What the heck is a Wexit?

It’s a silly name and a bad idea, but that isn’t stopping the latest version of Alberta’s separatist movement: Wexit.

Apparently inspired by Brexit, Grexit, Albexit, and a long list of other “-exit” suffix terms that have entered our daily conversations over the past few years, Wexit (Western-exit, I assume) has been holding meetings across the province promoting an agenda for an independent Alberta to “Enhance economic, military, and geo-political cooperation with the United States of America” and for a “Head of state to be an elected President of Alberta with an appointed cabinet.”

Peter Downing Wexit leader

Peter Downing

The Wexit Alberta group appears to be part of something called the “Prairie Freedom Movement,” a group who’s website promotes near identically branded “Wexit Saskatchewan”, Wexit Manitoba, and “Saskatchewan Fights Back” groups.

The Wexit group’s Alberta-branch is led by past Christian Heritage Party candidate Peter Downing, who is also the executive director of Alberta Fights Back, a third party political advertiser responsible for billboards that ask if Canada is headed for a civil war and a recent clash with Edmonton’s nude cyclist community.

One of the largest donors to Alberta Fights Back during Alberta’s 2019 election was Sharon Maclise, a former Wildrose Party candidate and interim leader of the Alberta Freedom Alliance, an unregistered political party promoting Alberta’s separation from Canada.

The Wexit group’s main grievances appear to revolve mainly around Justin Trudeau being Prime Minister, the carbon tax, unemployment levels, and the delay in construction of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion (which is now owned by the Government of Canada). But the grievances are broader among some of the group’s supporters, including one guest speaker at a recent Wexit meeting in Red Deer who named American billionaire George Soros and Antifa as enemies of Alberta.

It is not clear how many people have actually attended the Wexit meetings, but it is not difficult to understand why separatists in western Canada feel emboldened these days.

Heated political rhetoric coming from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his cabinet ministers about the threat posed to Alberta by Trudeau, socialists, Quebec, equalization, and nefarious foreign-funded environmental groups adds fuel to the flames of those who feel Alberta has no place in Canada or would actively campaign for separation. Kenney quickly tried to rebuke any criticism that he is anything but a dedicated federalist, but it is clear that he is stoking regional grievances in order to achieve his short-term political goal of defeating Trudeau’s Liberals in October’s federal election.

Jay Hill (photo credit: Jake Wright)

The Wexit groups also have the support of some of Kenney’s former Ottawa colleagues, including former British Columbia Member of Parliament and former Jim Prentice confidant Jay Hill, who appears to have relaunched his political career as an advocate of Alberta separatism, and former Saskatchewan MP and MLA Allan Kerpan. Hill and Kerpan are the keynote speakers at a pro-separatist event scheduled to be held in Lloydminster on August 24, 2019.

With the exception of a single by-election win for the Western Canada Concept in February 1982, separatist groups like the Independent Alberta Association, West-Fed, Western Canada Party, Western Independence Party, Alberta First Party, Separation Party of Alberta, Alberta Advantage Party, Alberta Independence Party and the Freedom Conservative Party have firmly occupied the right-wing fringes of Alberta politics.

Downing has announced his plans to run for the leadership of the Alberta Independence Party, which ran 63 candidates in the 2019 election and earned 0.7 per cent of the vote. In a post on Facebook, Downing wrote that he has spoken with Freedom Conservative Party president Stephen Burry about a merger of the two parties. The FCP was known as the Separation Party of Alberta and the Alberta First Party before former UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt led it into the 2019 election to earn 0.5 per cent of the vote. 

At this point, the total lack of a viable political party, legitimate plan for separation, and any real electoral support from Albertans for the separatist agenda is a big challenge for those who dream of one-day creating a landlocked prairie petro-republic.

16 thoughts on “What the heck is a Wexit?

  1. Peter Downing

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the article. Although you and I disagree on a lot, here are two points we are bound to agree on.

    1) Jason Kenney has stoked separatist sentiment. But not in they way he expected. I suspect he tried to create the perception of a national crisis that he could appear to solve – in his bid to become Prime Minister. Alberta is of course a political stepping-stone for his political ambition. He just didn’t expect a real separatist movement to materialize.

    2) Insourcing the delivery of national public services to Alberta will be a boon to both private and public sector unionized workers. It is for that reason that union negotiators are already reaching out to us here at Wexit Alberta.

