Just back from another trip to Salt Spring Island, and therefore another opportunity to observe the insanity here at home from a distance. It’s not only the distance, of course: the island vibe is different, so that one sees the same old stuff in a new light.
In that light, might I suggest that everybody get out of here for a week.
Go someplace — anyplace — where the locals see things a little differently. Which is most places, really, other than Arizona. Spend the first 2 or 3 days paying attention to your new surroundings, drinking it all in, chatting nonchalantly with the locals, breaking your routine…and then turn around and look back at the place you came from.
And tell me that we don’t look ridiculous.
It has been a tough couple of years in Alberta. No — let me correct that. The last couple of years have been tougher than we’re used to.
Which is not to suggest for a moment that the financial and emotional pain that the jobless are feeling isn’t real. Or that those who still have jobs aren’t feeling real stress and anxiety over the uncertain economy, over how secure their own jobs are, and over the workload which they used to share with one or two colleagues in better times. And while there are bright spots and positive signs in Alberta’s economy going forward, that’s cold comfort if you’re not in one of the sectors that’s doing well or working for one of a few companies in the oil and gas sector that have recently started hiring again.
But while being scared, anxious, and depressed are totally understandable individual reactions, it’s our collective response that looks ridiculous.
Normal Albertans (and yes, I use that word intentionally and will explain why in a moment) are going about their business…head down…helmet on… not rocking the boat…trudging. (“To trudge: the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on.” — Geoff Chaucer’s character in A Knight’s Tale)
“Normal” is a loaded word these days, but I’m using it to describe the tragically silent majority of us because our silence is leaving the field wide open for a handful of people who are the farthest thing from “normal” you’ll find north of the 49th to move in and fill the vacuum.
A year and a half ago, normal Albertans acted abnormally, took a chance, raised their heads above the ramparts and voted in an NDP government. Or, more accurately, voted out a bloated, arrogant, out-of-touch and borderline incompetent PC party whose only remaining identifiable value after 44 uninterrupted years in power was the hunger to remain in power.
Why did we do that? Well, the silent majority wanted change, and in 2015 the NDP was the only reasonable choice. The Wild Rose’s social and fiscal values were simply too far right for most of us.
Now, 18 months later, most Albertans have apparently gone back to behaving “normally”, which is to say we’re getting on with our own lives, dealing with our own challenges, perhaps even including a little volunteer work and trying to make a small difference in our local neighbourhood. But we’ve disengaged politically, again.
As I said, our silence is leaving the field wide open for a small, noisy, but — I’ll give them this — dedicated group on the fringe to dominate the political discourse (there’s an ironic word to use in today’s political climate) inside Alberta and whose bleatings leak across our boundaries, making us look ridiculous to people not living here. These are the people who steadfastly refuse to admit the world has changed or to take any personal responsibility for failing to plan for the future when oil was $100 a barrel and times were good. When they’re not blaming the rest of Canada for their plight, they’re demanding the rest of Canada bail them out. And who’s to blame for the fact that the Harper Conservatives failed to get a single pipeline to tidewater built? The NDP, of course! This bunch already has a leader, even if he hasn’t yet won a party leadership campaign: Jason Kenney.
Kenney and his minions want to take over Alberta and move it hard right — at least as hard right as the Wild Rose option you rejected at the ballot box 18 months ago — and he’s counting on your disengagement in order to get away with it.
I submit that Kenney’s gang has no interest in compromise, no respect for moderates or progressives, and no intention of putting the public interest ahead of their own agenda. And they are aided and abetted in their attempt to take over not one but two political parties by a bunch of backroom boys who miss the good old days of power. Some people will swallow anything as long they can smother it with enough gravy.
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to Sandra Jansen’s floor-crossing to the NDP — which happened, as these things always seem to, while I was out of the province. (Hell, I even plotted my own defection from the Alberta Liberals while I was storm-watching in Tofino.) So I would be commenting on this rather late, were it not for the powerful member’s statement she delivered in the Legislature Tuesday in which she read out some of the misogynistic slurs to which she has been subjected just in the last week. And if you’ve been following her story even casually, you will know that the threats and abuse to which she has been subjected began long before her short-lived campaign for the PC leadership. Her crimes, as far as I can tell, are apparently (a) that she’s a woman, (b) she’s moderately socially progressive, and (c) she’s outspoken — which is apparently a crime because (a).
As is always the case when an MLA leaves the party under whose banner s/he got elected and immediately crosses to a different party, two criticisms were raised: that Jansen should have resigned and triggered a by-election in which she presumably would run as the NDP candidate; or that on leaving the PCs, she should have sat as an Independent for a suitable length of time. Option A is ridiculous. By-elections cost a lot of money and as an MLA your job is to represent all of your constituents during your time in office whether they voted for you, against you, or didn’t vote at all. That’s true whether you switch parties or not, and if your constituents don’t think you’ve represented them effectively, they get to fire you on Election Day. That’s why we have elections.
As for Option B, I sat as an Independent for a year after I left the Alberta Liberals. I loved it. It was liberating. It suited my temperament as a journalist, because, frankly, our job is to kick over rocks to see what crawls out from underneath. It means we have an annoying tendency to speak truth to power and in politics, that makes us lousy team players.
But as an Independent, you are also a solo act. Not a problem if, like me, you look like a big, bald, boisterous bouncer. And you happen to be male. Because male MLAs were not subjected to the demeaning, derogatory comments our female colleagues endured. And believe me, today it is much worse. Today, they get threats on their life. Today, Alberta Justice provided Jansen with a security detail because of those threats.
This is not just about Sandra Jansen, but it absolutely is about the kind of Alberta you want your daughters, your sons and their children to grow up in. A province that provides them not only with the opportunity to make a living, but also to have a life worth living.
I know you go about your business everyday, quietly doing your part, going to parent-teacher interviews, flooding the outdoor ice rink behind the community hall, stopping at crosswalks for pedestrians, buying a couple of extra grocery items to put in the food bank hamper every week, being a good citizen. While you do that, Jason Kenney is organizing — and pretty much everyone else who prefers not to return to the 20th century could use your help.
Now is not the time to behave normally. Now is not the time to disengage.
How many Albertans does it take to change a lightbulb? Maybe the question should be, how many lightbulbs does it take to change Alberta?
Be a lightbulb.