Saskatoon

Sask. government not in favour of separation, says Trade and Economic Development Minister

Feelings of western alienation have led many in Saskatchewan and Alberta to call for Western Canada to leave the rest of the country.

A spokesmen for the group Wexit Saskatchewan says they didn't predict the movement to grow so fast

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)

The Government of Saskatchewan says it's not interested in separating from the rest of Canada.

Following the election of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada to another term in government some people — mainly in Alberta and Saskatchewan — have started calls for the west to separate from the rest of Canada.

On Thursday, Saskatchewan's Trade and Economic Development Minister made it clear the province isn't in favour of a departure.

"I'm happy to make a categorical statement saying we are not in favour of separation. Period," said Jeremy Harrison at the Legislature in Regina.

"What we are deeply concerned about though is a national government that have repeatedly disrespected our province. That has repeatedly shown massive disrespect to the energy and resource sectors that are paying for a lot of the program's in Eastern Canada."

Harrison said that while the government is opposed to separation, the frustration people are feeling in Western Canada is real.

"This is genuine. People are angry. People are frustrated. People demand change and we saw that at the ballot box," said Harrison.

He said Prime Minister Trudeau should be sitting down with provincial leaders in Alberta and Saskatchewan to discuss the message that was sent to the Liberal Party of Canada by voters in the two provinces, saying there needs to be a "respectful policy response" to the serious concerns of the west.

Scott Dempster says he's tired of seeing Western Canada being treated like Canada's "piggy bank."

Born and raised in Saskatoon, Dempster is part of a growing movement that feel Western Canada has been alienated by the east and now, he's calling for change. However, while he is in favour of a separated western Canada, he said that option is a "last resort."

"I feel like most people that I talk to and are interested in the separatist movement … what they really would settle for is if Western Canada had more of a say in how we are governed."

Dempster said he wants to see more parliamentary seats in Saskatchewan as right now, it seems as though elections are over before the polls close in Western Canada. 

Scott Dempster said he's in favour of Western Canada separating from the rest of Canada as a last resort, as he wants to see province's like Saskatchewan better represented on the national stage, saying many people he's talked to share his frustration. (Supplied/Scott Dempster )

"Full-on separation might not always be the most popular, but everyone I know is angry," he said. 

Dempster said some of the main issues of concern for those in the Western Canada separation movement, dubbed Wexit, include concerns about Canada's equalization formula that sees province's like Alberta and Saskatchewan pay billions to other provinces through transfers from the federal government.

"We don't really quite have the voice that I feel like we deserve," he said. 

The movement has gained some momentum in Saskatchewan as a Facebook page titled Wexit Saskatchewan has more than 20,000 likes. 

Allan Kerpan is a spokesman with the Wexit Saskatchewan movement. He says the movement in the province and across Canada is growing faster than he expected and said the movement is just beginning. (CBC News)

Allan Kerpan, a former Sask. Party MLA and former Reform Party MP who is acting as a spokesman for the group says western separation is his "last political fight." 

He said support for the movement was growing, but said it has "exploded" in the last 48 hours.

He pointed to a larger "VoteWexit" Facebook page that has more than 220,000 people as members as a sign of the strength the movement is experiencing, saying even if half of the members are serious, it's a number that's tough to ignore. 

"You gotta know that there's a huge number there that are willing to take the next step," he said.

Joe Garcea is a political scientist at the University of Saskatchewan. 

He said it's unlikely Canada's borders will be changing anytime in the near future, but said those in favour of a unified Canada, should be concerned about the movement.

"What it does is it increases the sense of unease and the sense of tension within Canada, but I don't think they should worry about an actual separation coming about," he said. "What they have to be worried about is the tensions and the animosity that would develop would poison the Canadian well."

"We wouldn't be one happy family, we would be a family at each other's throats," he added. 

Kerpan said his group is in favour of a recent letter sent from Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe to the Federal Government calling for a "new deal" for western Canada, which includes calls for Prime Minister Trudeau to kill the carbon tax, commit to negotiating a new equalization formula and pursue new pipeline projects.

Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, said provincial leaders are opening a 'can of worms' when they talk about western separation as First Nations in Canada own hundreds of thousands of acres of traditional land in the prairies. He says western separation is not going to happen. (CBC)

Kerpan said if that ask fails, then the next step will be the threat of having Western Canada leave the rest of the country.

He said it's too early to determine what that separation will look like, but said the first thing that has to happen is to hear from the people of Saskatchewan. He said the growth of the movement so far has exceeded even his expectations. 

"It's way bigger, way faster than even I thought was going to happen," he said. 

First Nations opposed 

However, Bobby Cameron, the chief of Saskatchewan's Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in the province, said western separation is not going to happen as Treaty Rights are not bound by provincial law. 

"As far as the comments that have recently been made by Jason Kenney and our Premier Scott Moe, they have not reached out to us," he said. 

"They can't say that they're going to separate, because the thousands of the Saskatchewan people that I've talked to have said: 'not going to happen.' We are not going to separate. So good luck, it's not going to happen." 

He said conversation around Western Canada have opened up a "can of worms" as First Nations in Saskatchewan own hundreds of thousands of acres of traditional land.

Premier Scott Moe gave his formal address to those attending the Sask Party Convention in Regina on Saturday. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Garcea also noted how well a separated west would do would really be dependent on whether or not Alberta and Saskatchewan left by themselves, or with Manitoba, as if it were just the two provinces set to leave, they would be land-locked, meaning they'd have to work with the Canadian provinces or the U.S. to get products to market. 

"I don't think the boundaries of Canada are at risk, but I think that the national unity, as we know it, would be at risk."

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Trudeau told a press conference in Ottawa he would be more sensitive to the needs of voters in the two provinces, vowing to move forward on the Trans Mountain pipeline Expansion. 

"We made a decision to move forward on the pipeline because it was in the interest of Canada to do so, because the environment and the economy need to go together. We will be continuing with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion," he said.

"Albertans and people in Saskatchewan have faced very difficult years over these past few years because of the global commodity prices, because of the challenges they are facing. For a long time they weren't able to get their resources to markets other than the U.S. We are moving forward to solve those challenges."

Trudeau also said he'll be reaching out to westerners to hear their concerns and work to address them.

Kerpan explained while it's difficult to determine if the support for the movement online will translate into party memberships or donations, he said the movement itself is "just beginning."

"That's a hard one to gauge at this time, but as time goes on, I'm sure we're going to find out." 

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