The federal election results that saw all but one riding in the province go to the Conservatives has further ignited the Alberta separatist movement now dubbed “Wexit”.
The name Wexit is obviously inspired by the Brexit movement unfolding in the United Kingdom right now. In case you haven’t heard of that debacle, Brexit is the scheduled withdrawal of the U.K. from the European Union.
The idea of divorcing Canada isn’t a new one in this province or in Western Canada. The idea floated around as far back as 1935 when the federal government opposed a form of social credit proposed by Alberta’s then Social Credit Party. Premier William Aberhart was defiant and secured provincially-owned banks and distributed prosperity certificates anyway. Aberhart's followers called for separation from Canada while the media of the day discredited them as a fringe movement of the uneducated.
The current so-called fringe group, tinged with digitally amplified populism, has surged in popularity predictably after Justin Trudeau’s re-election. Their Facebook group has ballooned to 29,000 followers, Twitter has erupted in Wexit memes and rallies have been scheduled for Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary. The movement has even fired up supporters in our own community.
The short of it is Wexit founder Peter Downing is calling for a referendum on separation of Western Canada from the rest of the country. Downing has said his movement intends to free our province from the “blood-sucking, parasitic relationship” Alberta has with Eastern Canada. Well, he’s not exactly subtle in his reasoning.
Just like most reactive ideas - rooted in emotion instead of critical thinking - there needs to be some serious considerations. Similar to an aftermath of the most precarious divorces, Alberta would be burdened with massive costs and lots of details to sort out. What about our trade deals, land locking our resources, First Nation and Crown lands and our share of the federal debt?
The idea isn’t tangible or sensible.
Social media has flooded with banter promoting the idea that Alberta’s exit from Confederation is in everyone’s best interest. Step back for a moment, Canada’s flawed proportional representation electoral system is the main culprit here. Trudeau never did follow through with his election promise from 2015 to reform the system. It’s likely he did nothing because he knew that his party would continue to benefit from the broken system.
The rage and feelings from our province are not without logic, but the wasted energy in endorsing this movement and potential referendum could be used elsewhere. If anything, Alberta has a Conservative stronghold and can rise up and bend the ears of our MPs who are speaking on our behalf in Ottawa.
Preston Manning, former leader of the now defunct Reform Party, once said Albertans should channel their western rage into something constructive for the province. While not all of his opinions should be resurrected, this one has some clout.
"It can be used, you know, to to get things for the province and get a fair shake and consideration, but it does have to be handled with care," he once said.
"You know, if there was sort of an articulate spokesperson for western separation or for Alberta separation, it would be that much more tricky to handle."
Thus far, no one has stepped up in being that proficient and vigilant voice for the separatist movement. Even Premier Jason Kenney, an avowed federalist, called the separation notion “irrational”, but he is at least listening and taking notes. Kenney is using the fire and fury in Wexit supporters as fuel at the table in Ottawa. Kenney says he will move forward with a referendum on equalization which he claims will provide leverage when negotiating in Ottawa.
He will also appoint a panel to speak and listen to Albertans - even those behind Wexit - about the province’s place in federation.
Let’s hope the separatist masses can organize their ideas and articulate them so someone in power can act.