The date is March 2039, 20 years from now. The Republic of the Northwest is celebrating its 17th anniversary as an independent state. Today it consists of territories that once belonged to Northern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, parts of British Columbia and the Canadian Arctic north of 60. The republic had its beginnings when the premier of Alberta, in March 2020, called a provincial referendum on amending section 36 (2) of the Constitution Act (1982) dealing with equalization payments, and resolving a range of other Alberta-Canada disagreements ranging from provincial policing to taxation.
Alberta’s position was based on the unsuccessful “firewall” proposals of 20 years earlier. Negotiations failed and Alberta called a second referendum held in March 2021, as the government had promised to do. This time, along with Saskatchewan, we voted to leave Canada. A clear majority (84 per cent) of both former provinces on a clear question (‘Do you wish independence from Canada?’) voted to leave.
The government of Manitoba did the same a few weeks later, voting 78 per cent to join its western neighbours. Under the terms of the 1988 Quebec Secession Reference, Canada was required to negotiate.
But with whom?
There was considerable discussion over the name of the new body politic and how it would be organized. Many favoured the name invoked by Premier Haultain in 1905: that the Canadian territories divided into Alberta and Saskatchewan should form a single province called Buffalo. The leaders of a new “Buffalo Movement” organized a constitutional convention for the summer of 2021 in Saskatoon and invited governments of Manitoba, Yukon, Nunavut and the old NWT, now called Assiniboia, along with representatives of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and several British Columbia municipalities to attend as well. But the buffalo were gone: the delegates decided to call their country the Republic of the Northwest.
David J. Bercuson and Barry Cooper are professors of history and political science respectively at the University of Calgary. Several years ago they wrote Deconfederation: Canada without Quebec.