Saskatchewan

Would Wexit work? Separating from Canada would take years and be dictated by Ottawa

Wexit events are popping up across the Prairies, but the process of separating from Canada involves much more than rallies and public outcry. 

The Clarity Act, created in 2000, lays out the process for any province to separate from Canada

A photo of a fake Republic of Western Canada passport has been circulating online by people who feel Canada's west should separate from the rest of Canada. (Facebook.com/Screenshot)

Wexit events are popping up across the Prairies, but the process of separating from Canada involves much more than rallies and public outcry. 

It would involve sorting out issues like military bases, Crown land and negotiations with Indigenous people.

There is a roadmap for the process. The Clarity Act, which came into effect in 2000, sets the rules for any provinces or territories looking to secede from Canada. The act was created after the 1995 separation referendum where Quebec narrowly voted in favour of remaining part of Canada.

The separation process isn't easy. Much of it is dictated by Ottawa. 

First, the provinces or territories that want to leave need to craft a referendum question. The House of Commons has the power to nix the question if it feels the language will not clearly capture the will of the people. Ottawa also has to consult with all political parties in the region. 

According to University of Regina professor emeritus John Whyte, if Ottawa even gets any whiff of a referendum question that could be used to give one province leverage over the House of Commons in the future, it would likely be shot down.

"The circumstances in which the campaign is conducted could involve misrepresentation [with] various people in various ways muddying the waters, including a strong campaign in favour of secession that was driven by the idea 'vote for this, we'll be in a better bargaining position in the long run,'" Whyte said.

Even if a question is approved, the Clarity Act doesn't provide much clarity on what would constitute a successful referendum. It simply states that an expression of the will of a "clear majority" of eligible voters is needed in order to qualify as a successful referendum. 

"That majority, it's not even really defined," former reporter and host of Canadian History Ehx podcast Craig Baird told CBC Radio's Blue Sky

Life post-referendum 

If a question is approved and manages to get the majority of votes required, the House of Commons still has several factors — how many people voted, how lopsided the result was, "any other circumstances it considers to be relevant" —  to take into consideration before separation is completed. 

Ottawa would need to consider the views of political parties in the province, the Senate and Indigenous people.

The Constitution of Canada would also need to be amended. There's currently no clause that allows a province to separate from Canada.

The Clarity Act states that no minister of the Crown shall propose a constitutional amendment related to separation until the terms of secession have been negotiated. They would need to figure out the division of assets, where to place borders and how to honour the territorial claims of Indigenous people.

The process, according to Whyte, would take years.

"It's pretty hard to dismantle a country," Whyte said. "If you think Brexit's been difficult, you ain't seen nothing yet."

Polling in Alberta and Saskatchewan earlier this year suggested that few people actually want to secede.

Prior to the recent federal election, CBC partnered with Postmedia to sponsor a poll conducted by the University of Saskatchewan about alienation. The data found that roughly nine per cent of residents in Saskatchewan felt the province should go its own way.

ThinkHQ conducted a poll in Alberta before the federal election and found 23 per cent of Albertans said they would vote to secede from Canada.

About the Author

Bryan Eneas

Web Writer

Bryan Eneas is a journalist from the Penticton Indian Band currently based in Regina, Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC, he worked in Prince Albert reporting in central and northern Saskatchewan. You can contact him at Bryan.Eneas@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC Radio's Blue Sky, Drew Anderson

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.