TORONTO -- The group behind the political movement “Wexit” applied to become a registered party Monday, its leader said.

Peter Downing told CTV’s Your Morning that Wexit Alberta had taken the first steps to becoming a federal party and filed paperwork with Elections Canada.

“We’re sending in over 500 signatures, over double the required 250 signatures,” said the founder. “We’re going to do for Western Canada what the Bloc Quebecois does for Quebec.”

Wexit, a portmanteau of “western and exit,” is a western separatist movement that has appeared to be gaining momentum since Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won the 43rd federal election. About 700 people reportedly attended a rally in Edmonton over the weekend where Downing and others were seen wearing blue “Make Alberta Great Again” hats, a nod to U.S. President Donald Trump’s successful 2016 campaign slogan. A Facebook page for the group created in June has more than 30,700 likes.

Downing penned an open letter to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney asking for a referendum on separation, which Kenney has said he does not support.

“He’s got the opportunity to be the first Prime Minister of Alberta, absolutely. Be a hero. Lead us to the door to our economic liberty, our social stability and our self-determination,” said Downing. “The door is locked from the inside and he has the opportunity to open it for us.”

Downing said Wexit Alberta has three key aims: the unification of western Canadian provinces, elect members of parliament to legislate issues the directly impact the west, and to “bring Western Canadian nations to national forefront.”

Actually succeeding in a move to separate is a “complicated and time consuming” task, said University of Saskatchewan Political Science Professor Joseph Garcea.

“I’m not sure that this is a serious effort to move in that direction,” he said of the Wexit Alberta movement. “I think that this is more about partisan politics and posturing than it is about separation.”

Some criticism of the group has pointed to the Bloc Quebecois’ calls for sovereignty, which have never resulted in a successful bid to separate from the country. Downing countered that that party has been successful in other ways, including what some in the Wexit Alberta group deem to be unfair equalization payments. Quebec was the highest beneficiary of the equalization payment in 2019-20 at $13.1 billion in funds.

“A lot of that comes from Alberta. From our perspective it’s a very unfair equalization program. We went through a horrible downturn and are still going through that right now,” said Downing. “For a number of reasons right now western Canadians, and Alberta in particular, are looking into the situation and we really do think that we are going to be better off separate from the ruling authorities in Ottawa.”