Conspiracy Theorists Want To Carve Their Own Country Out Of Canada

There is a growing far-right separatist movement in Alberta motivated by fear of change, bigotry, conspiracy theories, and a dying industry.
Albertans attending a Wexit rally in Edmonton, AB (Toronto Star)

Albertans attending a Wexit rally in Edmonton, AB (Toronto Star)

Imagine for a moment that the American Deep South suddenly decided that they’ve had enough of the rest of the country refusing to cater to their every whim and once again become their own nation. But this time, instead of unilateral secession and war, these states want a referendum which will let them legally and peacefully split so they can run things the way they please. This is exactly what’s happening in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau managed to hold on to power in the 2019 federal election.

While you may be told the motivation for what’s been christened #Wexit is economic, the real reason behind this push for independence from the rest of the country is a little darker. You see, Wexit movement founder Peter Downing is concerned not just about making sure that oil from Alberta reaches global markets faster than the rest of Canada wants to allow, he’s been very worried about the country becoming more diverse, so much so he wanted to try and stop it as a candidate for the far-right Christian Heritage Party.

Tolerating same-sex marriage and allowing citizens of Muslim majority countries to immigrate just isn’t possible in Downing’s world and he’s happy to tell you why on social media with a long list of conspiracy theories that sound like the mad libs version of those spread by American right-wing zealots, simply replacing U.S. politicians, public figures, and locations for Canadian ones. He even seems to ascribe to a QAnon style conspiracy in which a cabal of rich Satanic pedophiles secretly rules the world, paying for anti-Trudeau billboards accusing the prime minister of trying to incite a civil war and “normalizing pedophilia” during his tenure.

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Being able to ship oil from Alberta without having to negotiate with British Columbia and the rest of Canada is just a bonus as far as Downing is concerned. The goal is to create a white, archconservative ethnostate beholden to the whims of fossil fuel companies and rural voters. According to Albertans, their province is a frontier whose culture is misunderstood by the “elites” in the East, and they might as well go it alone than have to deal with the liberal establishment. They just have so much oil to extract and sell to the rest of the world, and the federal government is cramping their style by regulating their business to death.

In other words, Alberta is the Texas of Canada in more ways than economic, and while there’s definitely been a tense relationship between Edmonton and Ottawa, proponents of Wexit have a completely different worldview than much of the nation, and plenty of right-wing politicians have been exploiting their discontent to get themselves elected. That said, they’ve generally stopped at the equivalent of a generic acknowledgment of anger and frustration rather than backing outright separatism, understanding full well that trying to split from their own country would be an undertaking they don’t want to have to lead, especially as the slow-motion train wreck of Brexit looms in the news on a weekly basis.

For example, in the runup to the October election, Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney tweeted that while he understands the separatists’ feelings, he’d rather just encourage the voters to defeat the Trudeau government at the ballot box. Meanwhile, Downing and his fans and acolytes were busy flooding social media with conspiracy theories about evil Muslim sleeper cells and Satanic pedophiles working for the Globalist/Illuminati Jew World Order with a major boost from Russian trolls. But in the wake of the election’s results, Kenney decided to create a panel charged with studying ways to give Alberta more autonomy within Canada, including its own tax collection service and a network of intra-Canadian embassies.

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How Would Wexit Actually Work?

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks at Canada’s Building Trades Unions on April 30, 2019

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks at Canada’s Building Trades Unions on April 30, 2019

While to many Americans their northern neighbor seems like the polite land of snow, hockey, and socialized medicine, separatist movements are nothing new. As Canada unwound itself from British rule in the 1860s, it started as a confederation and there were always differences of opinion and cultural disconnects. One of the most notable separatist movements was based in Quebec and it even managed to hold referendums on whether the culturally French province should split from the rest of Canada in 1980 and 1995. The first one failed by a 10% margin, the second by a razor-thin half a percent, after which the matter seemed to move back into the political fringe for a while.

But the movement may not be done yet as the party once advocating an independent Quebec, Bloc Quebecois, surged in the October election, though not on a separatist platform. A potential Wexit party might also see a strong showing at the polls and has already filed papers to register itself at the federal level. The next step would be working on organizing a referendum on whether Alberta should leave Canada, and paving the way for Saskatchewan to do the same. Actually parting ways would be exceedingly difficult under Canadian law and would leave the seceding provinces landlocked and economically adrift, while creating a situation similar to Brexit but an order of magnitude more complicated.

How would the new post-Wexit Alberta defend itself? Would it leave with a part of the Canadian military or have to raise its own? What sort of customs union would it negotiate with Canada, if it would negotiate one at all to avoid harsh WTO import/export rules? What percentage of the national debt should it pay on its way out? It could ignore that debt, but that would in effect make it default on its fiscal obligations right out of the gate, giving its bonds an instant junk rating and immediately spooking potential creditors. What currency would it use? Would it rely on Canadian embassies around the world or build its own?

