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.”
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.
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.