Most Canadians opposed to Wexit, but poll finds new party could pose challenge to Conservatives
Pro-separation numbers are highest in Alberta but still relegated to small minority
A majority of Canadians remain opposed to the concept of the four most western provinces separating from Canada, but a new Abacus Data poll suggests the limited support the Wexit Canada party currently enjoys could come at the expense of the federal Conservatives.
"If you isolate the four western provinces, the federal Conservatives rely on those provinces disproportionately for more of their support, more of their seats," said David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data. "When you distil down and look at it, who are these Wexiteers?"
Coletto said among those who support separation from Canada, "almost half of them nationally voted Conservative. Among those western Canadians, 81 per cent voted Conservative in the last election."
The poll found that only seven per cent of Canadians think Wexit is a good idea — but Coletto said that number increased to 15 per cent of Conservative Party voters in the 2019 election.
Among Albertans, the new party gets slightly higher support. Twenty per cent of survey respondents in the province said Alberta separating from the rest of the country was a "good idea." Another 26 per cent said they could "live with it," while 54 per cent called it a "terrible idea."
"It shows that Wexit Canada, as a starting point, has an audience that is open to listening, and in Alberta particularly, an audience who may not be strongly in favour of separating but signal that they could live with it," Coletto said.
The results mirror frustrations felt by Albertans that were indicated in a November 2019 Abacus poll. It found that three-quarters of Albertans said their province is treated "unfairly" in its relationship with the rest of the country.
"This is not necessarily a wholesale shift of views, but I think it reflects an environment where this kind of perspective, this kind of party, could find some traction with a portion of the electorate or voters and residents in Alberta and other western provinces," Coletto said.
Party has a new leader
Last month, veteran conservative politician Jay Hill was named interim leader of the Wexit party following the resignation of founder Peter Downing. Hill was Conservative House leader under then-prime minister Stephen Harper at the time of his retirement in 2010.
Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said the new Abacus data shows pro-separation numbers at a rate that is largely consistent with other polls but indicates a higher amount of what he called "soft" separatists.
"There is a committed small minority that is hardcore separatist, around nine to 13 per cent. The remaining supporters are soft," Bratt said in an email. "Meaning that their support could be hardened or dissipate based on current events or if a serious referendum would be put into play."
He said the Wexit party also poses a problem for the Conservatives in Western Canada, given that none of the four candidates running for the party leadership are from that part of the country — the first time since the federal Conservative party's formation in 2003.
"[The polls indicated] that Wexit is driven by Alberta. While there is support in the other western provinces, the heart of the movement is in Alberta," Bratt said. "This is also a challenge for [Premier Jason] Kenney."
He said that many supporters of separatism back the governing United Conservative Party, "and a few may even be in his caucus."
Kenney himself has pushed back against the idea of Alberta separation, calling it an empty threat that could hurt the province's economy.
But others in his party disagree, including UCP Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, who has called for "consequences" should Alberta's demands not be met by Ottawa.
Abacus said the survey was conducted online with 1,500 Canadian residents from June 26 to 30, and was weighted according to census data "to ensure that the sample matched Canada's population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region."
For comparison purposes, a probability-based sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The margins of error would be higher on provincial results or other subsets of the main sample.
With files from Robson Fletcher