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WAGNER: Anti-Albertaism comes from Eastern anti-Americanism

In both Ontario and Quebec, the ideal of Canadian identity includes a particular negative conception of the United States.

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There is a sense in which Albertans are different from other Canadians. This has been recognized by many scholars and other commentators over the years. One of the factors that some have indicated distinguishes Albertans is a similarity to Americans that other Canadians don’t share. This factor certainly would not apply to every individual Albertan, but it has been noted in a general sense. Being like Americans is, of course, considered to be a really bad thing by many Canadians, especially those on the left.

Political scientist Richard Avramenko of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has written about the identification of Albertans with Americans and its implications. His 2013 his article, “Of Homesteaders and Orangemen: An Archeology of Western Canadian Political Identity” was published in the book, Hunting and Weaving: Empiricism and Political Philosophy. That book – edited by Thomas Heilke and John von Heyking – was produced in honour of Barry Cooper of the University of Calgary – the foremost theorist of Western Canadian identity, and an internationally-renowned political philosopher.

In his article, Avramenko analyzes the federal election campaign that ran from November 29, 2005 through to January 23, 2006. During that campaign, certain attitudes about Alberta and Albertans were on clear display from two major political parties. Both the Liberal Party and Bloc Québécois played on fears that Albertans were bad guys, just like the Americans.

For example, in the midst of the campaign, infamous abortionist Henry Morgentaler was brought out to publicly declare the Conservative Party to be a threat to abortion rights. As Avramenko explains, “The Conservative Party, of course, was led by an Albertan, Stephen Harper. Abortion was not even an issue in the election, but the meaning is clear: Not only do these Albertans dwell on a lower moral plane, they are like Americans.”

More disturbing was the rhetoric of Gilles Duceppe and his Bloc Québécois. According to Avramenko, “pointing to the West, and Alberta in particular, as the enemy is de rigueur for Quebecers.” During the 2005-2006 election campaign, the West was “symbolized in Duceppe’s ads in Quebec by a cowboy hat over the word ‘Calgary.’ Albertans, Quebecers are being told, are outsiders, and, with their interest in oil, they are decidedly Texan Americans.” 

The Liberals, of course, couldn’t resist their natural anti-Alberta posture. Avramenko writes that, “then-Prime Minister Paul Martin invoked the anti-Alberta rhetoric during the campaign, suggesting the Alberta-led Conservatives had plans to create ‘two-tier healthcare,’ which everybody knows is code for ‘American.’ Anti-Albertanism, not surprisingly, is predicated on the same identity-giving premise the Loyalists and Orangemen brought to Upper Canada: anti-Americanism. Americans, after all, are gun-toting, money-grubbing, selfish, religious nuts, are they not? Just like those Albertans.”

Avramenko points out that the identification between America and Alberta has some plausible support. It is commonly known that individual rights and personal liberty were major themes in the American War of Independence. He sees some of those same philosophical emphases in Alberta. Accordingly, after America became independent it was left with “a tradition strongly imbued with liberty associated with self-reliance, personal responsibility, and rugged individualism. In this sense, Alberta is like America. The immigrants who arrived on the prairie were the tired, the poor, the wretched, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” In fact, many early immigrants to Alberta, were in fact Americans

Avramenko concludes his article by noting that what is known as “Canadian identity” is largely based on the experiences of Central Canada, especially the narrative of the French-English conflict. As he writes, “The effort to construct a national identity based on problems descending from this conflict is inappropriate for the West. Albertans have an identity – an identity that might very well be symbolized by a cowboy hat. It is not an identity and tradition needing to be invented, nor one for which apology is needed.”

An advertisement run by the Bloc Quebecois in Le Journal De Quebec in 2006.

Avramenko is not alone in making a connection between America and Alberta. Barry Cooper (mentioned above) also refers to the phenomenon in his 2009 book, It’s the Regime, Stupid!: A Report from the Cowboy West on Why Stephen Harper Matters. In particular, Cooper critically analyses the views expressed by Doreen Barrie, who also teaches political science at the University of Calgary. Explaining Barrie’s perspective, he notes that, “As a symbol, ‘America’ and ‘Americans’ loom large in what is wrong with Alberta and especially with Calgary, ‘the most American city in Canada’s most American province.’”

Cooper provides more details of Barrie’s description of the province’s image in this way: “Compared to the ‘pan-Canadian political culture’ Alberta supplies a negative stereotype, ‘as unsophisticated cowboys, as right-wing rednecks who care little about their fellow Canadians.’ They are social conservatives, homophobic, and against both abortion and ‘gun control.’”

