Pierre Trudeau's heavy-handed actions fuelled separatist mood in Quebec; will Justin Trudeau do the same in B.C.?

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      In recent years, British Columbians have become more visibly patriotic.

      We're more prone to fly the Canadian flag and far more likely to wear a Maple Leaf tattoo than we were 20 or 30 years ago.

      This patriotism reaches a zenith at certain times, such as during the Olympic Games, on Remembrance Day and Canada Day, or when we hear about Canadians doing something truly remarkable in the world.

      For new Canadians who've immigrated from other countries, taking the oath of citizenship in a room full of other new Canadians can be an incredibly moving experience.

      Urban Indigenous people also feel a strong attachment to Canada, according to the 2010 Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study. It polled more than 2,600 Aboriginal residents living in cities and found that seven in 10 were "very proud to be Canadian".

      In light of all of this, it's inconceivable to think of British Columbians wanting to separate from Canada.

      But consider this: a CBC/Angus Reid poll in 2016  found that millennials "have a much cooler relationship to Canada" than older Canadians.

      In the 2017 book Are We Screwed? How a New Generation Is Fighting to Survive Climate Change, Vancouver-based author Geoff Dembicki looked at factors leading many well-educated young people to think of themselves as "citizens of planet Earth" rather than of specific countries.

      Foremost among them was the rise of the Internet and fears around the existential threat of climate change.

      Dembicki reported that this is at the core of the organizing efforts of the climate-justice group 350.org. It doesn't focus on any one country or any one fossil-fuel project or any one extreme weather event.

      It will shine a light on hurricanes in Texas, floods in India, droughts in sub-Saharan Africa, and pipelines in western Canada.

      Dembicki also cited research by U.S. pollster John Zogby that indicates millennials are more sympathetic to other cultures than their older counterparts. Millennials are more likely to see national borders "as a veneer".

      Are We Screwed? author Geoff Dembicki explained at TEDxEastVan in 2016 why young people see climate change as a voting issue.

      350.org focuses on global citizens

      Which leads us to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who's promised to get Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project built no matter what.

      Here's what 350.org cofounder Bill McKibben wrote about Trudeau in the Guardian newspaper last year:

      "Give him great credit where it’s deserved: in lots of ways he’s the anti-Trump, and it’s no wonder Canadians swooned when he took over. But when it comes to the defining issue of our day, climate change, he’s a brother to the old orange guy in Washington."  

      That's because Trudeau has declared that no country in the world, not even Canada, would leave 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground.

      "That is to say, Canada, which represents one half of 1% of the planet’s population, is claiming the right to sell the oil that will use up a third of the earth’s remaining carbon budget," McKibben wrote in the Guardian. "Trump is a creep and a danger and unpleasant to look at, but at least he’s not a stunning hypocrite."

      When Trudeau's father Pierre became prime minister, Canadians felt that they had elected a true civil libertarian. But then he dispatched troops on the streets of Montreal and other Quebec communities following a political murder and the kidnapping of a British diplomat in October 1970.

      Under the War Measures Act, hundreds of people were arrested and detained without having the right to seek bail.

      That fuelled the rise of the separatist Parti Québécois, which won a shocking landslide in 1976. It held its first sovereignty referendum in 1980 and its second in 1995. The latter one came within a whisker of winning.

      Pierre Trudeau said "just watch me" when asked how far he would go to address the FLQ crisis.

      Will the son behave like his father?

      Now, the son, Justin Trudeau, is claiming that a pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby is in the national interest.

      This prime minister, who once claimed he has B.C. in his blood, believes it's in the national interest to turn the waters off the tourist meccas of Vancouver and Victoria along with the straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca into major transit routes for dirty diluted bitumen.

      This same dirty diluted bitumen and other fossil fuels are contributing to the types of extreme weather events that are routinely reported on the 350.org website.

      Trudeau is clinging to the illegitimate National Energy Board approval process, which was created by Alberta oilsands advocate and former prime minister Stephen Harper, as justification.

      In the meantime, hordes of young people, old people, and Indigenous activists are prepared to engage in the largest campaign of civil disobedience in B.C. history to try to stop the pipeline from being built.

      Is Justin Trudeau prepared to put troops on the ground in B.C. to get his way?

      Has he even anticipated the possibility that British Columbians will support a referendum on electoral reform in the fall?

      Has Trudeau considered that this could possibly lead to the rise of a separatist provincial political party modelled along the lines of the Parti Québécois and rooted in opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline project?

      At the moment, this might seem highly unlikely to central Canadians. But what if the prime minister continues ramming this pipeline on B.C. in an economic downturn, when the electorate naturally turns grumpy?

      What if the high debt levels suddenly cause a financial big bang, with real-estate and stock-market values plummeting? It happened in 2008.

      The Parti Québécois won a stunning election in the wake of the stagflation of the mid 1970s.

      Inflation, slow economic growth, and high unemployment were all occurring simultaneously.

      This led Pierre Trudeau to break a promise and introduce wage and price controls, further eroding his political credibility in advance of the 1976 Quebec provincial election.

      The reality is that Justin Trudeau won't care too much if a few British Columbians decide they've had enough of Canada.

      He might not even care if hundreds of environmental activists are carted off to jail for trying to protect the planet from another pipeline that he so eagerly supports.

      But he will start worrying if his political legacy is the breakup of one of the most successful countries that the world has ever seen.

      Vancouver is frequently the site of protests against Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project.
      Amanda Siebert

      Separatist movements exist around the world

      Keep in mind that we've entered an era where more countries are being created than ever before.

      Fifteen separate nations emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

      There are seven countries on land that was formerly known as Yugoslavia.

      Namibia separated from South Africa in 1990. The Marshall Islands and Micronesia became independent of the United States the following year.

      Two years later, Czechoslovakia broke up into two separate countries. Eritrea became independent of Ethiopia.

      More recently, South Sudan broke away from Sudan.

      There are separatist movements in Northern Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, and several other European countries.

      We're also seeing growing popularity of cryptocurrencies, which are still in their infancy.

      In a few years, it's going to be less of a challenge for new governments to create new money.

      Perhaps a "Quit Canada" movement will never gather momentum in the western provinces. But the high-stakes game being played by Justin Trudeau certainly elevates the risk.

      Some Californians are already thinking about separating from the United States as a result of Donald Trump's xenophobia. There's even a hashtag for this movement: #calexit.

      It's not far-fetched to imagine that down the road, Trudeau could trigger similar sentiments in British Columbia. Particularly if he demonstrates the swagger and bellicosity of his father.