Jay Hill, former House leader under Harper, named interim head of separatist party Wexit Canada

Veteran conservative politician Jay Hill has been named interim leader of the separatist Wexit Canada party, following the resignation of founder Peter Downing.

'The West will never get a fair deal,' from Ottawa, says veteran conservative

Former B.C. MP Jay Hill, who now resides in Calgary, has been named the interim leader of Western separatist party Wexit Canada. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Veteran conservative politician Jay Hill has been named interim leader of the separatist Wexit Canada party, following the resignation of founder Peter Downing.

Hill — who served as MP for Prince George-Peace River in northern B.C. for 17 years, under three parties — has taken over until a new leader can be elected at its first convention, the party said Tuesday. 

"I have been watching with great dismay the developments on the federal government scene and I'm very concerned about the direction the country's going in," Hill told CBC News. 

"I came to realize that it will not matter to Western Canada who wins the Conservative leadership race and who forms the next government … because in the end, governments have to cater to the golden triangle of Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa and the West will never get a fair deal."

Hill said the party's short-term goal will be to build a strong base, and that the convention will have to wait until both enough members have signed up and pandemic restrictions allow for large groups to gather.

Hill said he hasn't spoken recently with Downing but that his understanding is that Downing will be moving on to other projects and there will be a clear break between himself and the new board.

Attendees at a Wexit rally in Calgary in November 2019. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Downing told CBC News he will focus on fundraising and activism, and said Hill's experience makes him the perfect person to lead the new party into its next chapter.

The party, which was granted federal eligibility by Elections Canada in January, plans to nominate 104 candidates to ridings in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Wexit also plans to run candidates at the provincial level in those provinces, but Hill said the federal party will not be affiliated with the provincial parties. The provincial Wexit Alberta party is holding a vote this week on whether to merge with the Freedom Conservative Party. 

House leader under Harper

Hill lives in Calgary, and represented Prince George-Peace River under the Reform Party of Canada, the Canadian Alliance and the Conservatives. He was House leader under then-prime minister Stephen Harper at the time of his retirement in 2010.

Before he entered politics, he worked in forestry and the oil and gas industry, and eventually took over his family farm.

One of his notable accomplishments in government was a private members bill that gave a tax break to adoptive parents. 

A year after he left federal politics, he was reprimanded by the federal ethics watchdog who determined Hill had breached the Conflict of Interest Act when he contacted his ex-colleagues about a forthcoming multinational energy deal. At the time, his wife worked for a firm that had drafted a communications plan for the deal.

In October 2019, Hill told CBC that he felt Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's minority government was "illegitimate" and said it was time for Western Canada to separate. 

"What's B.C. going to do if Alberta and Saskatchewan vote to leave? Because then all of a sudden, they're cut off from the rest of Canada. So there's going to have to be a lot of negotiation," Hill said at the time.

Hill says he re-entered politics to safeguard the future of his three young granddaughters.

"I'm deeply concerned with the growing national debt, with a lot of the issues that are facing Canadians with a prime minister and a government that continues to throw billions of dollars away internationally while so many people are facing tough times here at home," he said Tuesday.

"That my grandchildren will not have the same opportunities that my father's generation gave us, people of my age."

Downing had said in January he planned to lead the party he had founded into its first election.

But he said he and Hill share a vision for the party's next steps.

"I think that we both recognize that Alberta will never get a fair deal as part of Confederation and specifically Western Canada in general will never get a fair deal as part of the current confederation system," Downing said.

Downing is a controversial figure. The ex-RCMP officer was suspended for uttering threats against his now ex-wife. Downing has said the judge made a mistake in finding against him for uttering threats and said he left the force with a clean record.