    Warm Regards,

    Peter Downing
    Wexit Alberta – Founder

    Reply
  2. Mel Downing

    Dave, I believe you are witnessing the birth of possibly a new country. Pierre Trudeau started the sentiment, now junior is throwing gas on the fire. Plus all the eastern arrogance and lack of support for the west is really giving it traction.
    I hope the eastern politicians, journalists and liberals keep the stream of disrespect up…its doing wonders for membership.
    Best regards.,,, Saskatchewan,

    Reply
  3. Jerrymacgp

    So, Quebec and Alberta are inherently different animals. Quebec, formerly known as New France, existed as its own distinct colony, first of France and later of Great Britain. Remember the Quebec Act of 1774? That was an Act of the British Parliament in Westminster to set out the political and governance structure of Britain’s newly-won (by force of arms) French colony in North America, which established the continued predominance of the French language and the Roman Catholic Church in that colony; it is often included as one of the so-called “Intolerable Acts” that led directly to the American Insurrection. See https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/united-states-and-canada/canadian-history/1774-quebec-act. Quebec later became known as Lower Canada, and later still one of the two political divisions of the united province of Canada before Confederation. Quebec has a unique ethnic, cultural, linguistic and political heritage not just in Canada but in North America, and is right considered a ‘nation’ (in its French sense, which is not as cut & dried as the English equivalent) within the country of Canada.

    On the other hand, Alberta is wholly a creation of the Government of Canada, as was Saskatchewan, created out of territory carved out of the Northwest Territory (at that time the singular of territory, not the plural, was used) by enabling Acts passed by the Parliament of Canada in 1905. Theoretically, the Parliament of Canada could probably just repeal those two Acts and dissolve Alberta and Saskatchewan overnight. In addition, neither Alberta nor Saskatchewan has the kind of unique cultural or linguistic identity that sets it apart from the rest of Canada. So, Western separatism is just the ranting of a few spoiled neo-fascists without any real momentum.

    Reply
    1. john cox

      I hope your reference to neo-fascist is directed at the politicians that sit in the big chairs in Ottawa as their the ones forcing their ideology and will on the citizens of Alberta and the West. They the ones that have taken $680Billion from Alberta with very little in return. Their the ones propping up a Nationalist Socialist state of Quebec. I hope thee Parliament does repeal the Act that created Alberta and Saskatchewan, then the people Buffalo could have the vote on forming a new nation.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        john cox : Equalization payments, (which Jason Kenney helped redo the current formula, whilst he was in the CPC), are not the problem. Decades of gross fiscal mismanagement, by the Alberta PCs, beginning when Peter Lougheed was not the premier is. They wasted billions and billions of dollars on the worst scandals, and lost billions upon billions more dollars on bad policies, like very poor oil royalty rates and the flat tax fiasco. The UCP are emulating what the Alberta PCs did, since Peter Lougheed was not the premier, costing Albertans billions of dollars more.

        Reply
    2. Pierre Martineau

      Hello,
      Québec and Alberta are two different animals….
      During the 1995 Québec referendum some were saying that if Québec leaves, it should leave with the territory it brought in Confederation.
      Two thirds of the curent Québec territory was bought by Canada from the Hudson’s Bay Company.
      Their logic was what has been bought by Canada stays in Canada.
      As you write the whole Alberta territory has been bought by Canada… should it stay in Canada?

      Reply
  4. Briar

    Jerrymacgo is spot on in his comments

    I just want to add that I’d like to know how these geniuses plan to deal with any objections from First Nations regarding this crusade to create the sovereign Alt-right paradise of Alberta

    Reply
    1. john cox

      AIP already had preliminary discussions with 40 of First Nations bands last summer. Of them, all but 5 were very interested in the idea of secession and having a seat at the table in the new Nation of Alberta

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        john cox: There will be no new nation of Alberta. Give it a rest already. Alberta is landlocked. No access to ports for shipping. Canada Post, CPP, EI, the military, our currency and the R.C.M.P, are all things that are part of the federal government. How in the world will they all be replaced? The First Nations have treaties that predate Alberta entering Confederation. Where will the pipeline go through? Anyone that proposes this separatist garbage should be issued a $500,000 fine. The Alberta PCs squandered Alberta’s wealth away, since Peter Lougheed was not the premier. It’s not Ottawa’s fault, nor is it Rachel Notley’s fault. The UCP are only repeating what the Alberta PCs did wrong, since Peter Lougheed was not the premier. Alberta does not have enough of an agricultural base to support 4.5 million people.

        Reply
        1. Mike the Separatist

          PC fiscal mismanagement aside, to assert that our wealth was “squandered” is utter nonsense. Albertans have reaped substantial benefits from the treasure beneath us, and we continue to. Even today our GDP per capita is 3rd in the world behind only Switzerland and Luxembourg. Even today we enjoy the highest average hourly wage in the country, and the highest annual income by a wide margin. Our Education and Health Care systems for all their warts, have both been the best funded systems of their kind in Canada since 2002. And public service unions like UNA and ATA have managed to negotiate the nation’s most lucrative contracts for their members for the better part of the last 20 years. In fact, our social programs and public service compensation have been so generous that one could argue that “right wing” Alberta is really the most socialist province in the nation.

