One of the biggest challenges facing independence movements in the West over the decades has been that they are always reactive rather than proactive.
An event or events occur which infuriates Westerners. People scramble and cobble together independence groups and parties. The rage over the aforementioned events cools. The groups and parties descend into internal squabbling and fall apart as their numbers dry up.
The above cycles of events have happened a number of times in Alberta’s history. Last fall we saw the first part of this cycle begin as fury over the re-election of Trudeau lit a fire across the prairies. This time things may be different though. The independence movement may avoid the cycle of self-destruction this time for a number of reasons.
To begin with, independence minded people have tools for communication and organization like never before. When I led the Alberta Independence Party in 2001, we gained thousands of members in a hurry. Unfortunately we were barely organized and with only perhaps 20 percent of members having email in those days, reaching out to them was expensive and difficult. We either had to spend a great deal of effort and money on a mailout or were at the whim of an often hostile media for messaging. It made keeping members engaged and unified nearly impossible. Now with something as simple as Facebook, Wexit literally gathered and communicates with hundreds of thousands of independence minded Westerners at no cost. It is a profound organizational tool.
Another pitfall with independence movements has been splintering as disparate groups split support and fight among each other. With a likely merger on the way between Wexit and the Freedom Conservative Party into a new entity, we are seeing a cooperative approach that past independence groups didn’t have. With the massive member base of Wexit combined with the established and registered party foundation of the FCP, we will likely soon see the most powerful registered independence party in Alberta’s history.
When I took the Alberta Independence Party into the 2001 election, we were up against the powerhouse of the Ralph Klein government. We made some decent inroads all things considered but it was damn tough running against such a popular Alberta icon. Jason Kenney is proving himself to be no Ralph Klein. While most governments gain support in times of crisis, the UCP is stumbling along with dropping support numbers. His conservative base is becoming increasingly uncomfortable as the PC old boys club appears to have re-established itself and they are seeking a new option. Should the Wildrose Independence Party indeed come into being, they will be immediately presented with an opportunity to harvest disaffected conservatives to their movement.
Independence movements heat and cool with time. The difference this time is that the movement has only just started to cool down and an event may be approaching which could take the independence movement from being a rainstorm to a hurricane. Trudeau may very well call a snap election this fall.
Trudeau is embarrassed. It is all about vanity with him and in taking a Liberal majority into a minority in one term, he has proven himself to be one of the weakest Liberal leaders in Canadian history. Trudeau desperately wants to regain a majority to prove at least to himself that he is a leader on par with his father. An opportunity to gain that majority is presenting itself to Trudeau right now and it will be hard for him to resist it.
The federal Conservative Party of Canada leadership race has been lackluster to say the least. They can’t be totally faulted for this. The pandemic lockdown has kept them from holding events and traditionally campaigning. It is hard to build excitement among supporters through a speech delivered by Youtube. That said, the crop of contenders hasn’t exactly been setting the support base on fire and nobody is seeing an electoral powerhouse emerging on the scene.
While the CPC has been essentially gagged by the pandemic lockdown, the Trudeau Liberals have been enjoying the opposite scenario. Every morning for months now, Trudeau has been able to hold what is essentially a live tax funded campaign commercial as he dollops out new handouts to Canadians who are overjoyed to see their own money coming back to them. This has paid off in spades as the Liberals are currently polling with a strong and growing lead over the CPC. The Liberal numbers are back in clear majority territory.
While Trudeau may a fool, his advisors aren’t. They know that polling numbers are fluid and they know that in this case they are going to have to strike while the iron is hot. When economic reality comes home to roost (and it will), Canadians along with their government are going to have to deal with the fact that they have been living on the credit cards for months. We have taken on staggering debt levels and we are going to be facing a depressed economy for years. No matter what government is in power, they will have to bring about some heavy cuts in spending. Voters never like austerity even if it is unavoidable. A minority government will never survive an austerity period. The only way to avoid this fate would be to call a snap election and establish a majority. That would buy Trudeau four or five years to deal with things.
The calling of a snap election would be a shallow and crass move by Trudeau. Canadians would immediately see the self-interest in the move and be repulsed. That said, they will still probably give him the majority that he seeks. Eastern Canada and lower mainland BC aren’t going to be embracing the Conservatives any time soon.
With the re-election of Trudeau to a majority government, the explosion of independence sentiment in the West will make last fall’s reaction look like a firecracker.
Last fall, there was not a well known or organized independence party ready to embrace that surge in independence support. The Alberta Independence Party was in the midst of internal turmoil and nobody else was on the horizon. As always, independence movements were reactive. That won’t happen this time.
This year a new Wildrose Independence Party will be organized and on the block. If they can get it together, they will have a plan, a rational set of policies and an articulate leader to present this to Albertans. It will be the first pro-active approach to an independence wave in Alberta history and it could very well establish the movement permanently.
There are a whole lot of “ifs” in my speculation. Most are beyond the control of Albertans.
One thing which is in our control though is preparing our response to the perfect storm. The first step will be to present a united movement in the pursuit of independence. Wexit and the Freedom Conservative Party are preparing to do just that. If the merger fails however, Albertans will only be able to react to the storm again rather than harness it. Let’s hope that the members choose wisely.