Wexit and the Alternative Right

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By Andrew Jones

“What is Wexit?”: this is the question that many Canadians were asking in the immediate aftermath of the 2019 federal election.

Justin Trudeau had just won a minority government, while the Conservative party had won a larger share of the popular vote, leading some in Alberta to question their place within Canada.

While the significance of Wexit has yet to manifest itself in support from Members of Parliament, it cannot be easily dismissed. The five years since the last Canadian election have been dominated by the political influence of the Alternative Right across the anglosphere. Both Brexit and Donald Trump’s electoral success demonstrate the power of feelings of alienation towards the liberal multicultural politics that Justin Trudeau’s government seems to embody, at least outside of Canada.

Is Wexit indicative of the Alt-Right’s presence in Canada or is it anchored in another ideology?

Western alienation is nothing new. The Wexit movement originates out of the sense of western alienation that has simmered in the hearts and minds of many Canadians from Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.Building on concerns with Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Policy in the 1970s, the most dramatic manifestation of this sentiment was found within the Reform party of the 1990s. After the Reform party merged with the Progressive Conservative party in the early 2000s, those feelings of western alienation declined as the Conservative federal government seemed to support the political and economic interests of Western Canada. By 2019, animosity towards the Liberal federal government’s apparent lack of support for the fossil fuel industry manifested itself in the party’s poor electoral performance in western Canada outside of Vancouver and Winnipeg.

To see if Wexit can meaningfully be understood as Alt-Right, we must first define what we mean by that term. The Alternative Right is not a monolithic institution but rather a collection of reactionary groups and individuals with a shared political commitment. Some of its most famous ideologues include the White Nationalist Richard Spencer and Donald Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon. [1]

On an ideological level, the Alt-Right can be understood as a form of right-wing politics that is defined by the primacy of cultural metapolitics, the right to difference and a combination of hierarchical social structure and individualism.[2]

Effectively, for Wexit to be Alt-Right it should fit these criteria:

  1. Does Wexit focus on culture as the primary mode of understanding political conflict, rather than, say, economic material interests?
  2. Does Wexit focus on segregationist politics against immigration and multiculturalism in favour of a distinct majority culture’s values which verge upon ethnonationalism?
  3. Does Wexit argue that society is fundamentally hierarchical with a strong preference for whiteness or “western civilization,” patriarchy and libertarian inspired rugged individualism?

While the economic libertarianism of Wexit appears to trounce the primacy of cultural metapolitics for Wexit, they still maintain many Alt-Right-aligned values.

As this is Canada, the focus on cultural metapolitics targets different enemies than the traditional Alternative Right base in the United States. Contemporary Canadian political culture prevents direct attacks on minority groups through explicit white nationalism. While some elements of white supremacy run through Canadian politics, this is mostly taboo; instead the explicit focus of Canadian Alternative Right figures has been on censorship, i.e. anti-Trans politics and an emphasis on perceived hate speech on college campuses.[3] The Wexit platform also heavily focuses on men’s rights advocacy (closely associated with precursor movements to the Alt-Right), focusing on family law reform to favour men and preventing on-line censorship of hate speech.

Furthermore, for Wexit, cultural projects are designed and promoted to protect the status quo of a patriarchal white Christian Albertan society, coded as it is through an emphasis on “Western civilization [as] the bedrock of society.” They plan on doing this through anti-LGBTQ friendly sexual education, the promotion of religious values, and – in proposing to outlaw groups whose primary objective is racial agitation – targeting groups like Black Lives Matter or #IdleNoMore.[4] These platform positions mean that Wexit will be supported by, and no doubt include, these groups, even if the movement itself claims to be allergic to white nationalist associations.

Despite this signalling to more racist ideologies in the Alt-Right, it is incorrect to call Wexit an ethno-nationalist movement. The Wexit movement focuses more on the mandates of the grey tribe (an online-based community that defines itself in opposition/apathy to Liberal/social conservative politics) and the libertarian project, rather than the white nationalist project.

