In 2016 I went to Calgary for a family visit. It was one of the last visits there, since I moved to the East Coast. And that time, as sensing that not that many more of these visits are ahead of me (but not knowing that as matter of fact), I gave myself permission to a lot more private, solitary time to walk through the city, in many ways city of my youth. I have lived there, in earlier times, close to 15 years. The city has changed a lot since. Not much for the better – typical spreading with mostly ugly neighborhoods that were taking over grasslands, fields on the outskirts and close by rural communities. But the Downtown was reinvented and re-invigorated nicely. I stuck mostly to the old Calgary – familiar and full of memories. Some were bad – but, as is in life – bad memories fade with time, good ones – remain.
During one of my evening walks on the southern part of Downtown (close to 4th Street SW were I had my very first apartment in Calgary) I noticed very disturbing occurrence. It was a time of some sort of election, I think provincial. As in any other community, there were election signs of candidates, parties. Right on the edge of an old, small park with Calgary’s Cenotaph was a sign of NDP party. Not the most popular in Alberta – but an established and strong political force in the city and province for as long as I remember (much stronger then Liberal Party, traditionally very disliked there). A very young, in their twenties, couple walked by. It was obvious they were not poor or from shadowy element. They were loud, happy. An evening revellers. Suddenly, they stopped, he talked something to her. She stood aside and carefully looked around, than gave him a nod and the guy just ripped the sign off, broke it into pieces and threw to the park bushes. They walked quickly off. I was a full intersection away. Should I run after him, yell? Pointless. The crime was done. Calling police was too late, as they quickly disappeared into next street. It angered me. And reminded of that nasty element of political intolerance that always existed in Alberta. The right wing feeling of entitlement. To what? I don’t know, nor understand it. But it was present there in the 80ies, when I settled there. To some point as the reaction to Pierre Trudeau’s plans for the abandoned National Energy Plan – an idea hated in the Prairies. As a side note it is worth noting that just few weeks ago, in National Election 2019, no other but the Conservatives flaunted the idea of Trans Canada Energy Corridor … . Hmmm, funny how ,principal views’ are dependent on political expediency … . What was once (still is) viewed as an assault on provincial jurisdiction, now is being proposed as wise and beneficial to all.
But back to memories of political climate in Alberta. I think it got worst after the passing of political leadership of Peter Lougheed – a staunchly protective premier of Alberta, but even more staunchly Canadian. I think he was the last premier of that province, who truly and unwaveringly believed in the supremacy of Canadian unity over any separatist sentiment of ultra-right Albertans. During our just finished National Election, that spectre of Western alienation and separatism was mentioned as a warning many times. And was stressed that the Liberal government of Pierre’s son, Justin Trudeau resurrected that feeling in the Prairies. That is a blatant lie. A lie repeated every time there is a Liberal government in Canada. That feeling always existed there and was always used to blackmail Ottawa. I remember very well times, when Alberta’s conservative governments did not shy to form close ties with Quebec separatist governments of non-other than staunchly separatist’s Quebec premier Levesque to plot against Ottawa. When it was convenient to force their hand against Ottawa. All of it came back to me as I listened to stories from this election of Albertans, who were afraid to post any sign on their property for either NDP or Liberal parties. They were actually afraid. Physically and psychologically. And it is disgusting. It never went that far in my memory. It would be probably a challenge to find a time, when both Alberta and Saskatchewan did not elect a single MP not from conservative party. It all changed after forming of Reform Party and destroying the old Progressive Conservative Party of MacDonald. The new conservative party, formed by Stephen Harper, failed to see beyond the borders of the West, failed to notice ever more urban citizens of this country. But demand respect and special status instead. It’s fine that their base is in the West, especially in the oil-rich West. But Canada neither starts nor stops in Regina and Edmonton. Their inability to get above 32-35% popular vote speaks volume to the problem. And one more think – when I settled there it was the beginning of the 80ties in the XX century. The end phase of many oil booms that the province had. There was plenty of money still around. Establishment (smart) of Heritage Fund in Edmonton from proceeds of that boom. After that were years of drier income and another booms. That’s forty years of history. What happened to diversification, to support and building of new industries, new sources of wealth? Every time there was a bust – there were promises that Alberta would diversify, would invest in more resilient future. And what? The same questions remain today. Saskatchewan was doing OK with rich farmlands and world leadership in production of potash. But the market for potash collapsed years ago, food markets are strong but increasingly competitive – where is the planning, the modernization of economic base? Is it all Ottawa’s fault, the Trudeaus and Chretiens, the Turners and Martins? Is it always perennial ‘them’, never ‘us’ philosophy?
