This might sound more than a little daft considering the recent federal election results but I’ve never truly believed that Alberta was, at its very heart, such a conservative province.
Of course we’ve elected many bucketfuls of Tories during the course of the last half-century. Yet there remains a somewhat weird paradox: because despite this voting history we steadfastly remain a province of true radicals.
It’s simply that the Conservative Party usually just happened to be the closest thing that most Albertans could find to mirror their deeply held anti-establishment views.
Yet such regular ballot box support remains just the thinnest of veneers laid atop a much deeper desire to upset the Central Canadian political applecart – as then-Prime Minister Kim Campbell discovered some years ago when her federal Tories were swept aside across this entire province, courtesy of Preston Manning’s upstart Reform Party.
Because Alberta has been, from its beginning, a veritable petri dish for so many new political movements, from the United Farmers through Social Credit and on to the Reform Party. Heck, the forerunner of today’s federal NDP – the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation – held its feisty inaugural meeting at the legion hall in downtown Calgary, during those so-desperate days of the early thirties.
And along with those new movements came accompanying radical ideas, from ‘Bible Bill’ Aberhart’s so-called funny money to the more recent campaign for a Triple E Senate. Such beliefs are a long way from what most folk would logically regard as the usual political fare served up by dyed-in-the-blue-wool Conservatives.
But logic plays so little part in all of this. Which is why the current mood of our province – one in which the term Wexit is gaining favour – should not be dismissed as some form of hare-brained blathering, courtesy of those on the societal fringe. To do so would be an unconscious acknowledgement that history belongs in the dustbin. It would also be dangerously arrogant.
Of course, from any logical standpoint the idea that Alberta should become an independent country is daft. We can’t get our major resource to tidewater as it is and independence sure won’t affect geography and therefore bring us a shoreline.
And the suggestion we should or could join the United States, a country more divided than even Canada these days, falls at the very first hurdle. There is simply no way that the Democrats would allow what they’d see as a surefire future Republican state to enter the Union (Alaska and Hawaii both got the nod because that was a political leanings tie).
Yet to rely upon such fairly reasonable arguments as to why we should simply shut up and accept the status quo would be folly on behalf of the pundits and pontificators who feel secure in their cosy, pan-Canadian dreamscape.
People – especially those in this radical province – can sometimes deliberately act against their own economic best interests if they feel ignored and taken for granted.
This is not gamesmanship. Not the sort practised so exquisitely in Quebec, where the threat of separation is a tool to drag more cash and power out of the federal government.
Alberta never did it that way. It has always worn its heart on its Wild Rose sleeve.
Should it? Could it? Such questions miss the point. We are way past logic. We are into pure emotion, a desire to lash out even if we bear the brunt of the pain. These are dangerous times.
Chris Nelson is a long-time journalist. His columns on Alberta politics
run monthly in the St. Albert Gazette.