A group pushing for western separatism is asking whether Saskatchewan should leave Canada – its home country of 114 years.
The Prairie Freedom Movement launched four digital billboards Thursday – three in Regina and one in Saskatoon – bearing the message “should Saskatchewan leave Canada?”
The group aims to mobilize long-held feelings of western alienation – that the political and economic interests of Eastern Canada don’t align with Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
“We have a real culture in Western Canada … that we’re decent people, we work hard and we don’t take other people’s stuff,” Prairie Freedom Movement spokesperson Peter Downing said.
The advertising blitz in Saskatchewan follows a campaign in Edmonton and Calgary, which asked if Alberta should “ditch Canada.”
Manitoba has also been included in the Prairie Freedom Movement’s branding.
Central issues for the group include equalization payments paid out by the likes of Alberta and Saskatchewan, while provinces like Quebec receive billions.
Downing used the example of post-secondary education, which leads western students to graduate “up to their eyeballs in debt,” while subsidies in Quebec offer “almost a free education” to students attending university in their home province.
University of Saskatchewan political studies professor Joe Garcea said separation is simply not practical, in part, due to one of the most prominent issues, which is getting natural resources to international markets.
“We would essentially be landlocked,” Garcea said.
Another risk would be investor uncertainty created by separatism, which was a central question leading up to the 1995 Quebec independence referendum and during the Brexit saga.
Garcea said the Prairie Freedom Movement could, however, lead parties to be more thoughtful about Western Canadian economic woes in the lead up to October’s federal election.
“It helps to draw attention to grievances and I think it helps people to vent,” he said.
The billboard campaign is funded through donations and fundraising, according to Downey. An online donation portal launched Thursday raised just over $100 toward a $10,000 goal as of Friday afternoon.
Another $4,500 has been raised by the Alberta branch of the campaign, Downey said.
The Prairie Freedom Movement is planning more fundraising events in Saskatchewan in the future.