Wexit Canada is preparing to run candidates in a smattering of ridings in case a snap federal election is called.
Jay Hill, the interim party leader and former Conservative MP, acknowledged it would be a struggle to prepare quickly if a vote were called in the next few months. But his party wants to join the fray.
“We will contest in some ridings, no matter when the next election is,” he told CBC’s West of Centre podcast.
There may be an opportunity to flex those muscles sooner than later, as the upcoming federal throne speech presents opposition parties with the option to topple the Liberal minority government in a confidence vote.
Hill acknowledged that the organizing team knows Wexit would be playing from “below ground zero” in its first foray into federal politics.
Hill, who categorizes himself as a “reluctant separatist,” didn’t give any clues to which ridings would feature a Wexit candidate.
He’s also not planning to run himself, but it’s not an impossibility if his name is needed on a ballot. Former leader Peter Downing said last year he intended to have candidates in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
A poll conducted by Abacus Data found that 20 per cent of Albertans feel separation from Canada is a good idea. Another 26 per cent “could live with it,” while the majority say it’s a terrible idea.
The underlying feelings behind the movement have much firmer support, with three-quarters of Albertans telling Abacus in November that the province is treated unfairly by the rest of the country.
What’s good for the West?
The interim leader sees a role for his party in Parliament in much the same way the Bloc Québécois has carved itself a niche. Hill likes Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet’s approach: Supporting policies that are good for Quebec, and voting down ones that aren’t. Hill wants his party to employ that method for the West.
Wexit’s strongest support is in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but Hill wants to feel out the appetite for separation in Manitoba and British Columbia, too.
But wanting a better deal may not be enough to push voters to mark their ballots for Wexit. Janet Brown, founder of Janet Brown Opinion Research, says there appears to be a small base that actually wants to leave Canada, while others see it as an opportunity for a negotiating tool.
Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, agreed.
“Do they really want to separate or are they looking for a party or leadership that will stand up specifically for their interests?”
Both pollsters say there will be careful calculations going on among most of the federal parties to see how Wexit could shift politics in the West.
A leader’s outgoing caution to the Conservatives
Hill isn’t worried about the possibility of giving the Liberals more seats through a vote split between the Conservatives and Wexit. He says the margins of victory are so high that the risk of vote splitting costing seats isn’t a threat.
Hill cast a ballot in the Conservative leadership race as a last hurrah to his party. He plans on giving up his membership after the winner is announced on Sunday. Hill says the new leader will inevitably end up catering to vote-rich Central Canada and take the West for granted again.
Outgoing leader Andrew Scheer warned about that tension, saying whoever succeeds him will have to face it.
“I do think that there’s a real angst out there, there’s a real sentiment of frustration, and people are getting ready to give up or throw in the towel,” Scheer told CBC Radio’s The House. “So I think the next leader of this party has to address that in a way that doesn’t dismiss their concerns but shows them a plan forward as to how a Conservative government will fix these problems.”
As interim leader, Hill says his job is to continue building credibility, membership and fundraising for Wexit (though that name may not be around much longer. The party conducted a poll that showed most people would be in favour of a name change).
He’s frank about the work ahead.
“We have a huge uphill climb,” he admitted. “It’s not something that’s going to be accomplished overnight.”