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Does oil-rich Alberta still want to leave Canada and become its own country?

PortandTerminal.com, April 28, 2020

There is a movement in Western Canada called “WEXIT” that wants to separate from the rest of Canada and become their own country. How realistic is that?

CALGARY, ALBERTA – You may already be familiar with BREXIT, the political movement in England that led to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. BREXIT is short for “BRITAIN EXIT”

What you may not know is that in Canada there is a separatist movement called WEXIT that wants something similar. Members of the WEXIT movement want to separate their provinces from Canada so that they can set up their own independent country.

More than just an Alberta movement

Canada’s WEXIT movement isn’t confined to just Alberta, the country’s oil-rich province – there are similar separatist movements in Canada’s other western provinces as well.

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia all have their own WEXIT movements too.

To keep things simple though, we’ll focus on Alberta in this article. The truth is that Manitoba and Saskatchewan account for just 3.27% and 3.63% of Canada’s GDP (2018) respectively and less than 7% of its population combined. On the political and economic map, they’re tiny.

British Columbia, which has its own WEXIT movement, is more complicated. The province is not nearly as conservative or as separatist oriented as Canada’s other western provinces. WEXIT we are told is more of a “fringe movement” in British Columbia, and yes, we expect to get angry feedback for saying that.

The third-largest economy in Canada

City skyline
Calgary is Alberta’s business center and home to 1.24 million people, making it the 4th largest city in Canada

Alberta is Canada’s third-largest province in terms of its economic importance. The province accounts for 15.5% of Canada’s GDP and 11.6% of its population so it carries a decent amount of political weight in the country.

Alberta punches well above its weight economically and many there feel that they are taken for granted by the country’s leaders located in distant Ottawa.

Economically though, Alberta is overshadowed by Ontario and Quebec in eastern Canada where over 60% of the country’s population lives and 57% of its GDP comes from.

What does WEXIT Alberta want?

Table with hats.
Alberta borrowed WEXIT as a slogan from the UK and stole the MAGA slogan from President Trump. What they lack in creativity though, Alberta’s WEXIT team makes up for in frustration with Ottawa.

The WEXIT Alberta website says that they want Alberta to be “sovereign, and in no way subordinate to the Government of Canada, British Crown, or the United Nations“.

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They also want their own constitution, defence force, an Alberta National Currency backed by resources (not their best idea), and all of the other trimmings associated with being a real country.

What’s their beef with Canada?

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is one thing that unites all WEXITers. They really, really don’t like him.

The WEXIT group’s main grievances appear to revolve mainly around Justin Trudeau being Prime Minister of Canada, the carbon tax, unemployment levels, and the delay in construction of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion which is now owned by the Government of Canada. 

READ: Simplified – Canada’s complicated relationship with oil

How big is the WEXIT movement? According to an online survey conducted by Research Co. in August 2019, at least 3 people in 10 say they felt the province would be better off as its own country.

That does leave 7 people out of 10 in Alberta who do not support the WEXIT movement’s mission to part ways with Canada.

Could they go it alone?

It’s unlikely that for now at least, Alberta would stand a chance if they went it alone.

For the WEXIT movement to succeed in the long run, the province would need a stable economy that could provide a stable income for its 4.4 million inhabitants.

The problem is that Alberta’s economy is anything but stable and swings from boom to bust depending upon the price of oil. And lately, it’s been more bust than boom.

Alberta is resource-rich though. The province’s oil sands have the third-largest oil reserves in the world, after Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

Extracting oil from the sands though is difficult, dirty and costly.

Read: With oil at under $8 a bbl, Canada is the first price-war casualty

To get Alberta’s oil out of the sand you need to scoop up massive shovels full of it, dump it into trucks which then move it to crushers where the large clumps of the earth are processed.

Once the oil sand is crushed, hot water is added so it can be pumped to the extraction plant. It is this difficult extraction process that makes Alberta’s oil so costly to produce and as a consequence, the province incredibly vulnerable to global crude oil price fluctuations.

Read: Joblessness Seen Tripling to 25% or More in Canada Oil Heartland

When oil prices drop as they have now and as they have in the past, producing oil in Alberta quickly becomes unprofitable and people get laid-off in droves.

Landlocked

The other challenge Alberta faces is that it is landlocked and far away from the bulk of Canada’s population.

There’s no pipeline between Alberta in the west and eastern Canada which means the east ends up having to import most of its oil from places like Saudi Arabia by sea.

That leaves Alberta in the west with a lot of oil and only one place to send it to – south to the United States where it is shipped by pipeline and rail.

Canadian oil exports to the United States account for almost all of Canada’s total oil exports but only 22% of American oil imports. That leaves Alberta in a very weak bargaining position when they negotiate prices with their buyers in the U.S.

Read: Canada greenlights major oil pipeline expansion project

It is for this reason that many in Canada have wanted to expand the country’s ability to ship more of its oil by pipeline to the west coast where it can be loading onto tankers and shipped to other global buyers. That’s happening but slowly, and the delay is another major source of frustration for people in Alberta.

What do WEXIT supporters want now?

The big news this week is that The Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta (FCP) and Wexit Alberta have decided to join forces to create a new party called the Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta, or WIP for short.

That’s got lots of people in Alberta excited again about pushing forward the goal of exiting from Canada.

Alberta will be strong, free, and sovereign; Alberta will sever all ties of domination from the federal government; Alberta will immediately repatriate all powers granted to it under the constitution as it seeks to sever or radically redefine its current relationship with the federal government.

Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta founding principles

But while all of that is exciting for some, it still doesn’t change the fundamentals. Alberta is landlocked, it’s a very high-cost producer of fossil fuels and a majority of its citizens would prefer not to leave Canada.

Learn more

If you’re interested in learning more we’ve provided links to all of the Western Provinces’ WEXIT websites below:

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