Wexit party to run federal and provincial candidates across Western Canada

A western separatist party will be running candidates not just federally in four provinces but provincially in those provinces as well, attendees at a Saturday rally in Calgary heard.

Presence in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba necessary for separation referendums, leader says

Attendees at a Wexit rally in Calgary last November. A CBC News poll shows support for separatism is low in Alberta. As is support for the proposals being considered by the Fair Deal panel. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

A western separatist party will be running candidates not just federally but provincially in four provinces as well, attendees at a Saturday rally in Calgary heard.

Leader Peter Downing said he plans to run federal candidates under the name Wexit Canada and provincial candidates in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, with the hope of holding future referendums on separation in those provinces.

"The establishment is scared when western Canadians stand up for their rights and aren't going to be pushed around anymore. And the reality is this: it's not about white supremacy, it's not about any kind of race or religion … it's about liberal supremacy," he said to applause. 

"We are going to build our pipeline and Quebec is going to pay for it."

Elections Canada confirmed it has received Wexit's application to become a federally registered party and CBC News has reached out to the electoral offices the four aforementioned western provinces to confirm if the party has also registered at that level.

Around 750 people gathered in Notre Dame High School's gymnasium for Saturday's Wexit rally. Volunteers hawked merchandise like red baseball caps with the slogans "Make Alberta Great Again" and "Rednexit" from a table at the back of the room as attendees filed in.

Downing's push for Alberta separatism first gained attention with a February billboard campaign, but Wexit — a portmanteau of "western exit" — appeared to gain support in the wake of the federal election which saw the governing Liberals shut out of Alberta and most of the west. 

The rally was the group's second major event in Alberta since the election, the first held at Edmonton's Boot Scootin' Boogie Dance Hall two weeks ago. Downing said he plans to hold more rallies later this month in Alberta and across Saskatchewan in the new year.

First-time Wexit rally attendee Garrett Roberts said he's interested in the idea of separation because he doesn't feel his voice as an Albertan is being heard in Ottawa.

"We're also just sort of concerned a little bit knowing that our province could erupt into something that we don't know what it is and we really just want to gather all the information," Roberts said.

"Had to see it for ourselves … wanted to see the people who are leading this movement up close and in person just to see if they're real people and if there's any motivations, what their energy's like."

Attendee Nicole Remeika said the idea of a new country, a new constitution, is exciting.

"If it happens it happens, if it doesn't it doesn't, but we could be creating something new, something different. A whole new society and a whole new world."

An attendee at a Wexit rally in Calgary wears a sweatshirt depicting a tree with a noose hanging from it and the words "Come West Trudeau." Supporters of more autonomy for Alberta tend to be male, rural, and UCP voters without a university degree. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Wexit isn't Downing's first foray into politics.

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 — and he said he's currently a member of the United Conservative Party.

Before that, he was an RCMP officer who was suspended for uttering threats against his 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.

The party has been accused of allowing conspiracy theories or other harmful rhetoric to circulate online. On social media, Downing has railed against "crybaby liberal reporters," "communist creeps and bums in Eastern Canada" and "beta males."

Wexit Leader Peter Downing at a rally for supporters in Calgary on Saturday. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Another speaker, Craig Chandler with the Progressive Group for Independent Business, plans to bring some of the sentiments represented at the rally to municipal politics.

He said his organization is putting together a slate for Calgary's next municipal election in 2021. Chandler plans to run in Ward 12, which is currently represented by Coun. Shane Keating.

Chandler also has controversies under his belt.

In 2016, he stepped down from the Progressive Conservative party's board after accusing Earls restaurants of supporting terrorism by purchasing beef from a company that also offers halal meat for Muslim customers. In 2007, Chandler was forced to apologize as part of a Canadian Human Rights Commission settlement for anti-gay comments. He was rejected as running as a candidate for the PCs that same year.

The group's goal of seceding could prove 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.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said he doesn't support separation. He recently announced a panel that will study measures to give the province more autonomy, like establishing a provincial police force or pulling out of the Canada Pension Plan.

With files from Scott Dippel