Now the popular cry and question is being thrown: since Liberals (or NDP or Greens for that matter) don’t have a seat in Alberta and Saskatchewan, who will represent the two western provinces in Ottawa? Perhaps a question that should have been asked by Albertans few weeks ago, before the Election stations were closed, may I ask?
Of course, my impatience with certain element of Western perennial dissatisfaction with Central Canada does not solve the true problem of new Liberal Government with that obvious dilemma. Although there is nothing in our Constitution or law that requires a Cabinet representation of all provinces or regions – a practical and political expediency does suggest that. And a long tradition. Trudeau already stated such desire himself. How he will accomplish it will be not an easy task and some political showmanship will be needed. I have no doubt he will master such. He (Trudeau) has proved to us that he is not just an idealist living in a dreamland, ha ha ha. To the contrary at times – he could be rather cold and unforgiving politician. I just hope that he will not reward Mr. Sheer and Mr. Kenny with conservative appointment as an advisor to the Cabinet, or – that would be a capitulation and very wrong – as a member of the Cabinet. There’s many Westerners, who are not staunchly right wing, who can fulfill that role. To the benefit of Canada and the two beautiful Provinces. And not former infamous premier of Alberta, Ms. Allison Redford, who just the other day offered her services in such a role. Last time she served Alberta, didn’t end very well for Albertans. Who knows – maybe a former member of former Progressive Conservative Party, who didn’t join the Harper’s new Conservative Party of Canada? I’m sure there is still quite a few of them around.
There will be a pipeline to BC, I am certain of it. There won’t be one going the Quebec, I am sure of it, too. The first one is needed politically and economically. The oil in Alberta will not stop being produced anytime soon – although I do hope for the sake of us and the sake of Albertans that it will be phase out as soon as it is economically possibly and not a day later. But we cannot continue being just a country of natural resources – specially raw and mined resources. That time is gone. It was gone with the end of XX century. We can’t just rape our own land and pretend that it is OK. It’s not. There was a time and an epoch when it was necessary evil, maybe – to a point – even a blessing. But now it is a curse. More and more expensive to maintain. And I am not touching the ethical side of it. Just economy. The harm it produces alongside the economic benefits becomes more and more visible every passing year. The harm not only to the climate of the country and entire planet – but to Canadian nature, to our environment, where we live. The poisonous by-product of mining, destroyed landscapes, forests, rivers, lakes, underground water – the list just go on and on. At the very end of each of its cycles, the private companies that produce it – pack their belongings and disappear into thin air and we, the taxpayer, are stuck with millions of millions of dollars to clean it up.
Our vast size, non-ending coastlines, huge rivers, still existing huge forests, sparsely populated territory (apart from the narrow strip along our southern border) in XXI century technology should not be a challenge but an opportunity to invest and build new industries, ecologically friendly and in high demand for our and international economies. What we need is a vision equal to that of XIX century of uniting the vast Canadian land from coast to coast. Base on modern scientific and eco-friendly knowledge. That requires courage and leadership – followed by smart and big investment. Not by cheap knock-offs. And modern forms of energy production should be almost unlimited in our country. Be it coastal/tidal waters, rivers, wind, solar – you name it and we have it. Give Canadians the chance to work in smart way instead of cheap way. Well paid with educated workers.
There was a time, when green, un-ending grasslands of the prairies, it’s hills and long river valleys were roamed by thousands strong wild herds of buffalos. They were wiped out never to come back in its old glory. That was sad. But one way or another (probably not in such brutal and stupid way as it happened) it was inevitable given the migration of people. And that migration would have happened even without French or English colonialism. People do spread all over the globe all the time from time immemorial. The buffalos are gone, replaced by smaller but still important herds of domesticated cows and cattle. Now it is time to start saying goodbye to the oil pumps and the mammoth machinery of oil sands. Times have changed again. As they always do in the history of Earth and humankind. Get on it, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Let the dinosaurs stay in Drumheller and the Badlands.