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

Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert

‘In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable,’ says SFU’s Peter Chow-White

B.C. COVID-19 contact restrictions working, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

’Not out of the woods yet’ as next two weeks are critical

UPDATED: Some states of local emergency suspended by ministerial order

Suspension applies to regional districts but not First Nations

A letter from Bella Coola doctors on COVID-19: ‘All our lives depend on your actions now’

“None of us are invincible; we can all get it and spread it without even knowing.”

COVID-19: Bella Coola RCMP close detachment front door access

The public is being asked to call 250 799 5363 for assistance

B.C. records first at-home death from COVID-19, but 70+ hospital patients have recovered

Total of 970 novel coronavirus cases in B.C., with the majority in the Lower Mainland area

BC Ferries able to restrict travel for sick passengers

Ferries working on schedule shifts to keep workers safe

Canada expands 75% wage subsidy to COVID-19 affected businesses of all sizes: Trudeau

Program will provide up to $847 per week for each worker

Pay parking suspended at B.C. hospitals due to COVID-19

Temporary free parking reduces need for keypads, contact

Helping those at risk, one piece of paper at a time through ‘isolation communication’

Simple paper tool during pandemic making its way across Canada thanks to social media.

‘Back to school, in a virtual way’ for B.C. students in COVID-19 pandemic

Province adds online resources to help parents at home

Canadian COVID-19 round-up: Air Canada cuts 15,000 jobs, 90% of flights

Comprehensive Canadian news update as of 2:30 p.m., Monday, March 30.

Canadian ferry operators call for inclusion in COVID-19 travel restrictions

Domestic travel restrictions should include ferries, operators say

Most Read