Alberta: Our 51st State?

I’ve heard for years of quiet talk about several of the western Canadian provinces considering annexation. British Columbia, Alberta and even Saskatchewan have more in common with the U.S. than with eastern Canada.

Alberta as our 51st state is not as far-fetched as it sounds at first blush. The idea was written about by Peter Zeihan in Accidental Superpower (2014) and recently broached by Holman Jenkins, Jr. in no less than the Wall Street Journal. Before diving into the politics and practicality of a Alberta leaving Canada, let’s first review some background to see why such a traumatic event could even be considered.

Unlike the U.S., which is netted together with the world’s best river system and a favorable geography and climate, Canada is the opposite.  Zeihan shows that three barriers split Canada into five largely autonomous regions.  They are the Rocky Mountains, the Canadian Shield, and the St. Lawrence River. He says:

Geographically, Canada just isn’t a unified entity, and that’s without even considering its more publicly discussed challenges such as the Anglophone-Francophone divide or the country’s  confederal political system, or that because of cold climate most of the Canadian landmass is simply too inhospitable to support a large population, condemning everyone to live on the country’s extreme southern fringe.

This makes Canada inherently unstable and unwieldy from both a political and a geographic point of view.

In two significant ways, Alberta is unlike the rest of Canada.  First, Alberta is energy-rich.  Thanks to a several-decade-old energy boom, Alberta has a high per capita income.  This results in the central government in Ottawa sucking taxes out of Alberta.  For every dollar Alberta sends to Ottawa, it gets back only about 65 cents in return.  This means that Albertans pay $21.8 billion more in taxes than they get back.  And it is the aging population of Quebec that benefits the most from this income transfer.