Judging from the underwhelming turnout at its “S.O.S.” rally in Edmonton yesterday, Alberta’s minuscule Wexit faction might want to reconsider its demand for a separation referendum right now.
Leastways, Wexit supporters should probably rethink the idea if the “S.O.S.” was supposed to stand for “Separation, the Only Solution,” as the group led by former Mountie Peter Downing has been insisting for weeks in social media memes urging a big turnout for the event.
At its peak, about 150 souls clustered at the base of the Legislature’s stairs, which a veteran protester from the other side of the political spectrum can assure readers is the coldest spot in Alberta’s capital, winter or summer.
Well, at least there were enough folks there for Mr. Downing’s new Wexit Canada Party — which was granted eligibility on Friday to run candidates and issue tax receipts in the next federal election — to field a full slate of candidates in Alberta.
When the affair kicked off at 11 a.m., it was a brisk minus-21 Celsius in the valley of the North Saskatchewan River — although to give the Wexiters their due, most of them seemed to have their own snowmobile suits.
And if they didn’t bring a hat, they could buy a toque from a stand selling low-class merchandise — mostly hats crudely insulting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. One of the many Legislature security officers on hand for this strange celebration of Sir John A. Macdonald Day made the proprietors pack up and move along, grumbling as they went.
If this was supposed to shake the Liberal-leaning Rest of Canada to its cordovan loafers — as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney may have been hoping when he ginned up his Fair Deal Panel and other gambits to exploit a couple of dubious polls’ suggestions there’s a burgeoning separatist threat here — it was a flop.
Well, mighty oaks from little nuts may grow, but one has the feeling this angry collection of acorns isn’t about to turn into a forest any time soon. It probably doesn’t help that the small gathering’s standard response to any mention of the prime minister was a chorus of hoarse shouts of “F#&k Trudeau!”
Yesterday’s rally made a dramatic contrast with the turnout for Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg’s climate strike in Edmonton on Oct. 18 — a difference by your blogger’s estimation of about 11,850 demonstrators, and not in the Wexiters’ favour. *
Indeed, the founder of one of Alberta’s other microscopic secessionist parties made this complaint on social media, but while he might have picked a better day for the effort, I doubt he could have attracted a bigger crowd than Mr. Downing, who despite a penchant for wild conspiracy theories about the PM and the troubling circumstances of his personal separation from his ex-wife has been given an awful lot of ink by mainstream media and supposedly serious pundits these past few weeks.
Mr. Downing’s remarks yesterday included a suggestion Mr. Kenney is too close to the federal Liberals, insistence that “the West wants out,” and a promise “to build our pipeline and we’ll make Quebec pay for it.” I wonder where he got that idea?
In addition to Mr. Downing, armed forces veteran Shaun Arnsten and First Nations advocate Virginia Bruneau also briefly addressed the group.
* A note a crowd size
Estimating crowds can be difficult and is often controversial. Global News estimated the number of people at yesterday’s Wexit rally at 100. The Edmonton Journal called it a “reported crowd” of 260 — presumably having gotten the number from the organizers.
I counted 77 people when the rally began and about 150 at its peak — few enough to do a reasonably accurate count. The latter number included media of various degrees of legitimacy, a cohort of Legislature security staff, a few hardy walkers passing by, several groups of observers who did not appear to share the Wexiters’ views, and one determined counter-protester.