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After the election, the deluge - Friday, July 09, 2004 at 09:00

After the election, the deluge

By ANDREW HANON -- For the Edmonton Sun
Mention the Bloc Quebecois in Al Romanchuk's presence and you'd better be standing well back from him.

"HYPOCRITES!" he bellowed. Romanchuk (who, when discussing politics, speaks with lots of exclamation points) is infuriated that western Canadians are forced to pay the salaries of federal politicians whose whole purpose for being in Parliament is to dismantle the country.

That's not to say that Romanchuk disapproves of the Bloc's intentions. It's just that he's galled by the thought of subsidizing them. He thinks Albertans should have the liberty to spend their own money on a homegrown separatist movement so they can finally be free from the "miscreants in Ottawa!" and the "leeches in Quebec and Ontario!"
"I've been a separatist for 30 to 35 years!" the bellicose former mayor of Grande Prairie declared, loudly enough to rattle windows. "And I'm so happy to see Albertans are finally waking up!"

Romanchuk, the chief financial officer of the fledgling Separatist Party of Alberta, is delighted with the "deluge" of interest in the party since June 29, the day after the Martin Liberals were returned to power.

The SPA only achieved official party status in late May. When leader Bruce Hutton held a media conference on June 9 to announce it, no reporters could be bothered to show up.

Contrast that to one month later. Now Hutton is scrambling to keep up with interview requests from across the country. One newspaper invited him to write a guest column on what the election result means to Westerners. The party's website is getting more than 1,000 visits a day, and membership numbers could reach as high as 2,000 in the next few weeks.

According to Hutton, the party has even received a few surprising, unsolicited corporate donations. "That shocks even us," he said.

The party is gearing up for Ralph Klein's expected election call this fall, but Hutton acknowledges that it won't likely make much progress.

"We're not going to be very strong this time around," he said. "It'll be a tough go, but that's OK. We have a long-term political plan."

The plan begins with fielding a limited number of "quality" candidates in the coming election. Hutton would rather have only a handful of credible, competent names in a limited number of ridings than allow some wing nuts or morons to carry the SPA banner just to have a full slate of 83.

At present, the party has 19 riding associations in the works across the province, three of which are in the Edmonton area.

The long-range objective, he said, is 2010, when "there'll be a strong possibility that we could form a government."

Western alienation goes back nearly a century and a half to the Red River Colony. It's always been with us, and while westerners bleat and whine about being hewers of wood and drawers of water for the central Canadian economy, the last time anyone actually did something about it, Louis Riel was hanged for treason.

What makes this time in history any different from the past century of grumbling discontent? Hutton says nothing.

"The time has been right for more than 40 years, but it's a question of whether or not Albertans are willing to do anything about it this time."

The task facing the SPA is building its own credibility and convincing waffling Albertans that the province can thrive as a sovereign nation. It will take patience, careful planning and time. The first step will be developing a clear message that articulates what a ripoff Confederation has been to Albertans.

"Did you know that in the past two years, Alberta has sent $20 billion to Ottawa? That's $1,258 loonies for every single foot of centre line on the Trans-Canada Highway. Over the past 40 years, we've sent $40 billion, with no return on our investment." The question is whether Albertans care.