After Monday’s federal election saw all but one riding go to the Conservative Party in the province, Alberta separatist sentiment jumped.
On Facebook, the “Wexit Alberta” page reached 28,000 likes and “Vote Wexit” page 250,000 likes by Friday. Twitter saw the “wexit” hashtag — and the satirical “rednexit” hashtag — trend nationally. And conversations across the province discussed what secession of Alberta from Canada could look like.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the penchant for separation “an emotional one” Tuesday, saying most Albertans are patriots.
“Landlocking ourselves through separation is not a solution to the problem of a campaign to landlock Alberta,” Kenney said.
But if the “Wexiteers” had their way and the province decided to secede, how would the Alberta government navigate separation from Canada?
Getting to ‘Yes’
First, Alberta would need a political movement pushing a political party, presumably the ruling party, to hold a referendum vote on separation. But before that referendum was put to the people, the House of Commons would have 30 days to determine whether the question on the referendum ballot was “clear.”
According to the Clarity Act of 2000, members of Parliament would also consider “whether the question would result in a clear expression of the will of the population” regarding separation.
Then the province could hold the referendum.
Once the vote was in, the House of Commons would look at the referendum results to determine whether there is “a clear majority of the population of that province.” This would not only take into account the vote for and against, but also the voter turnout.
After all that was completed, negotiations to amend the Constitution allowing Alberta to separate would begin.
Getting to this point — a separatist movement causing a party to issue a referendum with a clear answer to a clear question — would be both momentous and cause for concern.
“However implausible that scenario might be if we reach that point, I think all of the relevant actors would have to take the process very seriously, because at that point the very legitimacy of Canada as a country is at stake,” Emmett Macfarlane, associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, told Global News.
With Quebec’s 1995 referendum the closest Canada has ever been to an entire province separating, the exact steps for negotiations and the parties involved in amending the Constitution haven’t been tested in the real world.
But in their 1998 judgement the Supreme Court of Canada said negotiations need to be done in good faith.
Formula for amendment
The amending formula in the Constitution Act of 1982 outlines what is needed for amendments to be made to allow a province like Alberta to leave.
“That formula is somewhat complicated because it has different requirements depending on the type of constitutional amendment that is being proposed,” Eric Adams, professor of law at the University of Alberta, told Global News.
If Alberta wanted to change something in the constitution that only affected the province, it would only need the agreement of the province, the House of Commons and the Senate.
Changes to other parts of the constitution would require the so-called “7+50 formula,” in which seven provinces representing at least 50 per cent of Canada’s population would have to agree to the amendment.
LISTEN: “Wexit” founder Peter Downing joins Danielle Smith to discuss separatist sentiment after the federal election
“Now, the Government of Canada has added to that by saying that any successful constitutional amendment under that formula would also need to require the consent of Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec,” Adams said.
The four most-populous provinces — British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec — would have to be a part of the seven consenting provinces.
And for changes that would involve the removal of an entire province from confederation, the so-called “unanimity formula” would come into play.
“[Changes] that go to the very heart of the constitution — it’s actually unanimous approval that is required of all the provinces and the Senate and the House of Commons,” Adams said.
“The constitutional connections between Alberta and the rest of the federation, the houses of Parliament, the monarchy are just innumerable.”
Beyond the amendments to the Constitution, Alberta would have to negotiate a number of other matters an independent country tends to.
“You could fill pages of the number of things that will need to be worked worked out,” Adams said.
Things like settling assets and debts shared between Alberta and Canada, establishing a military, borders, policing, trade relationships, treaty relationships, laws and even what currency an independent Alberta would use would have to be established.
Comparing ’90s Quebec to Alberta now
If Quebec’s separatist movement was able to knock on the door of secession in 1995, what’s different in Alberta’s in 2019?
“One of the major differences is that this separatist movement has not had the backing of the popular vote,” Chouinard said.
“If you look at the separatist movement in Quebec, the Parti Quebecois made government in Quebec for the first time in 1976 and several times after that.”
Parti Quebecois formed as a sovereigntist party in 1968.
“But the fact that a separatist agenda was supported by a legitimate popular vote, I think, is what’s missing from the equation if you want to do a comparison between Quebec and Alberta,” the Royal Military College professor noted.
Macfarlane pointed out further differences between Alberta’s separatist movements and other similar movements.
“We have never seen an advanced democracy have peaceful secession, especially in a context where there is no minority ethnic or religious group occupying a particular territory wishing to secede,” the University of Waterloo professor said, adding that secession on economic grounds wouldn’t likely get international acceptance.
While terms like “leave,” “exit,” “separate” and even “divorce” have been used to describe Alberta’s possible secession, Adams said the lengthy, costly and laborious process is nothing like a domestic divorce.
“I think the most fractious, difficult, protracted and costly divorce would be like a weekend at Disneyland compared to the constitutional negotiations required to remove a province from the country.”