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Western alienation is a real problem but “Wexit” should not be

By Jakarta Mackie, December 6 2019—

Many western Canadians are now wondering if the Republic of Western Canada could become a reality. On Nov. 16, hundreds of people piled into a Calgary event centre for a western separatist rally. 

This fall, the Liberal election victory ignited talk of western separatism. Sadly, for the Liberals, their defeat in the West came too easily. If nothing else, the SNC-Lavalin scandal showed a Liberal commitment to Eastern Canada. Would Trudeau have ever done such terrible things just to save Albertan jobs? The loss of Calgary-based Encana to the United States earlier this month did not even see a statement from Prime Minister Trudeau. 

The story of Alberta’s alienation dates back to its origin. When Alberta joined Canada in 1905, Ottawa continued to control its natural resources. This was despite other provinces such as Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia having control over their own resources. It would not be until 1930, that Alberta would get its control. The battle sparked feelings of resentment over the possibility that the federal government might consider Alberta a second-class province. In 1980, the federal government would once again aim to control western resources. The National Energy Program (NEP) would decimate the Alberta economy. Albertans were left distrustful and alienated from the rest of Canada. 

The 2019 federal election brought back these feelings. The Alberta economy is hurting. In November, more than 1,000 jobs were lost in Calgary in a single week. Many Albertans have decided now is the right time for the West to leave Canada. Western separatists have branded their movement Wexit, or “Western Exit.” It remains unclear why any political group would want to associate itself with the turbulence of Brexit. Nonetheless, Wexit is not just an Albertan movement. Rather, it aims to cleave away the entirety of Western Canada from Eastern Canada. 

Despite justified feelings of western alienation, Wexit would bring mutually assured destruction to all Canadians. To begin, Wexit would be an economic disaster. If Alberta and Saskatchewan were to separate, they would be a landlocked nation, with no better prospects of getting its oil to market than currently exists. It would have no trade agreements and have a difficult time getting labour from the rest of Canada. It seems unlikely that western British Columbia would “Wexit” with the prairie provinces and give the new nation a coastline. It would have to rebuild a military and spend millions on the creation of a federal government. It would be a legal nightmare. 

The Wexit movement has also faced accusations of xenophobia, misinformation and climate change denial. The leader of the group, Peter Downing, has had a long history of politics in Alberta. In 2015, he ran as a candidate for the Christian Heritage Party of Canada. A former RCMP member, he left the force in 2009. CBC has reported on his involvement with Alberta Fights Back, an organisation which claimed Justin Trudeau’s government was “normalizing pedophilia.” 

Spending any time on the Wexit Facebook groups yields a fascinating version of reality. Many comments incite violence against Canada’s elected officials. Ironically, this is a group which seeks to uphold democracy. The push towards Wexit itself seems contrary to democratic principles. If Alberta was unhappy with the 2019 election, the answer is not to create a one-party state. 

With the Wexit movement planning on running candidates in the next federal election, it is uncertain what type of party it will be. Currently, the Wexit movement is one caught in the middle of right-wing populism and more moderate ideas. Some social media users have begun to speak up against the vitriol. If Wexit is to become a genuine political party, it is going to need some serious brand management. 

The one thing that all Wexit supporters can agree on is a general feeling of isolation, anger and frustration. These are feelings shared by many Albertans. Although Wexit may not be a serious option, these feelings of alienation should be taken seriously. The federal government has a long road ahead to quell feelings of western separatism.  However, Alberta also has to make some changes. Climate change must be taken seriously. Cuts to education, police forces and social services are not the road to a more prosperous future. The federal government needs to understand the hardship Alberta faces. In return, Alberta needs to take better care of its future. 

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.


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