Billboard campaign asks Albertans to consider separation from Canada

Two billboards went up this week in Calgary and Edmonton, asking Albertans to consider if the province should ditch the rest of Canada and go it alone.

But a political scientists says the complexity of separating would be 'mindboggling'

A billboard in southeast Calgary questions whether it's time for Alberta to separate from Canada. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Two billboards went up this week in Calgary and Edmonton, asking Albertans to consider if the province should ditch the rest of Canada and go it alone.

Peter Downing, the man behind the billboards, wants a referendum that puts Alberta separation on the ballot.

"I would have to ask how it benefits Alberta being part of a country that's actively blocking our pipelines," said Downing, with Alberta Fights Back, a third-party advertiser registered with Elections Alberta.

The fact is we're a landlocked province.- Lori Williams, political scientist

Downing voiced particular disdain for Quebec and B.C., using the analogy of Alberta being ready to leave an "abusive relationship" with the federal government and other provinces.

Elections Alberta filings for Alberta Fights Back show Downing had raised about $2,900 as of Thursday — roughly $1,800 of which came from his own pocket, and $1,000 coming from a single other donor.

That donor is Sharon Maclise, the interim leader of the Alberta Freedom Alliance, a group pushing for provincial independence that's currently gathering signatures to be recognized as an official political party.

Downing said he doesn't support any one political party, but is just urging the next premier to hold a referendum.

His LinkedIn page shows he was an officer with the RCMP for nearly a decade, before working as an independent political consultant until January, when he founded Alberta Fights Back.

Along with the separatist billboard campaign, Alberta Fights Back's website lists what it calls a "Toxic Masculinity Tour" — amateur fight nights to support the oil and gas industry.

'An expression of frustration'

Political scientist Lori Williams says calls for separatism aren't new and happen whenever people aren't feeling adequately represented in Canada.

"I think its mostly an expression of frustration, or it's possible actually that some people are looking at this as, 'Well, if we threaten to leave Canada, then they'll appreciate us. They'll realize the contribution we make, and they'll respond more favourably to us.' I think that's part of it as well," Williams said.

"It's wanting to sort of go it on our own, without recognizing the benefits of being part of Canada."

Williams said the chance of getting a pipeline built would be much worse as a separate nation than if Alberta remains a part of Canada, and investment in Alberta would also likely take a hit.

"I mean, the fact is we're a landlocked province," she said.

Other big considerations Alberta would have to weigh if it were to separate include trade, airspace, national defence and other benefits the federal government provides, Williams said.

It could be something like the situation the U.K. finds itself in with the complexity of negotiating Brexit with the European Union.

Another issue the province would have to address is the roughly 812,000 hectares of First Nation land contained within its borders —  a concern that has been raised over the years with calls for independence in Quebec.

"The complexities are mind-boggling," said Williams.

With files from Colleen Underwood


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