Image Credit: Timorose
While studying abroad in British Columbia, my accent often gave me away. Once the cat was out of the bag, professors would often smirk and ask what I thought of Brexit. Always cautious to hide my frustration thatI had travelled 4,000 miles away to talk about anything else, my comments always ended with a quip that it would all be over by the time I returned home.
I felt like Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead, heading to The Winchester to wait for it all to blow over. In hindsight, I could not have been more wrong.
It is hard then to argue that politics isn’t a cruel mistress with avery wicked sense of humour when, on my return, the UK’s membership of the European Union was still very much intact. To add to the irony, a few months later in light of the results of the 2019 federal election, the western province of Alberta was pushing for its own independence from Canada.
While the destination still remains unknown, the road to Brexit has not been without its bumps. Before abruptly embarking down the same route, what has been deemed the ‘Wexit’ movement must stop and look at the warnings left by Britain’s journey.
Home to vast amounts of cattle, conservatives and somewhat standing out and apart from the rest of the nation’s more liberal values, Alberta has always been seen as the ‘Texas’ of Canada. The nick-name may give off an unfavourable impression, especially to liberally minded people, but it highlights a certain sense of ‘western alienation’ that has been growing in the region.
With an Ipsos poll stating that 83 percent of Albertans wanted Trudeau and his liberal government out in the last electoral cycle, there is a sentiment spreading among the people that Ottawa and its central government looks down on the province while failing to act in its best interests. This tension between Alberta and the country’s capital runs deeper however.
It is not only a clash of cultures between the east and west of the nation, but a growing opinion that those in power neglect to adequately represent the needs and concerns of the Western provinces. Aside from the riding of Edmonton Strathconawhere the New Democratic Party ousted the Conservatives, the entire province emerged blue on election night. This only spurred on the cause of Wexit Canada to gain support across other western provinces, like Saskatchewan, leading to being granted the chance to run in future federal elections.
All this is sounding eerily similar to the Eurosceptic debates that began to gain traction leading up to the 2016 referendum in the UK. Yet, the reality that such independence would ever occur is highly unlikely. This actuality causes my worries to subside. However, this is precisely how my reasoning unfolded about Brexit and now look where we are.
After all, Alberta is not the first province to float the idea of independence from Ottowan rule. In 1995, a referendum was held to vote on the issue of Quebec gaining independence.
While the result left the nation in tact, it was exceptionally close at 50.58 per cent to 49.42 per cent. Back home, it makes the percentages of 48 to 52 seem a million miles apart.
There is one major difference, albeit a very obvious one, between Brexit and Wexit. Britain is leaving a huge bureaucratic and almost self-governing international body, not losing part of its country to independence.
While, for my own fragile sanity, I now hold onto the opinion that Britain may well emerge on the other side of Brexit for the better, British politics won’t be completely unscathed. For nearly four years, the issue has polarised the country and redefined the political map. If Wexit Canada continues down this path, the same will be true for the Western provinces.
Canada is a beautifully unique and wildly diverse country. It is a nation where it makes sense for rustic rodeos and cattle farming to perfectly coexist alongside fancy French cuisine and architecture, as it seamlessly encompasses identities that include both. Former Liberal cabinet member, Ralph Goodale, has recently said in an interview that Wexit has taken Canadian politics down a “counterproductive rabbit hole.”
I cannot help but agree. Independence can and will not ever occur overnight, yet if questions surrounding it keep being ignored by the government in Ottawa, politics in Canada will only become more divisive. It is a slippery slope that leads to nothing but a quagmire, one which we are only beginning to drag ourselves out of now. Western Canada must be vigilant not to accidentally sentence themselves to the same fate.