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'Wexit' isn't likely, so why is mainstream media pretending otherwise?

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Alberta's flag. Image: abdallahh/Flickr

"Wexit" is dangerous, but not because it's ever likely to come to pass.

The economic case for Prairie separatism is so obviously lame -- because of what's happened to the world market for fossil fuels and because people who actually live where there's tidewater aren't interested and never will be -- that such nonsense will never grow legs.

Even if that weren't so, the average age of the folks who keep showing up at Wexit rallies is so ludicrously old, as photos of Edmonton's Saturday night barroom crowd illustrate, that if the idea's not dead yet, it soon will be.

Then there's that stupid name, which should be enough to kill it on its own. Do you really want to leave your fate in the hands of the kind of clowns who would dream up something like "Wexit"? Even "Weave" would be more dignified!

As Canadian-born author, PhD political scientist and Washington Post journalist David Moscrop wryly observed at a recent convention in Edmonton, "if you want to be a separatist, that is absolutely your business. But if you call it 'Wexit,' people are going to laugh at you!"

No, the problem is that ideological extremists are inevitably attracted to utopian national projects like this one.

This is because utopian idealists with a highly ideological bent are, to be blunt, the sort of people most likely to do violence in the service of their cause.

Moreover, without unique cultural factors such as a language to protect, such causes are likely to attract no one but members of the ideological fringe they inhabit. And the less likely they are to succeed, the greater their frustration with normal democratic politics is bound to be.

This problem is made more severe by the particular variety of ideologues this fringe group has drawn to its ranks. Consider the rhetoric associated with some of Wexit's leaders and it's clear what kind of ideology they espouse.

"White replacement," hysterical red-baiting, Islamophobia, conspiratorial notions about United Nations food and relief programs, bizarre suggestions the federal government is purposely letting terrorists slip into the country and encouraging pedophilia, and incessant insistence there's a sinister plot to seize their firearms all figure prominently on the social media accounts of this group -- including those of prominent leaders.

If this doesn't indicate potential for violence, what else would?

Mainstream Conservative politicians in Alberta helped gin up this fake movement before the federal election to cynically advance their effort to wrest power from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals. They continued trying to fan the flames after the vote to vent their bitterness at the reality they'd lost a contest they'd convinced themselves they were going to win. Such political theatre is also handy to distract from the substantial and growing opposition to the vicious cuts in the UCP budget.

But politicians who adopt such risky strategies need to take care. They have a way of coming back to bite their inventors.

They should remember the fate that befell Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, after she encouraged militant Sikh separatists in Punjab for political advantage, then turned on them when she decided their activities had gone too far. One is reminded of those the tragic events when reading angry tweets from Wexit nuts bitterly calling out Premier Jason Kenney as just another Ottawa toady.

So United Conservative Party and Conservative Party of Canada activists and strategists need to dial it back if they really care about Alberta and Canada as they say they do. Honourable and patriotic Conservatives to whom Kenney might listen, and there are still many, have a moral obligation to tell him so.

For their part, mainstream media need to stop treating the leaders of this fringe movement as rock stars and credulously accepting their fibs and exaggerations about their support just because the story is easy and inexpensive to cover and plays to the current UCP narrative.

We've been treated to months of solemn bloviation on this theme by high-profile right-wing commentators like Andrew Coyne, Danielle Smith and Lorne Gunter, seen very little attention paid by reporters to the troubling histories of some Wexit leaders, and less to whomever is funding this nonsense.

How about taking a serious look at the number of supporters this "movement" actually has instead of just accepting organizers' claims. Most media reported there were 750 people at the Edmonton hootenanny bar. Photos on social media looked like there were about 300 mostly elderly Wexitopians in attendance. The bar has a legal occupancy limit of 479. Media has also credulously repeated claims the group has 32,000 Facebook followers and 260,000 supporters throughout Alberta -- both of which are presumably true only if you count Russian bots.

Since media loves polls so much, how about commissioning one that asks some of the tough what-if questions about Alberta separation? Still on board if you have to give up your Canadian passport? What if you lose the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? What if the trade deal you think will be so easy to negotiate with the United States turns out to be hard?

And what if your Canada Pension Plan is replaced by a pension run by the same clowns who pissed away the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund? You'd think that last question might ring a bell with a lot of participants in Saturday's hootenanny in Edmonton!

And when journalists manage to discover which Calgary billionaires are paying for those expensive Wexit billboards and social media campaigns, maybe they could name them and shame them.

Since we know from the histories of Canada, the United States, India and other democracies that such movements have the potential for tragic violence, one would also hope that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service are paying serious attention to these groups and the people behind them.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: abdallahh/Flickr​

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