About a third of Albertans steadily favour breaking away from Canada. That number has recently been as high as 50 percent (February 2020, Angus Reid). Some among them believe that joining the US as a 51st state is the best option. But that’s not likely the case anymore.
The impulse to reject Canada is not new. It is as old as British North America and it is rooted in issues that flare up now and again. Such issues have not been addressed to the satisfaction of Albertans. One of these is natural resources. It took Alberta and Saskatchewan 20 years to wrestle from Ottawa the lawful ownership of the natural resources that Wilfred Laurier refused to them at birth.
Resources were then a source of dispute with the federal government, and that conflict continues today. It has become even more acute with Justin Trudeau’s desire further to subjugate Alberta.
Trudeau’s energy and environmental policies have become new instruments through which Ottawa seeks to exert control of 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 through federal taxation, tanker and infrastructure legislation, and development regulations. Creating laws and rules that do not apply to similar industries or even to the energy industry in other parts of Canada, Ottawa has blocked the further development of oil sands projects, the construction of more pipelines to distribute production, and the construction of new terminals to sell Alberta hydrocarbons in national and international markets. In short, these Laurentian controls attack Alberta’s wealth, and prevent its growth and development.
Conversely, Ottawa is happy to syphon Alberta’s wealth and distribute it in Laurentian Canada and in its policy-induced poorer vassals in Maritime Canada. Adding grievous insult to haemorrhaging injury, the Laurentian province most committed to killing Alberta’s oil industry, Quebec, benefits the most from the wealth transfers. They have received an average of $15 billion per year in the last 20 years. The federal government generously distributes money from the very industry they mean to kill to those working hard to kill it.
There is no shelter from this scheme for Alberta. The institutions of the federation have been rigged to make “the regions,” as Ottawa bureaucrats refer to the periphery, subjects and suppliers of wealth and resources.
Ottawa and its institutions set the rules by which the Laurentians exact their tribute. 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 AB51 hope is that as an American state, Alberta would be clear to manage its own resources, pursue their development, build infrastructure to get its resources to market and keep a larger chunk of its wealth. The elected US 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 Trump administration. The Biden Administration’s affinity for a Green New Deal and a Great Reset shows the same hostility for hydrocarbon energy that Justin Trudeau’s Ottawa does. Immediately on arrival to the White House, President Biden shut down Keystone XL pipeline, reaffirming a commitment to adhere to the Paris Accord. The Green New Deal is yet to unfold, but whatever it may be, it does not spell good news for the Alberta energy sector. As a 51st State, Alberta would be subject to similar treatment from Biden’s Washington, or any other such administration with similar goals, as it does from Ottawa.
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 currently discounted sales into it, but that market’s expansion is highly threatened by the doomsday ideology of the Green Tzars who rule it. We have not yet seen the litany of barriers and restrictions that Green ideologues are capable of inflicting on the industry.
A future Republican government might once again be friendly to hydrocarbon energy, but that would only offer limited reprieve. The industry would be just as politicised and subject to the same political ups and downs under which it currently lives in Canada. Alberta would still be subject to a faraway government, largely out of its control.
The AB51 option was always a long, long shot, but Joe Biden’s arrival may have driven a stake through its heart.