Alberta separatist group applies to become federal political party

A separatist group calling for Alberta to leave Canada has begun the process to become a federal political party.

Wexit group has sent in 543 supporters' signatures, leader says

Wexit Alberta leader Peter Downing says the separation group has applied for federal political party status. (Gabriel Brown/CBC)

A separatist group calling for Alberta to leave Canada has begun the process to become a federal political party. 

Wexit Alberta's application arrived on Monday at Elections Canada, which has begun the verification process, according to a spokesperson for the federal agency. 

The group, led by Albertan Peter Downing, aims to do "for Western Canada what the Bloc Québécois did for Quebec," Downing said.

Downing ran federally with the Christian Heritage Party in 2015. He said he's since been involved with federal Conservative Party boards, and as a campaign manager with the former provincial Wildrose Party.

Before that, he was an RCMP officer and during that time was suspended for uttering threats against his ex-wife — according to both National Post and a now-deleted article in the St. Albert Gazette. Downing has denied the allegations and says he left the force with a clean record.

Wexit Alberta has been accused of allowing conspiracy theories or other harmful rhetoric to circulate online. 

We really don't know how large in strength the Wexit movement is.- Duane Bratt, political scientist

Downing sidestepped a question about that, telling CBC News he can't be a racist because his wife isn't white and doesn't speak English. He added he is exploring legal options against those who have described the group as promoting white supremacist and anti-Muslim rhetoric. 

Wexit ("Western exit") supporters are scheduled to hold rallies across Alberta this month, and the sentiment has gained support in the wake of the federal election, which saw the governing Liberals shut out of Alberta and most of the west. 

Announcing the party's application, Downing wrote on Facebook that Premier Jason Kenney "needs to become the VERY FIRST PRESIDENT OF ALBERTA."

Kenney has called separation "irrational," but is also planning a referendum on equalization and is appointing a panel to discuss the province's place in the federation.

Many politicians are being careful to hedge their words on the topic, says political scientist Jared Wesley. 

"This is a different kind of movement. We've seen it generate success south of the border and in Europe. I think political elites ignore it at their peril but they have to be very careful when they provide legitimacy to what, right now, is a pretty fringe movement," he said.

"It's one thing to acknowledge the frustration that a lot of people are feeling … but there's a thin line between that and giving credence to the idea that separatism is more powerful a force than it is in Alberta right now."

Seceding could also be difficult, experts say. Any provinces looking to leave Confederation would have to address First Nations treaties and other complications like trade, national defence and amending the country's constitution.

"It's those very simple, straightforward questions they'd have answer before anybody would seriously entertain them in Parliament, let alone in the other 10 provincial capitals," said Wesley.

Political scientist Duane Bratt said credibility could be an issue for the hopeful party's leader.

"Is this the guy that we want leading a movement?" he asked. "He's got several hundred [supporters] and sold a bunch of hats … we really don't know how large in strength the Wexit movement is. We know they're loud."

The group's website sells baseball caps with slogans like "The West wants out" and "We the West."

Bratt noted this isn't the first protest movement to come out of the Prairies, pointing to the Reform Party and Social Credit Party. 

"This has been an ongoing pattern of behaviour for decades," he said.

In order to get the party's name on the ballot and issue tax receipts for contributions, Wexit Alberta needs to be registered with Elections Canada. To register, the application to the chief electoral officer must include:

  • The party's name, logo and fundamental purpose.
  • Names, addresses and signatures of 250 electors that are members of the party and support the application (Downing says he sent in 543 signatures).
  • A copy of the party's resolution to appoint its leader.
  • At least three officers, an auditor, and a chief agent — and their signed consent.

After the application is received, a detailed review process kicks off to verify all of the information is complete, accurate and meets the requirements. Then, as soon as the party endorses a confirmed candidate in an election or byelection, it's officially registered. 

With files from Raffy Boudjikanian and Lucie Edwardson