• Wexit wants to secede from Canada
  • Justin Trudeau is very unpopular in western Canada
  • Alberta's economy is heavily dependent on oil

Wexit Saskatchewan, a political party that wants the province of Saskatchewan to separate from Canada, has applied for official registration so that it can run candidates in the 2020 elections.

Eric Hill, lead registration coordinator for Wexit Saskatchewan, said the application had 3,599 signatures and more than 100 signatures from 12 constituencies (well above the minimum requirements of 2,500 signatures and 100 signatures from 10 constituencies).

“We threaten secession if there’s no equality in this confederation,” said Hill. “Once we get the official party registration, then we can put the paperwork forward to register candidates.”

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe of the ruling center-right Saskatchewan Party dismissed the Wexit movement.

“That’s not my job to worry about them,” he said.

Ryan Meili, leader of the opposition Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, also brushed aside Wexit.

“I hope people have no time for the Wexit Party,” he said. “Saskatchewan people know that we are better off in Canada.”

But Meili warned that if the Wexits gain any support in Saskatchewan, Moe would be partly to blame.

“[Moe has] opened up this space of this alienation and pushing that idea that we might be better without Canada,” Meili added.

The Wexit party is already eligible to run candidates in federal elections in neighboring Alberta where the separatist movement was founded by Peter Downing, a former officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Wexit plans to run more than 100 candidates in the four western provinces of Canada -- Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba -- in upcoming elections.

"Our slogan is, 'The West Wants Out,’" Downing told his supporters. "With the expected seats we're going to win in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the Conservative Party of Canada will never govern again.”

The Wexit party's initial strategy focuses on Alberta, which it wants to secede from the Confederation of Canada by a referendum. If successful, it would declare Alberta independent, elect its own president and form its own currency, police and defense forces.

But some experts are skeptical about Wexit.

Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, wondered: "Who is going to be the leader of this party? [Downing] seems to be the front person here. But I'm not seeing a whole lot of people clamoring [for his leadership].”

Downing has asserted he indeed is the party’s chief.

"I have a mandate from our organization,” he told CBC. “I was selected as leader before the election. So I have a mandate to lead it into the first general election."

In the 2015 federal election, Downing ran with the right-wing Christian Heritage Party of Canada.

Bratt also doubts the public will give much support to Wexit.

"What sort of candidates are they going to acquire? And are people going to desert the Conservative Party for this Wexit party?" he said. "I don't think that's going to be the case here. I don't think people in Western Canada are upset with the Conservatives. Therefore, I think the Wexit party, I'm sure they may run candidates and do as well as the People's Party [of Canada] did."

In the 2019 election, the People's Party of Canada won only 1.6% of the national vote and gained no seats.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney of the Conservative Party of Canada rejected secession from Canada, but he said he wants Alberta to have more autonomy. As such, Kenney has formed a “Fair Deal” panel to study how Alberta can operate more independently.

Coincidentally, the Fair Deal panel is examining some proposals that Wexit already supports, including the formation of an Alberta police force and an Alberta-based pension plan.

"I think the Fair Deal panel has taken the wind out of the Wexit sails," Bratt added. "I think if you had Jason Kenney direct his government towards a Wexit movement, that would be a different circumstance. But [the Alberta government] realizes it isn't a very feasible concept."

However, Downing downplayed the Fair Deal panel’s efforts.

"If Jason Kenney is unable or unwilling … the public mood will change and Wexit Canada will be there to receive the support of Albertans," he vowed.

A poll taken in November by Ipsos revealed that one-third of Albertans favored separation, while 27% of Saskatchewan residents did.

Oil-rich, conservative and heavily rural Alberta has a long list of grudges against the east coast Ottawa-based federal government.

"Albertans and Saskatchewanians are [angry] because they haven't found a voice in Ottawa," said Barry Cooper, a fourth-generation Albertan and political scientist at the University of Calgary.

Cooper, who supports separatism, also suggested there’s a deep cultural divide between the western prairie provinces and the more urban, liberal cities like Montreal and Toronto.

"It's a failure of trying to understand the other -- we don't share the same myths about what the country looks like, and we never have," he said. "[Alberta is] much more like a frontier. The people who lived here in the early days, they had expectations of self-government that basically all frontier communities have."

While Alberta’s 34 seats only take up 10% of Canada's parliament, its oil-dominated economy contributes 17% to the country's gross domestic product.

Moreover, while Alberta contributes billions of dollars annually in federal taxes, it has received no equalization payments – i.e., payments by the federal government to poorer provinces in order to equalize their fiscal capacity -- since 1965.

Even during the mid-decade oil crisis which led to more than 100,000 job losses and a recession, Alberta still received no equalization payments.

Now, with several pipeline projects delayed or suspended, Alberta oil workers remain anxious.

"We've always been okay to help other parts of the country when they've been in need," said Downing. "But when we've been in need, we've been nothing but kicked all the way around."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party is widely unpopular in Alberta, party due to his embrace of climate activism and his vow to "phase out" Alberta's oil sands industry, a sector that is responsible for about 11% of Canada's total greenhouse-gas emissions.

Oil sands forms a core segment of Alberta’s economy.

"It's not as though people here [in Alberta] are less passionate about climate change, but there's so much misinformation about the energy industry that it's become really polarized," said Martha Hall Findlay, CEO of the Canada West Foundation, a non-partisan think tank.

Trevor Tombs, an economist at the University of Calgary, said that while Alberta’s oil economy recovered in 2017, it “stalled completely in 2018 and we've kind of been flat for the last year and a half.”

Cooper warned that if Trudeau is re-elected, Alberta will leave Canada.

“People feel clobbered. Economic conditions are bad, but at that very point you have governments [imposing] policies which make the situation worse. That’s why people are directing their anger toward the federal government,” said Amber Ruddy, a political strategist at the conservative lobby group Counsel.