May 5, 2019 11:10 am
Updated: May 5, 2019 4:07 pm

Don’t write off Western anger as ‘alienation’ — it runs a whole lot deeper: Calgary professor

WATCH ABOVE: Barry Cooper from the University of Calgary joins Mercedes Stephenson to discuss why, if the concerns of Alberta separatists aren't addressed, there will be a push for the province to get out of Canada.


Writing off Western anger over federal energy policies as “alienation” is overly simplistic — it runs a whole lot deeper than that, one professor argues.

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In an interview with the West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, political scientist Barry Cooper from the University of Calgary said the term minimizes the frustrations of Albertans and Western Canadians while at the same time showing that those in Ottawa are failing to grasp the underlying anger.

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“There’s been a long train of abuses on Western Canada,” said Cooper, who was also thesis adviser to Stephenson.

“It’s not alienation. That’s what Laurentian Canadians project as a kind of psychological problem that Western powers have [but] they understand perfectly well that their interests are not being looked after by the Government of Canada. Simple as that.”

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Alberta’s economic reliance on the oil sector has left the province struggling to recover from the dive in oil prices that began roughly five years ago and worsened as the landlocked province’s oil sector cut production amid a glut of supply it could not get to international markets.

Without access to international markets, Alberta crude is captive to the American market and sells there for a deep discount that costs the industry billions in lost revenue potential every year.

But in order to reach those other markets, it needs to ship its oil either by pipeline or by rail to tidewater — and getting buy-in from other provinces and Indigenous communities has proved a years-long struggle.

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Most recently, the uncertainty around the potential to complete the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion resulted in Kinder Morgan abandoning the project and selling its existing infrastructure to the Canadian government, which now owns the pipeline.

Despite nationalizing the pipeline, though, construction has been stalled after a Federal Court injunction ordering the government to reassess the environmental impacts and Indigenous consultation around the expansion project.

After doing so, the federal government is now expected to make a decision about how to move forward with the project in June.

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However, the continued delays and uncertainty around when the expansion will be built has only fuelled anger among Albertans, with an Environics Institute poll in March suggesting resentment toward the rest of the country in Alberta is at an all-time high.

That poll said 71 per cent of Albertans feel they are not getting the respect their province deserves, while a majority of respondents in that province, as well as neighbouring Saskatchewan, said they get so few benefits from Confederation that they might as well secede.

Newly sworn-in Alberta Premier Jason Kenney harnessed that anger in the recent provincial election and during a visit to Ottawa last week when he framed the federal government’s environmental regulations on the energy sector as a threat to national unity.

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Cooper said there’s no sign those feelings are going to go away any time soon and will likely only worsen under the Liberals because even though the former Conservatives also could not get the Trans Mountain expansion built, their vision for the country mainly left Alberta to handle its own affairs.

“[Former prime minister Stephen] Harper had a vision of federalism where you pretty much left the provinces alone,” he said.

“This government does not have a vision of leaving Alberta alone. The carbon tax is an attack on Alberta. The tanker ban is an attack on Alberta and Albertans understand that they’re not our friends. At least you can be disappointed with the Conservative government and a lot of people were, but they didn’t see them as the enemy.”

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