What is ‘Wexit’? Part One: Introducing Wexit | Jeff Rout
This article is part one of a series of articles on the movement for the Western Provinces of Canada to secede from the Union (termed, ‘Wexit’). This article was kindly provided by Jeff Rout, and introduces the movement of Wexit.
A break-up of Canada is a real possibility today, but not from where the world has usually come to expect it. While it has long been known that Quebec has frequently threatened to leave the Confederation of Canada, it is now the Province of Alberta where the loudest voice for separation is being heard in a movement that is being called ‘#Wexit’, a portmanteau of ‘West’ and ‘Exit’, echoing ‘Brexit’. While the name suggests all of Western Canada, it is in Alberta where we see this movement growing strongest.
Alberta is the second most western province in Canada. While it is only a province, it has a size and resources greater than most nations on Earth. Alberta could fit all of the UK, Germany, and Switzerland in its borders with room to spare. It is also rich with natural resources. Alberta has enough coal to meet its current energy needs for the next 1000 years. It has over 52 million acres of active farmland, more than double that of the UK. It has abundant deposits of iron, natural gas, timber, lithium, potash, etc. Finally, and usually the largest point of interest, Alberta has the third largest deposits of oil in the world. Essentially, Alberta has every resource that a nation could need to sustain itself and to flourish.
One thing that Alberta doesn’t have, however, is political power at the federal level in Canada. With a population of around only 4.3 million people, Alberta has about only 11% of the population of Canada. The bulk of Canada’s population lives in the eastern provinces of Ontario and Quebec, which collectively have 61% of the population.
This population disparity brings about equally disparate political power. Ontario and Quebec control the majority of the seats in the House of Commons of Canada. When power is focused in one geographic location so prominently, it is impossible for a smaller population, such as Alberta’s, to have an effective impact on political decisions.
This is most clearly evident during elections in Canada. Canada is the second largest nation on Earth and spans six time zones. By the time the votes in Alberta have closed and are starting to be counted, the votes in eastern Canada have already been done and counted for a few hours. With 61% of the population in Quebec and Ontario, their votes determine which political party will form the government. The result is the government, and the Prime Minister of Canada, is usually declared before Albertan votes are even counted. When the government is determined before your votes are even counted, it is difficult to escape the thought that your votes do not matter in Canadian politics.
The ineffectiveness of the Albertan vote is demonstrated in how politics in Canada play out as well. Canadian politicians tend to make election promises of spending which favour eastern Canada and are funded disproportionately from the west. This is simply because no political party can come into power in Canada if they do not win the approval of Ontario and Quebec. When you need 50% of the seats to approve any policy or law, and more than 50% of those seats are in one geographic cluster, that area effectively holds 100% of the power. It is simply impossible to ever pass legislation that would remove any unfair benefit from Ontario and Quebec, as all they have to do is vote against it. It doesn’t matter what other parts of Canada would prefer.
To illustrate how Ottawa spends money in the east that is financed from the west, we can look at federal taxation and spending as it relates to Alberta. Alberta sends just over $50 billion each year to Ottawa, mostly in taxation and royalties. Ottawa allocates just under $28 billion of spending in Alberta. Alberta provides $22 billion more in financing to Ottawa than it receives – more than $5000.00 for every man, woman, and child each year.
But this isn’t about money, it’s about Albertans having no ability to influence the laws and policies that have such a large impact on their lives. Albertan votes are effectively meaningless in Ottawa, but Ottawa controls the laws that control Albertans. The monetary policy, foreign treaties, trade agreements, immigration into Alberta, federal income taxes, criminal laws, and more are all controlled in Ottawa. These policies have a significant impact on the lives of Albertans, but Albertans have no real means of influencing those policies as they are determined by Ontario and Quebec simply due to their larger population.
This is the heart and soul of the Alberta Independence movement. Albertans want to have meaningful democratic power.
There is no real method in the current system for Albertans to ever have any meaningful democratic power in Canada. Electoral reform won’t fix this. Even if we had proportional representation instead of a first past the post system, we would still be vastly outvoted due to the population difference. We can’t vote in a political party that will give Alberta voices more weight. Any political party that wants to have any ability to affect law, which is to say it must form the government, can only do so if it wins the votes in the east.
The only way that Albertans can have a meaningful vote is if Alberta were to become a sovereign entity. This realization is the birth of #Wexit.
The idea, while it has existed in some measure for over a hundred years, is such a drastic change that some Albertans are afraid of the idea. Can Alberta sustain itself? Do we have what it takes to be a nation? How would we survive without the services that Canada provides?
If one were to look at this thoroughly, they would see that Alberta does not need Canada. As listed above, Alberta is blessed with riches in resources, far surpassing most other nations. It has all the resources it could possibly need to sustain itself. It has a relatively small population of only 4.3 million people, which would make an independent Alberta the 128th most populous nation. While not a large population, it is perfectly functional and isn’t too dissimilar to Norway, Denmark, or Singapore; none of which are slouches in their ability to be their own nation.
