'Run everywhere': Fledgling Maverick Party intends to up its game after poor results

·3 min read

CALGARY — The interim leader of the fledgling Maverick Party says it will be making some key changes after a disappointing result in last month's federal election.

Formerly known as Wexit Canada, the party advocates for the independence of Western Canada or constitutional changes that would benefit the West. It ran 29 candidates in Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Manitoba.

It pulled in 1.4 per cent of the vote in Saskatchewan and 1.3 per cent in Alberta, but barely raised the needle in B.C., where it picked up 0.1 per cent.

"Things could have turned out better. I'm not going to try and BS you," said interim leader Jay Hill in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

"There were a number of factors that really produced the results that we saw, the really disappointing results. It is what it is."

Hill was elected in 1993 for the Reform Party of Canada in the Prince George—Peace River riding in British Columbia and had a long political career as Reform morphed into the Canadian Alliance and ultimately the Conservative Party of Canada. He served as government house leader under former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Hill said some of the problems the Mavericks encountered were that few people had heard of the party when the election was called, there was a surging fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and voters were concerned about vote-splitting and giving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau another mandate.

"The vast majority of Prairie westerners held their noses and voted for Erin O'Toole, even though they now know he's a Liberal in a Conservative blue suit," Hill said.

Hill acknowledged that Wexit Canada's initial focus on western separation probably hurt the Mavericks as well and, in hindsight, they should have built a new party from scratch.

"It was totally devoted to Alberta separatism, not even western separatism, but Alberta separatism and that left a certain degree of discomfort with most westerners who aren't prepared at this point to go that far."

At a news conference the day after the federal election, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who worked alongside Hill in the Harper government, pointed to the lack of support the Maverick Party received.

"I would note the de facto western separatist party, the Maverick Party, got only about one per cent of the vote in Alberta and they couldn't even field a full slate of candidates," Kenney said.

"That probably understates support for separation in this province significantly, but it is a signal. The majority of Albertans went out and voted in a federal election and ... one per cent voted for a separatist party."

Hill said lessons have been learned. He expects a new permanent party leader will be in place next year and the Mavericks will be aiming to field candidates in all western ridings when the next election is called.

"We're going to totally ignore the whole vote-splitting thing and do like Reform did: basically run everywhere we can get organized. Only unlike Reform, it will only be in the west."

Lori Williams, a political scientist at Calgary's Mount Royal University, said the results were not a huge surprise, since most people had no idea who the Maverick Party was, it had an interim leader, and it was facing a higher-profile, national campaign from the People's Party of Canada.

"Maxime Bernier was generating support from both the kinds of people who would otherwise support Maverick as well as the anti-vax crowd," Williams said.

"Canadians were more aware of (the People's party) as an alternative than other parties that are out there."

With a new leader and some national attention, the Maverick Party could generate more support next time, Williams suggested.

And that could hurt the federal Conservatives, she said.

"There are a lot of people ... for whom winning government is not as important as standing on principle and those people aren't going to stick with the Conservative party."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2021.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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