It seems like forever ago, but it was only in October that Justin Trudeau was re-elected, angering Western Canada so much that the separatist party Wexit was created. In just a few short months, the party has grown from what seemed like a few disgruntled social media posters to hundreds of thousands of followers online, thanks to the rhetoric of Western politicians such as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and despite the shady past of Wexit’s founders.
Separate provincial instalments of Wexit are now all working to have their own provincial parties gain hold in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and B.C., and the Wexit political party can officially run candidates against Trudeau’s Liberals in the next election.
But it remains unclear whether Wexit has staying power as a political movement or is merely a Facebook group for people to vent their frustrations about the federal government and drop conspiracy theories and Bible verses.
A good way to the bottom of the question of Wexit’s political seriousness answer is whether people will go outside in -40 C weather for the cause.
With that in mind, I went out to a Wexit rally at the Alberta legislative grounds on Saturday, right as sub-arctic temperatures gripped Edmonton, and talked to a few of the group’s members to see if the online rhetoric matched real-world resolve.
The majority of the crowd, roughly 100 people, were white men ranging from their late-20s to their 60s. Many of them were hoisting signs blaming Eastern Canada, demanding secession, or accusing the media of propaganda.
I asked Brent, a mid-40s man wearing a “Make Alberta Great Again” baseball cap, who did not want his last name used, why he was a member.
“I’ve always voted for the Western Canadian concept, be it the Reform party or any incarnation of it since,” he said.
“It started when I was 12 years old; I was living in Fort McMurray in the 1980s and I saw what happened there,” Brent said, referring to Pierre Trudeau’s energy policies during his term.
Brent told me of a greater conspiracy: that both Pierre and Justin Trudeau have a decades-long game to shaft the West. It’s a common rhetoric shared among Wexit members.
But unlike many of the other members at the event, he believes the country can stay together.
“I think people in the East are not educated on matters in the West, and vice-versa. We don’t know what’s happening there and they don’t know what’s happening here,” he said. “I want to have a dialogue with those people.”
Brandon Hodell, one of the younger faces in the crowd, was front and centre raising awareness on Wexit’s efforts for provincial recognition. Hodell blames “government policies” for Alberta‘s economic crisis.
“Edmonton now has the highest unemployment rate in the country. For every point added to unemployment there’s 16-17 more suicides,” Hodell said, referring to a study last year by the University of Calgary.
“The federal government has a lot of blood on their hands,” he continued, as he collected signatures to recognize Wexit Alberta as an official party and handed out cups of Tim Hortons coffee.
Hodell says separation is the only option for the West. “If there’s enough Western alienation we can do it, and I think the train has left the station,” he said.
For some the notion of separation from the rest of Canada is not enough, and that Wexiters should instead integrate with the U.S.
“They need us, I guess, and we symbolically need us too,” said Dave Ghron, sporting a crimson MAGA hat and carrying an American flag. “The American system is very close to ours anyway—we’re culturally very much the same—and we can fit right in.” Ghron says he’s from British Columbia originally but has lived in Alberta for some time.
Another rally member, Maggie, who also wanted the West to become a part of the U.S., blamed Trudeau’s immigration policy.
“Look at how Trudeau is letting in all these people and refugees, these people and their tax breaks, and children’s tax credit. No wonder they’re having, like, 10 kids on average,” she said.
While anti-immigrant and far-right rhetoric peppered the rally, some Wexiters wanted to distance themselves from it.
“These statements, they’re ultimately not helpful or constructive…It’ll never be stamped out completely but there will be steps to limit it and have the focus remain on what matters,” said Jake Eskesen, a Wexiter organizer for Unify the West, a splinter group of Wexit.
One of the speakers, Les Michaelson, conceded to the crowd that even if Wexit doesn’t result in separation, “at least we’re giving Eastern Canada the notion that we do want to separate. That way further down the line they [the federal government] can look at the ‘why’ a lot closer.”
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