          On top of that massive expenditure we have also faithfully contributed to federal coffers, providing provinces less fiscally blessed than ours with the funding they need. Then there’s the 600,000 Canadians that have moved here since 2000 to take advantage of the tremendous opportunity this place presents them. Ask yourselves, how would the unemployment numbers for Canadians 18-30 have looked over the years without Alberta? Dismal would be my guess. I refuse to believe that all those Maritimers that left behind their families and everything they know for their piece of the Alberta pie are ok with political nonsense and fiscal mismanagement dooming their Albertan children to the same economic stagnation and lack of opportunity they fled. I for one believe that we’ve all put in too much time, effort, sweat and tears, not to mention the
          necessary pain of Klein’s austerity to allow it. Our kids deserve the same opportunity that we got.

          Independence presents numerous challenges, some of which are ones listed above. Most of the examples given are problems we could easily solve with the existing infrastructure and labour force. We have police forces in our Sherriffs and Peace Officers. We already have a taxation system in place, and we could very quickly and easily re-train government workers to administrate a pension plan and employment insurance benefits. There is enough redundancy between the provincial and federal level that we’d have a fairly painless transition. As for a military, I don’t see us having much trouble finding young patriots willing to serve. Alberta has always been a strong contributor to the ranks of the Canadian Forces. I also think that a standing army is an antiquated concept and we’d be better served by highly trained reservists, focusing on rapid response special forces and disaster relief.

          There’s no way forward without the participation and support of our Indigenous brothers and sisters. An independent Alberta must acknowledge the wrongs of the past, while also empowering First Nations to look to an ambitious future with the freedom and self-determination to make it happen. For starters, each of the 45 Nations in Alberta must have a seat at the table, literally. They should all have a seat in the elected assembly with the same vote as every member. The Metis should also have that same representation in government. Each Nation must also have full autonomy when it comes to their lands and resources. They should be able to develop them as they see fit and retain 100% of their after tax (yes) earnings within their communities. Tribal councils would be regarded the same as municipal councils in the eyes of government, making them elected and accountable to their communities. I also believe that we must put a mechanism of both symbolic and functional power in their hands: If they feel we are not living up to the terms of our partnership, a unanimous vote from all First Nations immediately brings down the government in power, triggering an election. There can be no limit to this. They must have the ability to call that vote at any time, so that if they are not heard, they can make the rest of us listen. Accountability for all. They’ll have to build their own canoe storage, but I think they’d be ok with that.

          Alberta has made tremendous progress in the last 100 years. We’ve gone from homesteads and dirt farms to an economic powerhouse and one of the highest standards of living on the planet, ever. How are we preparing for the next 100? We’re not. Where democratic societies fail is our election cycles tend to exclude representatives with any long-term vision, we usually pick the candidates offering the most immediate solutions and benefits. This short-sightedness has been very costly for all of us and we need to do better. The hydrocarbons beneath us are a vital and necessary component to our economy and to the energy needs of the globe looking into the future. Time is money, and time we waste dithering and squabbling with other jurisdictions is going to cost us the bright future we’ve all worked so hard for. We must get our products to market. As much as we can, as efficiently as we can. And we must invest in the institutions that will ease our coming economic transition most effectively. Massive investments need to be made in the research sectors of our universities. If I controlled the purse strings, I’d make a 10 year, $20+ billion commitment to the UofA and UofC to be used for medical and health care research. The infrastructure built by that investment will attract students and professionals alike, incubating an environment of innovation and an industry we can transition to. As we transition away from Oil and Gas, the expertise gained decommissioning and abandoning our wells and infrastructure can be marketed to the rest of the world as they look to safely put the fossil fuel era to rest.

          Alberta separatism isn’t a product of Jason Kenney, Justin Trudeau or any one person. It’s a product of political and economic inequities that exist by design in both our Constitution and Confederation. It’s existed in one form or another since our first days in confederation. From time to time it flares up, coinciding with the valleys inherent in our resource economy, federal meddling, or both. It’s never been a movement of consequence as there has never been a political party able to move beyond the fringe, and any “leaders” that have emerged are typically crackpots or hucksters looking to co-opt any momentum the movement may have for their own ends. And so, in spite of it’s long history separatism has always been a non-starter.

          I grew up in the movement. My late father was a separatist candidate in the 1988 general election where he received about 0.1% of the vote in our riding, or what likely amounted to my mom and a few of our next door neighbors. I’ve seen parties and leaders come and go, and I’ve seen popular support ebb and flow. But I’ve always been a true believer, since the day my 7 year old self sat in Link Byfield’s office at the U of A and listened as him, my dad, the late Dr. Fred Marshall (himself a Rhodes Scholar) and a very wealthy man I’ll not identify (the last one alive and still a public figure) had a lively conversation about where they were going wrong and why Albertans just didn’t seem receptive to the idea of emancipation from Ottawa. I don’t think they ever figured it out.

