Alberta and Quebec, a long history of rivalries

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L&rsquo ;Alberta and Quebec, a long history of rivalries

Alberta and Quebec have had a complex relationship for a long time.

If you listen to Danielle Smith defend her sovereignty law, chances are the premier of Alberta will bring up Quebec's place in the country to justify her heavy-handed approach to the federal government. Nothing new in the long and complex relationship between the two provinces that everything can oppose… and unite.

One ​​made a fortune with oil, the other boasts of its hydro-electric dams. With its social programs among the most generous in the country, Quebec is resolutely social democratic, while Alberta is the cradle of conservatism in Canada.

If so much separates the two provinces and sometimes fuels a certain animosity between the two, Alberta and Quebec are much more alike than one might think at first sight.

Talk to Yan Plante, former chief of staff of Denis Lebel, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Infrastructure in Stephen Harper's government.

In an interview, Mr. Plante says that, from time to time, the federal government assesses, through a survey, Canadians' sense of belonging to their country and their province. Invariably, results from Quebec and Alberta stand out from those elsewhere in the country, he recalls.

“In Canada, the two places where people strongly identify first with their province and then with their country are Quebec and Alberta. »

— Yan Plante, ex-chief of staff of curator Denis Lebel

In Minister Lebel's office, Mr. Plante also saw the various provinces and territories negotiate with Ottawa. Invariably, Alberta and Quebec use the same approach when dealing with the federal government.

Alberta drew much inspiration from the Quebec Secretariat for Canadian Relations, which handles intergovernmental affairs. […] At the federal level, we feel it as soon as we negotiate a federal-provincial agreement, the most complex discussions will certainly be with Quebec and Alberta, relates the man who is now vice-president of the firm. from TACT public relations.

And while the Harper government had more affinity with the Alberta government than its Liberal predecessors, the western province continued to hold stubbornly to respect of its fields of competence.

In infrastructure, for example, [Alberta] was one of the provinces that said the federal government should not interfere. They told us: "Infrastructure is an exclusive field, you have no business telling us what projects to finance!" remembers Yan Plante.

It shares the same majority language as most of the country's provinces and territories and obviously hasn't seen an independence movement, but Alberta has always had a strong identity, which is defined in particular by its relationship with the federal government.

A different voice in Canada, which can be explained by the fact that Alberta did not have control of its resources when it joined the federation in 1905, underlines political scientist Frédéric Boily, of the Saint-Jean Campus of the Université of Alberta.

There was always this idea, in the early decades, that Alberta was subordinate to Ottawa, that it did not have the same status as the other provinces. This left in Alberta's political culture this notion that we were always in a confrontational relationship with Ottawa, recalls the professor.

Alberta had no control over its resources when it joined the Canadian federation in 1905.

A sense of autonomy in Alberta fueled by other major frictions with Ottawa, such as the national energy program, but also by the place that Quebec has taken in the federation. Seen from Alberta, Quebec's gains are both a source of frustration and inspiration.

[In Alberta], there is this idea of ​​claiming because of others have succeeded in obtaining gains from Ottawa by adopting a national affirmation approach. In this context, for Alberta, Quebec becomes both an example to follow and an example to criticize, observes Frédéric Boily.

The political scientist also notes that with her Alberta Sovereignty in a United Canada Act, Danielle Smith stipulated in the preamble the importance of protecting Alberta's specificity, a new cultural dimension that goes beyond the historical defense of economic interests.

“Quebec’s imitation process may still be rising or reaching a other level. »

— Frédéric Boily, political scientist, Campus Saint-Jean of the University of Alberta

In politics, having a common adversary helps form alliances. During constitutional negotiations for the patriation of the Constitution and the incorporation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the early 1980s, Prime Ministers Peter Lougheed and René Lévesque stood together before Pierre Elliott Trudeau for the notwithstanding clause, also known as the “notwithstanding clause” or “notwithstanding clause”, be included in the Charter.

There had to be a notwithstanding clause for a province like Alberta agrees with the charter, and the same goes for Quebec. The combined effort was needed to get the notwithstanding clause passed, says historian Valérie Lapointe-Gagnon of the University of Alberta.

René Lévesque and Peter Lougheed shake hands at a First Ministers meeting in Ottawa, September 7, 1980.

Quebec and Alberta, like other provinces, also opposed the Trudeau government's unilateral approach to repatriation. Solidarity between Premiers Lougheed and Lévesque dissipated, however, when the federal government negotiated repatriation without Quebec's knowledge, says Valérie Lapointe-Gagnon.

“It was punctual, this solidarity, and it was really based against the fact that the repatriation exercise was unilateral.

—Valérie Lapointe-Gagnon, Historian, University of Alberta

After the episode of the night of the long knives, however, Peter Lougheed insisted on explaining himself in a letter addressed to his Quebec counterpart.

He reminded [à René Lévesque] that they did not agree on Trudeau's way of proceeding, but that from the moment the federal government held negotiations, all the provinces had their own agenda, and that of Alberta was not not the same as that of Quebec, says the professor.

Although the two provinces may ally or draw inspiration from time to time, fault lines remain irreconcilable between them, particularly on economic and energy issues, but also on cultural issues.

The Act respecting the official languages ​​of 1969 is particularly poorly received in Alberta, says Valérie Lapointe-Gagnon, who looked at letters from the public sent to Prime Ministers Ernest Manning and Harry Strom in the 1960s.

“Conspiracy theories are extremely present, we are afraid that the Vatican is behind the Official Languages ​​Act or that French speakers are taking control of the federation. […] There is a completely exaggerated threat, it is believed that Francophones have much more power than they really have.

—Valérie Lapointe-Gagnon, Historian, University of Alberta

A fear of seeing Quebec's influence increase over the federal government, while in Alberta the eastern provinces are already being accused of taking all the place in the federation, adds Ms. Lapointe-Gagnon.

For Alberta, equalization is the other historical source of frustration, and many politicians in Edmonton have not been shy about accusing Quebec of funding its social programs directly with tax dollars. Albertans.

The complexity of the operation of equalization is not unrelated to the emotionality of the debate surrounding it, believes Yan Plante.

Since it's complicated, everyone has their own understanding of the case, and an understanding mostly on the surface. It becomes, in the end, a very emotional issue, explains the former ministerial chief of staff.

In Alberta, we also cannot digest Quebec's refusal to accept the Energy East and LNG Quebec projects, which would have allowed the export of natural resources from the West. On the other hand, Quebec could hardly have such a different position from Alberta on the reduction of GHG emissions.

François Legault receives his then Alberta counterpart, Jason Kenney, in Quebec City on June 12, 2019.

For Frédéric Boily, the climate issue, which has become politically unavoidable, adds a layer of tension between Alberta and Quebec.

There can be no alliance on this aspect and I think that explains this resurgence of criticism against Quebec at the moment, he says.

The green shift that the Legault government is trying to undertake also leads him to believe that the gap separating the two provinces is not going away any time soon unless there is a change of government in Alberta after next spring's election.

An NDP government would have a different view on the climate, believes Frédéric Boily. But if the Danielle Smith Conservatives stay in power, common ground will be harder to find.

For better or for worse, the relationship between Alberta and the Quebec should remain lively.

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