Canada Braid: Premier Kenney's tough line on separatism is the only course

23:50  25 october  2020
23:50  25 october  2020 Source:   calgaryherald.com

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Alberta separatism wasn’t on the formal agenda at the UCP convention last weekend, but it was the one subject that seemed to make Premier Jason Kenney edgy.

Jason Kenney wearing a suit and tie: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. © Provided by Calgary Herald Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

In a bearpit session on Zoom a delegate asked Kenney a heavily loaded question.

If the Trudeau Liberals win the next election, would he consider separation?

Kenney’s answer was nearly four minutes long. That alone showed the pressure of separatist sentiment.

Kenney told the delegate, “No, I am a proud Canadian. I am a patriot. I don’t believe patriotism can be qualified.

“Patriotism means love of country — that’s literally what the word means.

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“I love Canada even if I don’t like the policies of the current government. I believe the country is much bigger and more important than one bad government or one bad set of policies.”

Polls have shown that more than 40 per cent of Albertans either actively like the idea of separating or could live with it.

The majority still feel it’s a terrible idea, but the growth of separatist feeling is remarkable — and a potential threat to UCP support at the polls.

There are currently two registered provincial separatist parties: the Independence Party of Alberta, and the Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta.

If they were to bleed off significant support from the UCP, they could actually clear a path for the NDP to win again. That’s what worries the UCP.

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Back in 1982 a separatist party, Western Canada Concept, won 11.8 per cent of the votes in a provincial election.

Premier Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservatives still got a massive majority, 75 of 79 seats.

But this is a different era. The UCP and NDP are close to even in polling . The loss of a few percentage points could tip the whole provincial balance.

It’s no wonder Kenney shows uneasiness. So does federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, whose party has also been stung by separatism.

Talking to UCP delegates from Ottawa, O’Toole said a big job for Conservatives is winning most of the 32 Quebec seats captured by the Bloc Quebecois in last fall’s federal election.

The unexpected Bloc surge cost Prime Minister Justin Trudeau his majority last October. But in the same way, it also denied the Conservatives any chance of majority.

Erin O'Toole wearing a suit and tie:  Erin O’Toole, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. © Blair Gable / Reuters Erin O’Toole, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Kenney launched a detailed rejection of separatism as he answered the delegate’s question.

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The removal of diplomats creates a barrier to future deescalation -- and that could be dangerous.

“What I’m hearing from Albertans is this: that they don’t want us to go down the rabbit hole of separation. They want jobs and economic growth.

“They understand that landlocking Alberta, by cutting ourselves off from the rest of the continent, is not a solution to a foreign-funded campaign to landlock Alberta.

“We need the U.S. market, which we would lose because we would fall out of NAFTA. That makes no sense to me.

“I understand the frustration — believe me — that lies behind questions like that.

“But I just ask you to study what happened in Quebec in 1976, when a separatist government (the Parti Quebecois) was elected.

“There was an enormous exodus of people, of business, of jobs, of capital. Real estate values declined by over one-third in the province of Quebec.

“We’re already struggling enough as it is in this province than (sic) to create massive investor uncertainty by pursuing a hugely divisive debate and creating enormous uncertainty around separation.”

Much later in the discussion Kenney came back to the subject, eager to explain that rejection of separatism isn’t just his personal view.

He pointed out that the founding document of the UCP, signed by both him and former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean in 2017, called for “loyalty to a united Canada.”

I lived in Quebec when Rene Levesque’s PQ won that 1976 election. Kenney’s description doesn’t even begin to describe the fear, panic, division and economic carnage that followed.

It could start here today if Kenney even hinted at government support for separation.

His line won’t please the separatists and it even may cost him votes. But any other approach would be ruinously irresponsible.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald


Twitter: @DonBraid

Facebook: Don Braid Politics

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