As the Western Canadian separatist movement Wexit becomes more mainstream, the group’s founder is hoping to lead disillusioned western Canadians into the waiting arms of Donald Trump and to become the U.S.’s 51st state.
“Just like Wexit wasn’t mainstream and now…is mainstream, the American option isn’t mainstream but it will be,” said Peter Downing, the driving force behind Wexit.
Wexit is a growing movement of conservative western Canadians who want to separate from eastern Canada. The group, built off existing separatist sentiment and western rage, was founded by Downing in early 2019 and has grown to become an actual political entity: it’s now a registered party in Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan (although in some province’s Wexit has changed names and merged with other separatist groups).
Downing recently resigned as the leader of the official Wexit party in June, making way for Jay Hill, a longtime mainstream Conservative Party politician from 1993 to 2010. The appointment of Hill, who had stints as both the chief Conservative Party whip and the house leader, granted Wexit a new air of legitimacy. It’s also allowed Downing to focus on the next stage of his plan.
“Stage 2 is the next logical approach, to touch on what the Liberals and what the eastern Canadian elite fear the most: Alberta secession to the United States,” Downing told VICE News. “All the arguments against (Albertan separation)—us being landlocked, losing investment—all those things simply just go away.”
“We’re looking forward to our Wexodous,” he said. He’s also launched a website for the “Alberta 51” movement.
Western alienation has grown since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first took office in 2015 and downright exploded with the economic downturn in Alberta and Trudeau’s re-election last year. A recent poll showed that while only 7 percent of Canadians think that the western provinces leaving the country is a good idea, 20 percent of Albertans believed in the cause and 26 percent more could “live with it.”
“The Wexit folks have 260,000 people on their Facebook page. I’ve glanced at it a couple of times,” Kenney told Postmedia in January. “It doesn’t look like a thoughtful conversation to me.”
Like western separation, the idea of Alberta joining the United States isn’t new. It tends to pop up in columns every few years and each time gets a smattering of support from some Albertans. Hill, who has never mentioned secession to the United States, said in an interview with Global News that Wexit had come a long way since its inception as a protest movement.
“The anger is so deep-seated and the frustration with a failed Confederation is so widespread now in Western Canada that we are taking this extraordinary step, I believe, to organize federally…and elect members to Parliament similar to what the Bloc Québécois (a federal political party devoted to Quebec sovereignty) has done,” said Hill.
Downing, a former RCMP officer with a rather checkered past, said he helped recruit Hill for the role of leader and hinted that joining the U.S. was always the plan. Now, Downing is raising money for billboards that’ll go up not just in Alberta, but also in the U.S. where he’s hoping to convince Americans of the benefits of taking in the Wildrose province.
Downing wouldn’t say what the billboards will be about but did say they will “turn some heads.” Previous billboards Downing erected accused Trudeau of “normalizing pedophilia” and warned of an oncoming civil war.
Existing groups and supporters of the 51st state movement on Facebook—such as “51 and 52 Hey Ottawa F.U.”—have thrown their weight behind Downing. Like many right-wing causes, Facebook is a key battleground for Wexit and Alberta 51, and where Wexit originally shored up support.
The Alberta 51 movement has only received a middling response from the Wexit audience. Mike Filip, the host of Alberta online radio show Americanuck Radio, has long been a supporter of Albertan statehood. Filip’s website recently published a flippant list of reasons why Alberta should join the United States, which included “no French language,” “more famous restaurant franchises,” “a tougher justice system,” “fewer refugees,” protection from the U.S. military, and the possibility of a NFL franchise.
While he welcomes Downing to the Alberta 51 movement he admits the former leader’s move could cause a split among Wexit supporters.
“Some of the comments (on Facebook) range from ‘This is a great idea’ to ‘I would rather die and go to hell than call myself a Yankee.’ So it has caused some division,” he told VICE News.
Downing said he’s not worried about a split and believes the group’s followers will come around to the idea.
Hill taking the reins as the leader may not go down well for some supporters who do not believe in mainstream party politics. Like supporters of the American Tea Party, many were undoubtedly attracted to Wexit not just for the promise of a free Alberta but for the swashbuckling, conspiracy-tinged campaign that linked Trudeau to pedophilia and pizzagate, or claimed Trudeau left his teaching job because of a sex scandal. It’s not uncommon to stumble upon anti-Islamic or white genocide posts when exploring Wexit-affliated pages.
For example, Downing attempted to organize a “Toxic Masculinity Tour” featuring an event called the “Blue Collar Fight Night.” While the tour didn’t pan out, it’s hard to imagine a former Conservative party whip organizing something similar.
The slow-burning, pragmatic approach Hill is likely going to take will be a sharp departure from the large promises and brash stylings of Wexit 1.0. For Downing, this isn’t a worry.
“The reality of the situation is going to be all of us, whether it’s me or Jay Hill, we all gotta put up or shut up,” Downing said. “We gotta deliver the goods for Albertans.”
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.