The Maverick Party sees an opportunity as Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole suffers from low popularity in Alberta — and the party's interim leader is sticking around to see that momentum through the next election.
The western separatist party is looking for ways to expand its presence in the province in the wake of a difficult few months for the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC).
The CPC is still dominant in Alberta, but a recent poll commissioned by CBC News and conducted by Janet Brown Opinion Research found people in the province aren't keen on its leader.
Only 11 per cent of respondents said they were highly impressed with O'Toole, compared to 16 per cent for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and 17 per cent for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Support for the party in Alberta is down as well, though not as dramatically. Asked how they would vote if an election were held immediately, 53 per cent of decided voters said they'd pick the Conservatives. That's down from the 69 per cent of the Alberta vote the party received in the last federal election.
Maverick interim leader Jay Hill sees those numbers as an opportunity. The party is discussing whether to expand its presence in more ridings than the 49 originally targetted.
"[O'Toole has] betrayed the people of Western Canada, the conservatives that supported him. And so people are saying to me, 'Why wouldn't you run against a Conservative in every riding in Western Canada where you can possibly get organized,'" the former federal MP told CBC News.
He was referring to O'Toole's climate plan, which included a consumer price on carbon.
Hill wouldn't put out a firm number but said it would likely mirror the Reform Party's 1998 showing of 72 candidates in the 88 Western ridings at the time.
"Would a Conservative government be better than the government of Prime Minister Trudeau? Absolutely. But that does not mean that is going to get us any further down the road to the fairness, the equality, the autonomy that Western Canadians are seeking," Hill said.
The Conservative Party rejected that notion.
"There is only one party that can defeat Justin Trudeau and help the West feel secure and more welcome in confederation, and that's Canada's Conservatives led by Erin O'Toole," a CPC statement reads.
Election could reveal next leader for Mavericks
Hill is planning to stay on as interim leader if the next federal election is held in the "near future," but he said he hopes the campaign will reveal the next leader of the party.
While the Mavericks may not pick up any seats in the next federal election, one expert cautions that the sentiment driving its support shouldn't be underestimated.
"I don't think that there's going to be a mass exodus to the Maverick Party, but they certainly could make it uncomfortable," said Doreen Barrie, an adjunct assistant professor of political science at the University of Calgary.
"The Conservative Party is a product of an arranged marriage and the cracks are beginning to show."
Barrie added that some of O'Toole's choices, especially his climate plan, will present challenges.
"If you want to focus entirely on the Western base, their interests and concerns are very different from people in Central Canada. And when the party begins to woo the Central Canadian voters, these people feel betrayed. So it's a no-win situation."
The Wexit Canada party rebranded under the Maverick title in September. It's working to expand its electoral district associations. Hill says 27 are up and running so far, and there are candidates in seven ridings, most in Alberta.
Hill didn't share the party's fundraising totals or membership numbers but said things have picked up in 2021. Those figures are not required to be public at this point, so CBC has no way to verify them.