Hello from Salt Spring Island. It’s another beautiful day here.
One of the things I love about living here is, inherent in the culture, the understanding that having more than one way of viewing the world is normal, natural, and healthy.
This understanding leads to another: that it’s perfectly acceptable for your neighbour to vote a different way than you do.
I don’t believe that capacity for understanding exists among the people who formed the United Conservative Party last month in Alberta. I see no evidence that either the would-be leadership of the party or the UCP’s supporters comprehend or accept that the people of Alberta have the right to disagree with the UCP’s narrow world view.
I thought Alberta had moved beyond this. I think Albertans have moved beyond this. Well beyond.
That’s clearly my experience.
I managed to get myself elected to the Alberta Legislature…as a Liberal…twice…in Calgary-Currie, a constituency that had never before elected anything but Conservatives. That was in 2004 and again in 2008. In the near decade that has passed since then, Alberta has only become more culturally, socially, economically, and — dare I say it — politically diverse.
The UCP wants to put a stop to that.
The Alberta I know is a resilient province full of resilient people. People who come together to deal with crisis, take advantage of opportunity, and solve their common problems. Young people with a future ahead of them and a sincere desire to do their part to help shape it. New arrivals willing to take a leap into the unknown, with all the sacrifices that can entail, in order to give their children a better life. Old-timers and long-timers who’ve made Alberta a better place than when they found it. Dreamers. And builders.
The only thing Jason Kenney, Brian Jean, and the far-right Frankenparty they’ve assembled from parts of the Wild Rose, Alberta PC, and federal Conservative parties dream of is getting back into power, which they see, somehow, as their birthright.
The only thing they want to build is a big ol’ time machine set to return to some mythical “good old days” that have never existed anywhere but in the hallucinations of people who imagine their birthright to be under attack.
We’ve all seen this movie, or various remakes of it, before. Margaret Thatcher. Ronald Reagan. Ralph Klein. Mike Harris in Ontario. Stephen Harper. Rob Ford in Toronto. Trump/Pence. Some versions are more odious than others. But the very first time you saw this movie was in school. It was called — with apologies to Barbara Coloroso, who wrote a very good book on the subject by the same title in 2002 — The Bullied, The Bully, and The Bystander.
Coloroso has written and spoken extensively on the subject of bullying. In 2011 she wrote:
There are not just two, but three characters in this tragedy: the bully, the bullied and the bystander. There can be no bullying without bullies. But they cannot pull off their cruel deeds without the complicity of bystanders. These not-so-innocent bystanders are the supporting cast who aid and abet the bully through acts of omission and commission. They might stand idly by or look away. They might actively encourage the bully or join in and become one of a bunch of bullies. They might also be afraid to step in for fear of making things worse for the target—or of being the next target themselves.
Right-wing political parties in Canada have a problem: their core supporters are highly committed, donate generously and work tirelessly to Advance the Cause….and the majority of voters think those parties and their core supporters are too extreme. So the parties face a challenge — winning over the moderate majority who are not committed to the Cause and generally distrust those who are.
Parties on the Right frequently respond to the challenge by adopting “What’s wrong with you?” as their communications strategy.
Ralph Klein and his minions excelled at it. In Ralph’s world, people who agreed with Klein were portrayed as “Martha and Henry.” Salt-of-the-earth. Old Stock. Pure laine. The kind of good, honest people who were the very backbone of this province. Severely normal Albertans — a term Klein often used. Anyone who disagreed with Klein, then, was an outsider of some sort. A minority of one. Maybe an Eastern bum or creep. Lazy. Looking for a free ride. Or worse, someone whose judgement, loyalty, and even sanity was suspect. The message was devastatingly effective — go along to get along. Or else.
Or else — what? Well, that doesn’t really matter, does it? The object of the game is power. If a bully can’t co-opt or coerce a bystander into becoming an ally, it’s enough to intimidate the bystander into standing idly by. Either way, the bully wins. The bully only loses when the bystander says, “Stop.”
You are a bystander. What are you going to do?
Bullying takes place because some people feel a sense of entitlement, a liberty to exclude and intolerance for differences.
You are a bystander, and I’m guessing it feels as if it takes all your energy these days not to get steamrolled by events beyond your control. I know times have been tough and, even though all the economic indicators clearly show the recession in Alberta is over, it doesn’t feel over yet.
I get how utterly satisfying it can feel to find someone or something to blame for one’s misfortune: the carbon tax. Rachel Notley. Justin Trudeau, or his dead father. Or British Columbia. Or GSAs. Although none of those potential scapegoats stands up to scrutiny and I notice the UCP isn’t saying squat about the only one that might — the Saudis, who flooded the world with oil in a bid to protect their own market share by driving North American producers out of business and you out of a job.
You are a bystander, and it doesn’t matter to me whether you support the NDP, the Alberta Party, or anybody else who may come along, as long as it’s a party that stands for something positive, a party that seeks to dream and build, to tolerate and include.
But if you cast your lot with the UCP, you’re enabling the bullies and the victim of this piece will be Alberta.