          That’s not to say that Albertans aren’t beginning to figure things out on their own. Last fall I tuned into the noon hour Global news broadcast and witnessed something I’d never seen before and it brought tears to my eyes. Thousands of Calgarians had taken to the street downtown to meet the Prime Minister and voice their extreme dissatisfaction with his government’s policy choices. To put it more simply for the first time, I saw Albertans truly standing up for themselves. In the following weeks we all saw entire towns throw rallies and several massive convoys of trucks take to the streets and highways, even crossing the country. Dismiss them at your peril, they aren’t going away. They’re not what some people insist they are (racists, neo-fascists or extreme far right activists), they’re regular folks who see that in spite of all the work they’ve done to build something special here, we’re being dragged under by predatory federal policy and provincial politicians with a complete lack of vision. They see an indifferent Prime Minister on their TV screens, and they’re the target of petty vitriol at the hands of Easterners on social media. It all tells them one thing: we are not considered equal in spite of our contribution to the nation. Our success is derided and the suffering of Albertans is gleefully celebrated by people we thought were our brothers and sisters. We’ve begun to collectively see that Albertans receive very little benefit in return for our contribution to this country.

          Dismiss us as far-right nuts or a political fringe element, but do so at your peril. The sentiment grows every day, along with our numbers. You may not like what comes next if our political class doesn’t find a way to give Albertans the fairness they want.

          Apologies for the insane rant, if anything I hope it stops you from dismissing fellow Albertans with legitimate concerns and worthy goals as “neo-fascists” or seeking an “alt-right paradise”. You might say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
          Fortis et Liber

          Dave, keep up the great writing. I enjoy your blog immensely.

          Reply
  5. David

    The great Alberta oil boom is over, perhaps never to return again, so I can understand why some people here are so angry. Is it Ottawa’s fault? No, but some who are angry are looking for someone to blame and of course the UCP does not want them to blame the provincial government anymore, even though I recently heard 14,000 jobs were lost since they were elected. So of course, Kenney and crew will try channel that anger elsewhere, which will probably work for a while, but as history shows people eventually also hold the provincial government accountable for the state of the provincial economy. I suspect by that time Kenney will be long gone safely back to Ottawa.

    Separatism doesn’t make any sense. It would be even harder to deal with getting pipelines built across another country than another province. Just look at all the numerous problems and roadblocks with the Keystone XL and Enbridge pipeline expansions in the US, even under a Federal government supposedly more pipeline friendly . Without Alberta’s numerous conservative voting seats, it would also make it even less likely those people would get the government they want in Ottawa. Of course, angry people are often not that rational, they just want to punish someone, even if it ends up hurting themselves as much or more and there are clever politicians to harness that anger and use it to their advantage.

    Fortunately, I also don’t think the separatist movement here has any real leader or any credibility and those at the top of Alberta’s conservative elite are too interested in furthering their position in Ottawa as well as Edmonton, with an eye on both. I doubt they will go whole hog for separatism, but they will probably play footsie with it and pander to it some for their own political advantage and when it is no longer beneficial forget about it.

    Reply
    1. Jerrymacgp

      Sir: Dave is a well-known “progressive” blogger — although sometimes a bit too centrist for my tastes — and always well-informed and articulate. There are a number of other “progressive” bloggers on Alberta politics, including Susan on the Soapbox https://susanonthesoapbox.com/, who leans Liberal, and his colleague, David J Climenhaga https://albertapolitics.ca/, who IMHO tends to lean a bit more left than our host here. But political blogging is an inherently biased format, since it is about opinions based on events in the public space, so your criticism is nothing more than an unwarranted ad hominem attack.

      Certainly you have the right to disagree; social media has become too much of an “echo chamber”, with readers limiting their exposure to contrary viewpoints. But disagree with facts and well-formed opinions, not this kind of pointless insult. Otherwise, if you dislike Mr C’s opinions, simply don’t visit his blog anymore.

      Reply
      1. Tim

        Just as the writer of the blog is “entitled” to his opinion, the person criticizing his opinion is also entitled to his. The fact that you find it necessary to come to Daveberta’s defence shows the weakness of his opinions in relation to facts, as well as your own misguided opinions.

        Reply
    2. Anonymous

      Michael Binion: What left wing drivel? The undeniable fact is that the Alberta PCs, since Peter Lougheed was not the premier, were very poor money managers. The UCP is merely repeating that.

      Reply

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