The list of questions that arise from the idea of creating a new country out of a province is vast, complex, and every answer can spawn even more questions before a separation can happen. It would take at least a decade to successfully split off, along with a lengthy transitional period as all the agreed-upon points are implemented, especially because there’s no template to follow for such separations. And in the end, Alberta would have to negotiate with Canada for access to ports and rely on pipelines into America for its economy to keep functioning. Any failure to keep moving fossil fuels means a massive hit to the energy industry making up 25% of its GDP and the ancillary services its contributions support.

A new country utterly reliant on its former parent and the economic whims of a neighboring superpower which could easily change its policies about pollution and start severely cutting imports of fossil fuels in favor of green energy by the time the separation is final, with a cloud of debt and potentially low rated bonds floating over its head, is not a very attractive investment. It could face a sort of economic colonization by China, which is currently handing out predatory loans and abusive development projects in Southeast Asia and Africa, and would ultimately need to diversify its economy away from fossil fuels to survive.

Of course, diversification would be much easier for Alberta if it remains a part of Canada, and relieves the economic tension currently fueling quite a bit of support for the Wexit movement. Move away from the long tug of war about the future of oil with Ottawa, and all the separatists have left are neo-facist conspiracy theories stolen from Breitbart, recycled greatest hits of the John Birch Society’s paranoid screeds, angry Islamophobic Facebook pages, and a Canadian version of QAnon, a redux of the Satanic Panic, which in itself is a redux of the Taxil Hoax. And is that really enough to win a referendum on whether to dive into an abyss of abject uncertainty and regulatory and fiscal turmoil?

When A Region Lives On Borrowed Time

Areal view of Jasper, Alberta

Areal view of Jasper, Alberta

But all that said, it’s hard not to understand why there are movements of very angry people who think the whole world has gone mad lately. Scratch the surface of these activists’ motivations, and with the exception of Quebec, you’ll see a region living on borrowed time, failing to adapt to a world where its key industry is no longer in as much demand or seen as problematic, angry at and threatened by changes fueled by outside sources, financially and emotionally. They don’t want immigrants and foreigners around them. They don’t want to challenge their old biases. They don’t want new industries trying to move in and go through all the growing pains of rapid diversification. They just want things to stay the same.

In a way, this is the paradox of conservative ideology. It promises to keep things the same in the face of change and claims that this statism will usher in perpetual prosperity. It rejects new ideas as inherently erroneous at best and maliciously evil at worst. In the eyes of many Anglophone conservatives, those who challenge the status quo for any reason are either naive simpletons or agents of a sinister conspiracy to destroy everything Western just because they supposedly hate white men for how amazing they are. When this paranoia starts to dictate actual policies, it will backfire on both the assumed villains and proscribed good guys.

While there’s always merit in debating the pros and cons of new concepts rather than adopting them for the sake of novelty, the end result of resisting change for the sake of appeasing those to whom change of any kind is scary is dire, leading to ever more vicious conspiracy theories and economic and social decline. People who saw their fortunes sour and who feel like they aren’t being heard by the powers that be begin to rightfully wonder if they wouldn’t be better off on their own. But if they want help, they should be willing to accept it, otherwise they’re creating a vicious cycle of falling behind, asking for assistance, spitting that assistance back in the faces of those who offer it, and falling behind even more in the absence of a magical solution that turns back time itself on command.

Alberta cannot rely on a fossil fuel dominated energy sector to prop up something like a third of its economy forever, especially when more money is flowing into green projects than oil and coal. The founder of Wexit, and those they expect to vote for it, must know that and understand that the province’s economy must change with the times, and that the longer they cling to oil shale, the worse their problems will be, and any increase in the price and volume of these fossil fuels will only be temporary, governed by the boom and bust cycle of the global energy industry and the progress — or temporary lack thereof — of renewable infrastructure. Any region clinging to what made it great half a century ago is simply living on borrowed time.

But take away the concerns about the flow of oil and you’re left with a movement of bigots and racists who want to build a border around the imaginary threats that haunt their nightmares, so if anything, Downing and company need a debate about the fossil fuel economy as a proxy for the culture war they believe they must fight to prevent white Westerners from going extinct, even if that’s as likely as being brained by a meteorite when we factor in the demographic trends of first and second-generation immigrants. This is what makes Wexit more like Brexit and very different from the separatist movement in Quebec.

The Quebecois have a different language and culture than much of the country around them and many of them wanted a delineation because they were different. Pro-Wexit Albertans are upset that the country itself is changing and they found that they’re also not exempt from those changes. So, rather than change and evolve with the rest of their country, they want to freeze themselves in time, believing that if they’re on their own, they’ll be exempt from the cultural and economic forces affecting the rest of the Western world because according to their founder, all those changes are just a conspiracy to keep them down.

And the very fact that conspiracies boosted by internet trolls and social media are trying their best to weaponize nostalgia and resentment, igniting, fueling, and resurrecting separatist movements in the process is a scary reality to which we’re going to need to adapt sooner rather than later.

Global Outlook // Alberta / Canada / Wexit / World