Opinion: Alberta conservatives focus on Quebec model — but they may want to crunch the numbers again

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s sovereignty bill threatens to turn Alberta into an economically distressed Quebec.Jason Franson/CP

Duane Bratt is Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Economics, Justice, and Policy Studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

Conservatives in Alberta vs. Quebec. They hate the fact that Quebec opposes key pipeline projects yet receives billions of dollars in annual federal equalization payments — a disproportionate amount of which comes from federal tax funds Alberta taxpayer. They like that Quebec has its own income tax, a provincial pension plan and a provincial police force.They like how Quebec uses the notwithstanding clause and takes action Not punished by federal government policies they don’t like.

The mantra of Alberta conservatives, whether ex-PM Jason Kenny or current PM danielle smith, is that Alberta wants to be treated like Quebec.and the recently passed Alberta Sovereignty in the Canadian Act of Union That could result in Alberta being treated exactly like Quebec — just not in the way conservatives want.

Alberta conservatives believe that the threat of separatism in Quebec (based on language, culture, and history) gives them enormous leverage over the federal government, allowing for more autonomy. These threats were highlighted by the FLQ crisis, the creation of the Quebec Party in 1970 and its first electoral victory in 1976, and the referendums in 1980 and 1995. Autonomy measures include Bill 101 (introducing strict restrictions on the non-use of French by Parti Quebecois in 1977) and Bill 21 (Legault government legislation prohibiting the use of religious symbols in various jobs). Unfortunately for Quebec, the threat of separatism and the adoption of a policy of autonomy meant that the province suffered population decline and capital flight.

In 1970, Montreal was Canada’s most populous city, while Quebec contained 28 percent of Canada’s population.By 1980, Toronto was larger than Montreal Quebec’s share of Canada’s population fell to 26.5 per cent. These downward trends continue. By 2022, Montreal will have only two-thirds the population of Toronto, while only 22.5 percent of Canadians will live in Quebec.

Rising separatism in Quebec has also led to capital flight from the province. Quebec accounted for 25 percent of Canada’s gross domestic product in 1970, but that has shrunk to 20 percent now. Quebec’s recession has been so severe that its GDP is only slightly higher than Alberta’s, despite nearly doubling its population.

Indeed, there are some differences that may mitigate whether Alberta suffers the same fate as Quebec. First, the financial sector is more liquid than the natural resource sector. Given that oil and gas are located in Alberta, energy companies need to operate where the resources are located. (That’s why they have to operate in politically unstable countries like Nigeria and Iraq.) Second, the UCP government doesn’t promote separatism as explicitly as the PQ, even though some of their supporters have clear separatist tendencies. Third, Alberta separatists and autonomists have not resorted to violence the way FLQ has.

Despite these caveats, there are enough parallels to cause unease about the economic downside of the Sovereign Act. Quebec’s business community sounded the alarm in the 1970s, and when they were ignored, they picked up their hands and walked away. Likewise, many in the Alberta business community, such as the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and former UCP leadership candidate Travis Toews (before he changed himself and joined Smith’s cabinet), warning of the economic uncertainty the sovereign bill will create.Both provinces, whether through Quebec’s legislation or Alberta’s rhetoric, make people they consider not “true” Quebecers less welcome Or Alberta. Nowhere is this more apparent than for the indigenous groups who threatened to secede from independent Quebec during the two Quebec referendums.Given the tense outcome in 1995, that may have been enough for the opposition win. Likewise, Alberta’s heads of Treaties 6, 7 and 8 blasted the Sovereignty Act.

Even one of the big complaints that the Sovereignty Act was designed to address – market access for Alberta’s tidal water resources – is not going to work. In fact, this can make the problem worse. Passing the Sovereignty Act will not restart the Northern Gateway or the Energy Eastern pipeline.If BC follows Alberta’s lead, it could also jeopardize Trans Mountain pipeline expansion Lead and abolish federal power over interprovincial pipelines. Mr Kenney made this clear during Ms Smith’s UCP leadership campaign over the summer.

Clearly, Quebec has paid a heavy economic price because it believes the preservation of its language and culture is worth the price. That’s why it has the highest tax rate in Canada. In contrast, I don’t think Albertans who pay the lowest taxes in Canada would be willing to pay the economic costs of self-government policies (provincial taxes, pensions, and policing), let alone the consequences of the Sovereignty Act. This is because the main argument in favor of self-government in Alberta is economic. Unfortunately, too many Albertans think Quebec’s “throat slit” strategy is working. They need to spend more time listening to the people who lived in Quebec in the 1970s.

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