As many as a third of Albertans steadily favour breaking away from Canada, according to polls. Some even believe that joining the U.S. as a 51st state is the best option, but that seems less likely now.
The impulse to reject Canada is as old as British North America and is rooted in issues that flare up now and again.
Such issues haven’t been addressed to the satisfaction of Albertans. One of these is natural resources.
Resources were a source of dispute with the federal government more than a century ago and that conflict continues today. It has become even more acute with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apparent desire to further subjugate Alberta.
Trudeau’s energy and environmental policies have apparently become new instruments to exert control over Alberta’s hydrocarbon energy resources. Under the alarmist guise of saving the planet, the federal government manipulates and chokes the development, extraction and commercialization of Alberta’s oil and gas. It uses taxation, tanker and infrastructure legislation, and development regulations.
Creating laws and rules that don’t apply to similar industries or even to the energy industry in other parts of Canada, the federal government has blocked the further development of oil sands projects, the construction of more pipelines to distribute production, and the construction of new terminals to move Alberta hydrocarbons in national and international markets.
These controls attack Alberta’s wealth and prevent its growth and development.
Conversely, the federal government is happy to siphon Alberta’s wealth and distribute it elsewhere in Canada. Adding grievous insult to hemorrhaging injury, the province most committed to killing Alberta’s oil industry, Quebec, benefits the most from the wealth transfers. That province has received an average of $15 billion per year over the last 20 years. The federal government generously distributes money from the very industry it means to kill to those working hard to kill it.
There’s no shelter from this scheme for Alberta. Federal institutions have been rigged to make “the regions,” as federal bureaucrats refer to the periphery, subjects and suppliers of wealth and resources.
Multiple reform attempts have failed to balance the tilted equation, and these failures have convinced many Albertans that abandoning the abusive arrangement is the sole path to a better future.
The hope is that as an American state, Alberta would be clear to manage its resources, pursue development, build infrastructure to get its resources to market and keep a larger chunk of its wealth. The elected U.S. Senate would guarantee equal and maybe better representation.
However, this option was largely predicated on the affinity of Alberta’s interests with the now-extinct administration of Donald Trump. U.S. President Joe Biden’s affinity for a Green New Deal and a great reset shows the same hostility for hydrocarbon energy that Trudeau does.
Immediately upon arrival at the White House, Biden shut down the Keystone XL pipeline, reaffirming a commitment to adhere to the Paris accord on climate change. The Green New Deal is yet to unfold but, whatever it may be, it doesn’t spell good news for the Alberta energy sector. As the 51st state, Alberta would be subject to similar treatment from Biden, or any future administration with similar goals, as it currently is from the federal government in Canada.
Alberta’s democratic representation might improve as a member of the southern federation, but the fortunes of its energy resources would only improve marginally. The American energy market would become a domestic market for Alberta. That would be good for the discounted sales, but that market’s expansion is highly threatened by the doomsday ideology of the green czars who rule it. We have yet to see the litany of barriers and restrictions that green ideologues can inflict on the industry.
A future Republican government might again be friendly to hydrocarbon energy but that would only offer a limited reprieve. The industry would be just as politicized and subject to the same political ups and downs under which it lives in Canada. Alberta would still be subject to a faraway government, largely out of its control.
Joining the United States was always a long shot, and Biden’s arrival may have driven a stake through its heart.
Marco Navarro-Genie is president of the Haultain Research Institute and Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He is co-author, with Barry Cooper, of COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic (2020).
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