Alberta has a nominal GDP of $335 billion. We would be about the 38th largest nation by GDP, surpassing Portugal, New Zealand, and Qatar. Most strikingly, Alberta would have a fantastic GDP per capita of $71,000, surpassing the UK, Switzerland, the United Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and the United States. Alberta not only has what it takes to survive as a nation of its own, it would actually thrive as one.
The issue of Canada providing services to Alberta is a perplexing one. Why would people mention this when Albertans finance more than 100% of the service costs Canada provides to Alberta? There is nothing that Ottawa gives Albertans that we don’t pay for. Not only do Albertans pay for every dollar that Ottawa spends in Alberta, we pay an additional $0.79 on the dollar for them. We can replace every service that Ottawa provides and save billions doing it.
What would Alberta do for its currency? We’d have many choices. We could use the Canadian or the US dollar. Many nations simply use the currency of another nation. There are certain advantages to this. It is cheaper. You don’t need to have the expense of controlling a currency. It also potentially keeps your dollar on par with a trading partner. The USA is the largest trading partner of Alberta – more so than is the rest of Canada. Oil is traded on the US dollar, and that is a major export of Alberta. So using their dollar makes some sense.
Using another nations dollar, however, also means that you don’t have any control over the monetary policy of that dollar. Given #Wexit is really about having control over your own future, that is likely not to be the best choice for Albertans.
Albertans can easily have their own currency. We would have the 38th highest GDP of nations. New Zealand, Serbia, and Switzerland each maintain their own currency. Alberta isn’t too different from them. It has a higher GDP than New Zealand and Serbia. It has an only slightly smaller population. If those nations can maintain a currency, why would we ever think that Alberta couldn’t?
How about a military? Could Alberta support a military of its own? Of course it could. Norway and Denmark have their own militaries and function just fine. They aren’t superpowers, and neither would Alberta be. But then, that isn’t something Albertans want to be, either. If Alberta were to honour the NATO obligations of maintaining a military budget of 2% of its GDP, Alberta would have a military budget of $6.7 BN/year – almost exactly what Norway spends on its military. Alberta, being landlocked, has little need of a navy. So the vast majority of that spending will be on a land army and an air force.
Being landlocked is not a concern for trade for Albertans, although #Wexit’s detractors attempt to convince others that it is. Generally speaking, free nations tend to trade with each other. Landlocked nations have not typically had difficulty trading and many tend to flourish. Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg, and Serbia are all landlocked, and they are able to trade freely. It might be Alberta is unable to get any new pipelines built, but being a part of Canada has not benefited Albertans on that topic either.
Ironically, leaving Canada might give Alberta easier access to ship its oil than it currently enjoys. Being sub-sovereign to Canada means that Alberta can’t negotiate with the rest of Canada. It must obey the will of Canada. Alberta doesn’t have anything that it can negotiate with when it is sub-sovereign. It can’t reciprocate a trade restriction against Canada as Canada is effectively doing to Alberta. But if Alberta were a free nation, then the ability for Canada to transport goods through Alberta isn’t a guarantee. Canada would have to negotiate the terms of transporting goods through Alberta, and importing goods for sale in Alberta. If Canada wants favourable terms, it must then give equally favourable terms. For those that think that Canada would not allow the transport or sale of Alberta goods in Canada, they must then answer why Canada would do that when the obvious response would be that Alberta doesn’t allow Canadian goods sold or transported in Alberta. Since Canada wants to sell us their goods, and they know the USA is right south of us and are likely willing to take our money for the goods they want to sell, Canada is very unlikely to respond this way. The advantage for Albertans again lies in sovereignty.
How can this be accomplished? Most nations do not have any legal framework for how their country can be divided. Some nations even have it in their constitution that their nation is indivisible. Due to Quebec’s past desire for sovereignty, Canada has in place legislation on how a province can secede from Canada called the Clarity Act. The most important element is that there must be a clear majority of the population supporting such an action. Then the rest of Canada must enter into a negotiation to facilitate that secession. This second part seems to be possible wrench in the machinery. Will Canada negotiate in good faith with a seceding province? It may well not. But even that has legal support for Alberta. The Supreme Court of Canada, when ruling on the Clarity Act, stated that it cannot rule out the unilateral secession of a province.
So while this is just the fledgling start of a new Alberta Independence movement in Canada, it isn’t an impossible one. Albertans have the means and the path towards independence available to them. Alberta has a complete ability to be a nation of its own. What will determine whether Alberta remains sub-sovereign to Canada, or emerges as one of the most prosperous and free nations in the world, depends on the will and actions of Albertans.
This article was part of a series on ‘Wexit’, the movement in Western Canadian provinces to secede from the union.