitimately.

          • "Ontario usually perceives itself as being Canada"

            A gross distortion.

          • Yes, I know. I thought the "you can't separate from yourself" bit made it clear that my tongue was planted firmly in cheek.

          • "Ontario usually perceives itself as being Canada"

            For such a considerate voice, this statement is very much out of character. Perhaps you'd like to walk that back a bit?

          • Yeesh… it was jokey hyperbole.

          • Plenty of intra-provincial separatist sentiment in Northern Ontario, not acted on, mostly just resentment. Residents feel N. Ont. exploited for resource wealth in good times and left to rot while mining and forest industry in recession (whereas car manufacturers in Golden Horseshoe were bailed out).

        • And correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Ontario now technically a Have-Not Province but still pays out transfers as if it were still a Have?

      • Just curious: have you ever lived anywhere other than Alberta? Have you ever lived or even vacationed outside of Canada?

        Your views and Harper's, and most right-wingers from my point of view, seem to me to be naively parochial; it's like y'all are Dubya clones. Nothing wrong with that except I can't think of much Dubya has to be proud of. Though, maybe y'all can refresh my memory of his administration's or George's personal accomplishments?

        • Are you responding to me? If you are, is this some kind of parody?

          • See what I mean about the Dubya reference?

          • Heh. Nice try. I suspect you're someone I know playing a prank on me, because you couldn't possibly be that stupid in real life, could you? I mean, I'm fully accustomed to arguing with idiots, but comments as mind-numbingly stupid as yours strike me as rare events. Dunbar, you're a five-alarm moron (as Wells might say.)

          • I'm still curious. Have you ever lived anywhere other than Alberta? Have you ever lived or vacationed outside of Canada? Hell, you're anonymous you can lie if you want and no one would know? Or, likely, care? Do you think they're trick questions or something?

            What are Dubya's or Harper's accomplishments?

            The inference that I was attempting to draw with respect to right wing ideology is this; y'all have never been anywhere, y'all have never accomplished anything but y'all sure seem to believe shoving that right wing agenda down everyone else's throat is worth the effort? I'm accusing y'all of being narrow minded. Defend yourself.

            That you respond with insults, I think, makes my point?

          • I really thought you were pranking me, because it seemed so well-calculated to get my goat. (That, and the Catch-22 reference.)

            I've never lived outside of Canada, but yes to all the rest. I'm probably much less parochial than you are, and I'm certainly less reliant on intellectually bankrupt stereotypes. I'm often amazed by the sheer ignorance of people who impersonate Albertans using a Texan drawl, or who engage in unseemly self-gratification by sneering condescendingly at people from one part of the country or another.

            I'm accusing y'all of being narrow minded. Defend yourself.

            Since you tried to make it personal, I'll respond personally: I'm pretty sure that I'm less narrow-minded than you are, based on the available evidence. Given your smug belligerence, you don't come across as terribly bright, so I'll also assume that have an advantage over you in the cognitive department, perhaps by a standard deviation or two.

            By the way, I'm quite far from being a Dubya clone (I've never even been a Dubya fan). See, that's why your lazy assumptions and blatant stereotyping get you in trouble. You come across as one of those bottom-tier blog commenters at CBC who are always flinging poo at the Left or the Right, oblivious to their own ignorance or futility.

          • I'll submit that your response proves you're narrow minded: i.e. parochial.

            ps ~ Thanks also for the list of accomplishments that can be attributed to Harper and Bush.Their work and yours appear to be of similar quality.

          • You're welcome, Dumbar! I actually thought you'd come up with a better response than that (e.g. evidence that you actually read and understood what I said). I guess I overestimated you.

            Anyway, you should consider yourself lucky, because I usually find don't it worth my while to respond to probable trolls. I'm puzzled that you continue with your bizarre insistence that I list the accomplishments of an American president, after I patiently explained to you that I never even liked him. I guess reading comprehension isn't your strong suit… but that would make you a typical witless troll, wouldn't it?

          • Boy, you're really on a roll today.

          • I'd have to agree with Crit that you're rather witless, smug, arrogant, and a poor judge of character. Your spelling and vocabulary is good, but your grammar is poor (I'm not talking about your feeble attempt to imitate a southerner's writing).

          • I have to agree with Crit and scf, myself. And I rarely do that.

            But Crit is one of the least "Bot" Conservative supporters here, so you picked the wrong guy. And I have to say, using Conbot tactics for the "other" side is no less unattractive.

          • Thanks, s_c_f and Jenn!

      • See: Toronto, City of.