As a point of comparison, while French Alt-Right figures may fight for the preservation of so-called traditional French culture against the perceived threat of non-white immigrants,[5] and we see similar trends with Brexit and in the United States, it is absurd to suggest that Alberta or even Western Canada has a culture that is significantly distinct from the rest of Anglophone Canada, and that must be preserved. Yes, there is alignment with some of these values, but they are not the central focus of the movement.

Western separatism, which lays at the heart of Wexit, is less a claim that Alberta, or any other Western Province, is a separate nation with a distinct culture, but rather a region that wishes for more autonomy to continue its political project of limited government and natural resource extraction. The right to difference that dominates other independence movements, or at least anti-globalization projects, is not found in Wexit. These Canadians wish to double down on Alberta’s oil export economy and draw themselves closer to the United States and its capital.[6] The only real tie to the right to difference is Wexit’s focus on limiting immigration, which it does through coded references rather than open refusal.

The constitution for the Wexit movement is defined by economic liberty. Despite some alignment, Wexit should not be understood as a cultural movement like the Alt-Right, but rather as a libertarian one that – though closely associated with some factions within the Alt-Right movement – remains in line with low tax economic strategy and broader liberal-right wing politics. The platform stresses, for example, a nationalist, chauvinistic welfare state model, in effect trying to get the best of both worlds: low taxes and maintenance of the social order.[7] The focus on social stability as a platform reflects a nationalistic ethos that one finds more often in conservative and right-wing traditionalist projects.

The most significant differences between Wexit and Alt-Right Groups, both in Europe and in the United States, are the absence in the Wexit platform of explicit statements emphasizing the supremacy of white men and a certain degree of concern for the environment.[8]

The lack of an environmentalist approach is most apparent. Where white nationalists, like Richard Spencer, argue for an expansion of national parks and call for stewardship of nature, Wexit is a tax and regulation rebellion for the fossil fuel industry. Its proponents believe Alberta’s economy is reliant on the continuation of oil production, and therefore any form of environmental regulation or CO2 regulation will be met with protest and consternation.

The central point here is that there is no real desire, or need, in Wexit to further white nationalist sentiments publicly for this campaign to be successful. Limiting immigration and other coded Western Civilizational dog whistles, implicitly signals a sense of welcome to those dedicated to Alt-Right politics, while not alienating the economic liberals and libertarians.

Although significantly more right wing than the Reform Party, the Wexit movement appears to be fueled by a libertarian politics that echoes their work during the 1990s. It loudly proclaims the economic libertarian desires of the movement, while it quietly states the social conservative politics of the Alt-Right.

On the surface, in focusing on economy over culture, the Wexit movement has some distance from the Alt-Right’s ideological pull. To fully understand the overlap, though, we would need to examine the membership between these two movements. Further, if the movement grows in support during 2020, these assertions will need to be revisited, particularly if it shifts its focus towards cultural, rather than economics-based, politics.

Andrew Jones is a postdoctoral fellow in the Political Science department at York University.

[1] Devin Burghart, “Who Is Richard Spencer?,” Insitute for Research and Education on Human Rights, 2019, https://www.irehr.org/2014/06/27/who-is-richard-spencer/; Sarah Posner, “How Donald Trump’s New Campaign Chief Created an Online Haven for White Nationalists,” Mother Jones, August 2016.

[2] Matthew N. Lyons, Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire, Kindle (Oakland: PM Press, 2018); Tamir Bar-on, Rethinking the French New Right (New York: Routledge, 2013).

[3] Wexit Alberta, “Wexit Alberta Webpage,” 2019, https://wexitalberta.com/.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Thomas Chatteron Williams, “The French Origins of ‘You Will Not Replace Us,’” The New Yorker (New York, November 27, 2017).

[6] Wexit Alberta, “Wexit Alberta Webpage.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Richard Spencer, “What It Means to Be Alt-Right,” Altright.com, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/08/11/what-it-means-to-be-alt-right/.

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