One of my Wetaskiwn neighbors, let’s call him George, may be a stereotype of the typical Albertan and this may explain why our province, our home and bastion, has such a bad reputation throughout the rest of Canada. As long as I have known George, I have found him to be a pleasant enough fellow who was always quick to offer his help and the insight he has gained through sixty-five years of life to his much younger, more sophisticated, yet far more idealistic and inexperienced neighbour. In fact, on the surface and on first exposure one would come away with a very positive opinion of George. He’s hardworking, has always tried his best to provide for his wife and family, is frugal and always is ready to offer his opinion on any matter in the news. Politically, his views are acceptable, even though they are often contrary to mine, and have led to many interesting and, at times, frustrating conversations when yours truly was unable to convince him that his views were closed-minded, lacked compassion and were even intolerant. You could even call him Conservative and like most of his ilk, he has the reputation of being opposed to change of any sort, or among the more enlightened Conservatives, willing to change only as a last resort due to pragmatic necessity. He’s especially smug following elections when his party, despite the predictions from polls and the hopes and dreams of people living in the Alberta political wilderness such as the Alberta NDP and Liberals, triumphs resoundingly again prolonging the suffering of those non-Conservative individuals in this province. He’s even been known to sing with joy, (and he’s a terrible singer) outside his neighbour’s door the morning following the latest political massacre. He gloats for days and seems to enjoy reveling in the misery of his neighbor who has suffered another heartbreaking defeat and has to accept the realization that he may not live long enough to see an end to the Conservative regime he has grown up with and finds so insufferable .
It’s almost enough to make the mild-mannered, soft-spoken non-Conservative individual engage in drinking, drug usage or other vices to mask and eliminate the mental anguish and suffering he or she is going through. George, in other words, is the type of individual who one would love to take out behind the bar and wallop the living daylight out of for his smugness and arrogance. He’s that bad.
George, in case you are trying to identify him through the description provided above, is a composite of several individuals; a stereotype if you prefer. Sorry, CW but it’s not you. Instead, George can best be described as your home province, the land we all like to assume is better off than the rest of Canada given everything we have going for us such as our beautiful, unsurpassed, awe-inspiring mountains, our natural resources and our business-like approach to life where the importance of the dollar is the bottom line. We tell ourselves these are the things which has left our province the shining beacon for the rest of Canada. However, our fondness for our province, our pride in what we have achieved in the last forty years or so of Conservative rule is wearing thin with the rest of Canada and we are seen in terms which are less than kind or complimentary. This was made painfully obvious to me following a two year sojourn in Japan when I ventured into the tiny northern Alberta community of Fox Lake and was met with curiosity and suspicion from some of the more experienced teachers, transplanted as they were from points well east of Alberta – Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Cape Breton. While friendly and welcoming, it was soon evident that the transplanted Albertans did not possess the same qualities the native Albertans on staff did. They were friendly and did not possess the smugness or arrogance the native Albertans did. The groups got along okay, being young and new to the world of teaching and relying on each other to survive in the wilderness environment we found ourselves in, but there was a barrier between the Albertans and the easterners. That experience is more than a decade old but the feeling is still there – Alberta is estranged from much of the rest of Canada and is viewed with feelings of mistrust and, even, dislike.
That dislike was fostered in large part by Alberta’s response to the remainder of Canada in the 1980’s of let them “freeze in the dark” during the National Energy Policy or by Ralph Klein’s telling the federal government, an act designed to further his popularity in Alberta, “…to keep their paws off Alberta’s resources.” The time between Klein’s comments and the present only served to reinforce Alberta’s perception in the minds of many throughout the rest of Canada.
A 2008 Harris Decima poll commissioned by the Alberta government which was released in 2009 but not publicized until recently concluded, “…that Alberta was a fairly right-wing of conservative place, and that compassion, open-mindedness and tolerance was not always it could or should be.” Further, “while Albertans were generally considered hard-working, entrepreneurial and optimistic, 40 percent of non-Albertan residents felt they did not care about the rest of the country.” Over a quarter of respondents of the poll conducted in Toronto, Vancouver and several Alberta communities, “ thought Albertans were greedy and another quarter described them as arrogant”.
Environmentally, Alberta also received a black eye as forty-two percent of the respondents disagreed with statements that Alberta, “cares about the environment and is working to ease environmental impacts.” Respondents also felt there was room for improvement when it came to Alberta’s reputation for tolerance, compassion and the environment. The poll has a 2.8 percent margin of error and was comprised of survey and focus groups. While the data in the poll is four years old, MacEwan University political scientist Chaldeans Mensah says the results still hold relevance today. “The economic divide is growing between the resource provinces and the rest of Canada” he said. “The tensions are likely to grow if we don’t stem the continuing decline in the economic fortunes of Ontario. Albertans will begin to be targeted, similar to the way it was decades ago when the situation was reversed when Albertans saw Central Canadians as a bit snobbish and uncaring about concerns out here.” A similar view is expressed by political scientist Duane Bratt of Calgary’s Mount Royal University. “Alberta’s reputation is probably worse today. The joke that used to unite Canadians was a hatred of Toronto. Why was Toronto hated? Because it was the biggest, richest, most powerful spot in Canada. Now that view is going toward Alberta.”
The view that non-Albertans hold of ‘red-neck’ Alberta was not helped in the last provincial election by comments such as the one from the pastor who wrote on his blog that gays would burn in a ‘lake of fire’ while a second Wildrose candidate said, “he had an advantage in an ethnically diverse Calgary constituency because he was white.” The reaction of the Alberta voting public to such comments was, perhaps, an indication that Albertans are beginning to shed the red-neck image non-Albertans hold. The political scientists feel that Alberta’s redneck image is undeserved but there is much work to do before the image so many hold of Alberta begins to be shed. That image is still strongly held even though it is undeserved argues Bratt. “Within every stereotype, there’s a kernel of truth,” said Bratt.
While she drew the ire of a Wetaskiwn political insider last week for her frequent trips abroad and throughout Canada, Premier Alison Redford, perhaps, has realized that she and the Alberta Conservatives have a lot of work to do as they seek to help Alberta shed it’s old image. The government has to convince not only Albertans but also people from the rest of Canada that it is addressing the environmental concerns (of the oil sands) and it is on a sustainable course. It has to be more than simply marketing. It has to be based on action. The plan to shed Alberta’s image, according to Trevor Harrison of the Winnipeg Free Press will involve Redford and the Conservatives shedding its old suspicions of Ottawa and open a new dialogue which sees Alberta taking the lead in the creation of a new ‘National Energy Policy’ which benefits Alberta but the remainder of Canada as well. “Where previous Alberta governments have exhibited a false bravado, mixed with terminal paranoia, the current government exudes a refreshing confidence in wanting to re-engage with the rest of Canada.”