Sovereignty isn't separation; it's making choices for yourself. Alberta needs it

In social work, a client must feel empowered to make their own decisions. The same applies to a province, argues Matthew Morin. He wrote this opinion piece as part of a series of personal essays the CBC is running ahead of the Alberta election.

Social work taught me empowerment matters, be it for clients or provinces

A man holds two dead birds with a riffle leaning against his knee.
Matthew Morin grew up hunting with his dad in Alberta. When he studied in Toronto, he realized many people debating gun laws had never held a gun. (Submitted by Matthew Morin)
Graphic to show that these are all part of a series.

This column is an opinion by Matthew Morin, who works in the field of social work in Calgary. For more information about CBC's Alberta election 2023 opinion series, visit the My Priority home page.

Growing up in Calgary, I never thought of myself as an Albertan; I was always Canadian first.

But when I moved to Toronto to study social work, the attitudes of those around me caused a shift. 

I saw how Alberta is perceived by some Eastern Canadians: a place of rednecks, racist homophobic conservatives and anti-environmentalists. I was surprised how often people would say "I'm sorry" when I told them I was from Alberta, or state how they could never understand "those people."

And then I began to understand that subtle cultural differences do exist, and how these play into the regionalization of our diverse country.

Alberta is different, just as Ontario, New Brunswick and British Columbia are.

Now I'm a proud Albertan, living in Calgary again, and I firmly believe we should be allowed to express those differences — to have self-determination, or as we call it when it applies to governments: sovereignty. Not as our own country, but as a community that has a right to stand up and make decisions together in our best interest. 

To me, that's the most important issue for this election. This election is about how we move forward in our relationship with Ottawa and within Canada; it is about a vision, about what it means to be an Albertan.

To give you some background, I grew up in the northeast of Calgary, in a lower-middle class family, and navigated the often complicated waters of being gay at a Catholic school and in a conservative area. 

I was able to see many sides of Alberta: the gay scenes, the underground queer spaces, the Catholic church, the hunting spots my dad would take me to and academia.

A young man sits on a set of rainbow steps.
Matthew Morin grew up in Calgary and did not realize how culturally different Alberta was from the rest of Canada until he moved to Toronto. (Submitted by Matthew Morin)

Studying and working in Toronto, I saw just how detached many Eastern academics and politicians are from the West.

I debated firearm policy with colleagues who never held a gun; I discussed the importance of oil and gas with academics who have never seen the stress of missed rent payments and Visa bills during the layoffs of an oil bust.

Yet, these people dictate much of our policy with the view that they can "help" us.

Their help comes by forcing us to adopt policies many Albertans may disagree with. Do we support a carbon tax and environmental policies that stifle pipeline development? Are we ready to focus on a "Just Transition" for oil and gas workers, or is there a role for oil and gas within a responsible approach to climate change? 

Rather than listening to how Albertans feel and allowing us to pave our own policy, they are telling us what is right.

We need people to regain a sense of control over their lives.- Matthew Morin

That's a problem, because one thing I've learned from social work is that self-determination is essential. My clients don't progress until they have a sense of ownership over their own journey. And at a community level, often the response to a problem is most effective and has the most support when it comes organically from within a community.

My work takes me into the homes of our most vulnerable. I see the pain of losing a loved one to the opioid epidemic, and I know the challenges of our youth who are living with violence. 

And I also see how families and friends, religious groups, local non-profits and other social connections assist people in their most distressing times. In these cases, local people are empowered to make decisions for their communities and the good that comes out of it is not tied to a top-down, centralized approach of government programs.

To address the problem, prioritizing these local bonds is essential.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith looks down at the hand of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he extends his hand for a handshake.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith passed the Alberta Sovereignty Act in December 2022, saying will help Alberta exercise its sovereign powers within its own areas of jurisdiction. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

To me, that's what self-determination and sovereignty are all about — creating the space for communities to come together and tackle problems in their own way. 

There was a lot of criticism when Premier Danielle Smith's Sovereignty Act was first introduced. It wasn't perfect and I was glad to see the cabinet strip out those provisions that would have let them override due process in the legislature.

But in the end, the Alberta Sovereignty Act is a tool that can be used by any future government — one led by the NDP, UCP or anyone else — to defend Alberta and ensure we are determining our own future. 

We need people to regain a sense of control over their lives, and to do so we must take decision making away from distant politicians and localize it. Self-determination and sovereignty are the same. 

That is true democracy, and I will be voting for the party most willing to defend it.

My Priority

What's the one thing that means the most to you in terms of the provincial election and why is that? We recruited over a dozen residents from across Alberta to answer that question.Read their opinion pieces as they're published at

Keep in mind, these pieces should not be taken as endorsements of any particular political party by either the writers or the CBC. They are expressions of the writers' points of view, and a look at how those opinions came to be formed.


Matthew Morin

Freelance contributor

Matthew Morin is a proud Albertan based in Calgary, and a graduate student at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Social Work.