Most Saskatchewan businesses listed as Wexit petition locations say campaign isn't welcome
Organizer says signature drives will go ahead on sidewalks if necessary
Organizers of the Wexit separatist campaign are collecting signatures across the province, but most businesses listed on the group's website as places to sign petitions say they want nothing to do with the movement.
"I'm surprised we're there [on the website] at all," Swift Current Mall property manager Terry Highet said in an interview Wednesday. "It's kind of a bit presumptuous of them to assume we'd be open to it without checking with us first."
Last month's federal election brought Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government back to power. In Saskatchewan and Alberta, however, the Liberals were shut out.
Within days, talk of western separation began. A group called Wexit, an abbreviation of Western Exit, saw its social media following grow exponentially.
The group held rallies in Alberta. Now organizers want to form their own political party. To do that, they need to collect 2,500 signatures at events across Saskatchewan.
Several businesses from Assiniboia to Saskatoon are listed on Wexit Saskatchewan's website and social media pages.
Most of the business owners on the list reached by CBC said they weren't asked for permission and were surprised to see their company included.
Highet said she spoke to Wexit organizers Tuesday to tell them they were not welcome at the Swift Current Mall due to a strict policy against hosting political events.
"We can't be affiliated. We don't want to offend anybody," she said.
Highet said she expected the mall's name would be removed from the Wexit website, but as of Wednesday afternoon, that hadn't happened.
Mall to hire extra security
That sentiment was echoed by other business owners across the province. A spokesperson for the Swift Current Broncos said the team has nothing to do with Wexit's planned signature drive outside the Credit Union IPlex before a game Wednesday evening.
A spokesperson for Saskatoon's Princess Auto said the petitioners will not be allowed on the business's property, including the parking lot.
Earlier this week, officials with a Canadian Tire location and the Confederation Mall in Saskatoon said they wouldn't be allowing Wexit events. A mall manager said extra security would be hired to prevent Wexit activity there.
There was one exception.
Bill McCann, owner of Swifty's Skate Shop in Swift Current, said he's a Wexit supporter and that the group can collect signatures at his store as long as necessary.
McCann says the federal government is partly to blame for tough times in the oil and agriculture industries. That's hurt the local economy, he said. Business at his store is down 45 per cent in the past year and he's not sure how much longer he can survive.
"Number one, I am Canadian. I don't want to separate. But if I have to, that's the only way we're going to make a living," he said.
'Hundreds' of signatures collected
Wexit Saskatchewan organizer Eric Wall said in an interview Wednesday all events will go ahead as planned, even if they have to move off the properties.
"We'll just move to the sidewalk," he said.
Wall said he was "kind of shocked" by the reaction from businesses. He said they were listed on the Wexit website because it's the easiest way to identify the event locations.
Wall said Wexit Saskatchewan has collected "hundreds" of signatures so far and noted the drive is less than a week old. He said they aim to collect 4,000 names to ensure that at least 2,500 are validated.
With files from The Canadian Press