        Who knew we 416ers had so much in common with Alberta?

        • Well I'm not exactly sure what you are referencing, but really, it may well be that we provincials have been talking at each other rather than to each other for some time now. I mean, I've always perceived Albertans to be the main source of the "Centre of the Universe" crap, and yet now that they are wearing the shoes they seem to be complaining almost as if, well, they are the Centre of the Universe!

          I think both provinces can learn from this. It seems 416ers (905ers, 519ers, etc) have a lot in common with Alberta! Perhaps just different timing is all.

          • Well let's not get too hasty here. I don't think I've ever heard of an Ontarian who wasn't the Premier complaining about transfer payments like s_c_f does above. I would posit that, at least on an intuitive level, Ontarians "get" the covenantal nature of federalism (to borrow a phrase from my old federalism prof). That is, it seems to be common knowledge in Ontario that a healthy Canada means a healthy Ontario (and vice versa).

            The reason for this discrepancy? On first blush I think one could argue that our political histories (Ontario being generally Red Tory and Alberta generally taking a harder right wing tack) has a large say in this.


          • I beg to differ that transferring vast sums of money from one region to another results in a more healthy Canada. In any case, now that Ontario is a have-not, they are really not transferring lots of money anymore, so it's a moot point, although McGuinty claims otherwise.

          • I totally agree with you, thus far. But supposing for a moment that we get back to being a "have" province in the next few years, I submit that we will do a lot more screaming (or screaming since we've never done any), and playing the victim, and boo-hooing simply because we know that being pleased to help out never got us anywhere and only got us contempt by our provincial sisters.

            And perhaps our arrogance (being pleased to help out, while it is a genuine and sincere emotion on the part of most Ontarians, may just come across as arrogant and smug on the receiving end) will go away.

            No, I can't actually say this will be an improvement.

        • Well, I understand your analogy, Toronto being an ATM for Ontario, and there is some truth to that.

          But the comparison is poor in other ways, because Toronto ends up spending a lot of money on wasteful things like excessively high salaries for public servants, golf courses, and endless social justice causes, so that makes them feel hard-done-by with respect to provincial funding.

    • Doesn't matter what you call it or how you spin it. As long as Alberta is a part of Canada, it will share the wealth generated from it's unique stash of oil among other things with the country. It makes sense. There's nothing special about the province. It happens to be sitting on oil. You didn't manufacture it. Or invent it. Or develop it. You just have it and you either happen to born within its borders or moved there. Big whip! Suck it up. Unless you separate from Canada – bad diea – then the wealth gets srpead around. Period.

  16. On a related note, I particularly like it when those who dislike Harper call him "firewall Steve" as it shows they are completely clueless regarding how other provinces are set up. The "firewall" refers to Alberta having it's own police force (like Ontario & I believe Quebec), its own pension plan (like Quebec), re-establish control over healthcare (note that Quebec has more privatization than AB does). Because, you know, what's good for Quebec and Ontario is CERTAINLY too good for the rest of the country to consider.

    The only things suggested in the firewall letter that at least one other province isn't currently doing is collect it's own income taxes rather than have Ottawa do it for them, and getting reforming the Senate onto the federal agenda. Yep, pretty radical.

    • Home run post Candace.

    • And stop chipping in on the equalization plan.

      You know, the one that Albertans benefited from for so many years before we discovered dinosaurs died in our province.

  17. Just wait until Albertans discover they have to pay the Ontario HST on all their investment management fees and that those taxes will go strictly to Ontario. Smooth move Stephen H!

    • Not if they don't use a broker on Bay Street and they don't buy stocks on the TSX.

      • Lots of liquidity on the Edmonton Stock Exchange these days….

  18. dudes. the point used to be subtle.

    • Glad to see everyone got the point… well, almost everyone.

  19. Why can't Alberta be a constitutional monarchy, license plate? Why?

  20. Emoticons, dear Crit, are your friends :)

    • Heh. Duly noted. :)

      I know Ontarians don't really see themselves as being Canada, although as Jenn pointed out Toronto still sees itself as the centre of the universe. ;-)

  21. *avoids mentioning that as an inhabitant of the Kensington Market area, M. Argent literally lives in the centre of the Centre of the Universe*


  22. Free Alberta? I’ll take it!

    Quebec, I’ve got something you want. That’s right, all the poutine.

    (Hey, someone had to say it).

  23. That's a sweet address! btw, you live fairly close to Jack.

    • Well I suppose I'll have to keep an eye out for a man in pantaloons then :)