Nunc Scio
Thursday, September 01, 2005
  Western Separation - A Tale Told by an Idiot, Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing
If you ever want to see me descend into a paroxysm of rage, mention the phrase “western separation”.

I react badly to this suggestion for several reasons. First, I’m a big fan of Canada. I think it’s a hell of a good country, and it really pisses me off when certain people (usually members of what I call the “intelligence-free” right) suggest busting up a perfectly good confederation. And I’m not saying this just as a resident of Ontario. I was born in BC and lived in Alberta for nine years. I’ve seen and interacted with a lot of this country, and I’m pretty confident the whole thing works better together.

Second, I quarrel with the idea of western sovereignty because IT IS SO DAMN STUPID. Tallying up the false assumptions and bonehead logic that underpin this position is a monumental task, but here are some highlights:

1) The West is ‘alienated’
. Now here’s a classic sentiment. Whether Ontario is stealing oil revenue or refusing to elect Alberta’s socially conservative political party du jour, central Canada just can’t stop screwing the West. Or at least that’s what everyone seems to think. The problem is, even if there was some evidence supporting this idea, nobody seems to know what it is. Take this conversation between my good friend who now lives in Alberta, and an Albertan he met in a bar:

Friend: “So why do you feel alienated?”
Albertan: “Because Ontario keeps screwing us.”
Friend: “How?”
Albertan: “You know…by screwing us.”
Friend: “Right. So how would you fix it?”
Albertan: “By getting elected, going to Ottawa and making sure they stop screwing us.”
Friend: “How?”
Albertan: “By making them stop screwing us.”
Friend: “I see.”

The fact is, everybody’s alienated and nobody knows why. Could it be a few hard-luck politicians who needed a horse to ride into power dreamed the whole thing up? And nothing spells “conservative election drive” like “a crusade without any referent to reality”. Just putting that out there.

2) Alberta would be better off on its own. True, Alberta is currently pumping money out of the ground, benefiting every time a war or natural disaster sends gas prices ever higher. So, as the argument goes, since we’re rich like bandits and hate sharing, maybe we should go it alone. A plan brilliant in its intricacies. Except for one thing: THE OIL IS GOING TO RUN OUT. SOON. I guess someone forgot to mention to the western separatists that oil is a non-renewable resource. Oh well, I guess a sovereign Alberta can always fall back on its thriving cattle industry. Ouch.

The fact is, both Alberta and BC have primary resource-based economies. If those resources dry up, or if people stop requiring them, economies of this type are in trouble. If these provinces separate, they won’t be able to relay on the mature industrial economies of Central Canada to bail them out. Say nothing of the fact that newly-independent Alberta and BC would become the 51st and 52nd states so fast, you’d start believing in manifest destiny again.

Alberta and BC do have legitimate grievances, just like every province in Canada. The intelligent thing to do is to work through existing institutions for a better deal, not by scrubbing the whole country and ensuring mutual harm. A good first step to building a better confederation is to stop hitching your regional hopes to socially conservative politics. Central Canada doesn’t vote Conservative because we’re trying to screw the West. We don’t vote Conservative because they suck.
Wake up dude - the oil isn't running out any time soon in Alberta. Colin Campbell's hubbert - peak oil - estimates did not included non-conventional crude oil, which only counted as 'oil' as late as 2003.

Call it stupid or whatever - at best it's probably just a 'credible threat' from the West, but the anger is very real out here.

I don't agree with separatism - you are right for insinuating that it's cover talk for joining the US - but there are plenty of highly educated people out here who subscribe to the position.
I'm not denying that Albertans are angry...I'm just suggesting they're not even really sure what they're angry about, other than some vague sense that they're being 'screwed'.

As for the oil, the oil sands and other projects of the like are still energy negative processes. It takes more oil to process the bitumen than the whole process actually produces. That doesn't seem like a recipe for continued success. I'm not an engineer or anything, so you'll have to correct me if I'm wrong. But it seems 'non-conventional' crude may not be the miracle everyone seems to think it is.

Yeah, I know about the 'vague angst' that is in Alberta. Maybe the bar example is representative, maybe it isn't. I wouldn't say it's one major issue, but a host of little ones. It's little things, mostly. Like PMPM waiting forever to fly out to Calgary to see the floods. Or mulling over a C02 tax (out here that's eastern-talk for NEP the sequel).

Other forms of alienation and separatism that have always interested me are Ontario and Newfoundland's cases. I worked on a paper for the ADM of Finance at Finance Canada on the concept of Ontarian alienation. It was interesting. But more interesting is Newfoundland's case. At every chance, I take the time to plug a recent CBC documentary called "Fire & Ice", done by a Newfoundlander separatist. It was the coolest doc I have ever seen because it examined Newfoundland in relation to Iceland.

There is considerable debate about the net energy return of the oil sands. I'm reluctant to go along with arguments claiming that the tarsands have a net negative energy return.

All oil has a negative net energy return because it takes thousands of tons of solar energy that reached the planet billions of years ago to produce a barrell of oil. Oil is sunshine in another form.

Biodiesels and ethanols do not have a net positive return either, and in the absence of an alternative, crude seems to be the way to go.
You're right of is an imperfect beast, and we've got to do the best we can with what we've got. The market may hold the answer to our fuel gas prices rise, more folks will opt for available alternatives or demand better ones. Then crude can be relegated to industrial applications, where alternative energy solutions are more difficult to implement.

Hopefully, by the time 2050 rolls around, crude will be a sweet memory. I hope Alberta, in an effort to maintain the supremacy of its energy sector begins to invest in new technologies. Use crude funds to fuel the future. Just a thought.
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Jack of all trades, master of none, Graeme is many things to many people. Unfortunately, none of them find him very life-affirming in any capacity. He is a freelance writer, broadcaster, amateur cryptozoologist and occasional political commentator late of London, England and now based in Toronto. Most of the time, he's confused. And a little hungry. But mostly just confused and somewhat uncomfortable writing in the third person.

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