As Cooper explains further, Barrie believes that Albertans need to change in order to become proper Canadians. This was amply illustrated when Toronto’s Globe and Mail ran the front-page headline, “Alberta steps into the present” after the Progressive Conservatives elected Alison Redford as their leader and premier in 2011. 

Part of this change involves adopting the same attitude toward the United States as Central Canadians holds: “The ever-elusive ‘national unity’ has been subverted by the friendliness of Albertans toward the United States. The patriotic duty of Albertans is to become as anti-American as Easterners, especially Loyalist Laurentian Canadians, and to do so in the name of national unity.”

In both Ontario and Quebec, the ideal of Canadian identity includes a particular negative conception of the United States. However, the anti-Americanism such an identity requires has never held sway in Alberta, at least not to the degree that it exists in the East. On this point, then, Alberta sticks out like a sore thumb and is excluded from a particular core aspect of “Canadian identity.” Generally speaking, there is a gap between Alberta and central Canada in how they view the United States. This is another cultural feature that distinguishes Alberta from much of the rest of the country.

Michael Wagner is columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta. His books include ‘Alberta: Separatism Then and Now’ and ‘True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada.’

Michael Wagner is columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta. His books include 'Alberta: Separatism Then and Now' and 'True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada.'

Opinion

BARNES: Albertans deserve the right to make the big decisions in referenda law

Guest column from Drew Barnes says that Alberta’s referendum law should be expanded to allow votes on big constitutional issues.

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Guest opinion column from Alberta MLA Drew Barnes

“I am and I will remain a populist, because those who listen to the people are doing their job.” Matteo Salvini.

At its core the word populism is the action that government policies should be determined by the will of the people, not the will of the elite. Direct democracy is the institutional populism in action.

There is debate over whether populism should be termed as a movement or an ideology. Since the actions of populist engagement can transcend the ideological spectrum, I believe it should be viewed as a movement, that can sometimes manifest itself ideologically. As a movement, populist participation can take place on all points of the spectrum. Ultimately, that is what is wanted from a democratic society – engagement from all points of the spectrum.

Now more than ever, we need a new grassroots-populist approach to politics. Grassroots politics by its nature suggests that it is a movement that is sparked from the bottom-up. Politicians who came from grassroots movements must never forget where they came from, or lose sight of what they came to do. We need more of the bottom-up approach to politics, and make listening to the people that elected us a priority.

This is taking place in some measure here in Alberta. Political party policy processes allow for constituency associations to generate policy proposals for conventions, where they are voted on by the membership. Every party in Alberta – with the exception of the NDP – uses a ‘one member, one vote’ system.

Another grassroots/populist tool is referenda, that when used the right way are a valuable democratic tool. Referendums however, must stay true to their purpose, and the process for bringing them forward must allow for citizens to craft their own – fair – wording on a question. This is not to say that any question – however subjectively worded – that anyone wants to ask should be put to a referendum. Therefore, the rules on the use of referendums must not be overly onerous, nor overly temperate.

Switzerland is a prime example of a country that takes full advantage of referendums, including citizens’ initiative. In their democratic system, referendums can occur up to four times annually. All citizens registered to vote can cast their ballot on issues affecting decisions within both their federal government and their cantons (autonomous provinces). Before each vote, all registered voters receive a package of booklets in the mail which provide details on the coming referendums. Since these referendums began in 1848, just under half of the referendum proposals have passed. Even if they don’t always pass, the process is crucial to starting conversations and keeping citizens involved in debate. Referendums also force political parties to reach beyond partisan lines to reach consensus.

Alberta’s legislature recently passed a bill that guides referendums on non-constitutional matters. While this is a positive step forward, there are issues in this bill that need improvement. 

For example, Albertans initiating a referendum might go through the process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to have the cabinet alter the wording the question. While fair wording of the question is critical to the integrity of direct democracy, that issue is not best dealt with by politicians who may have a stake in the result. Instead, clear guidelines should be established in law on question wording, and left to non-partisan officials at Elections Alberta. 

And while the new referendum legislation is a big step forward over the status quo (that is, nothing), it deliberately bans citizens-initiated referendums on constitutional questions. This means that if Albertans wished to force a vote on adding property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that they would not be allowed. Similarly, Albertans are barred from forcing a vote on reforming the Senate, equalization, or internal free trade. Ominously, Albertans have no right to force a vote over the heads of the legislature on independence or other forms of sovereignty. 

I believe that Albertans can be trusted with the right of citizens’ initiative on all questions, both constitutional and non-constitutional. 

We trust the people to elect a government to run our systems, so why can’t we trust them to bring their own questions forward? 

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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Opinion

LETTER: Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East

A reader says that Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East.

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In this ‘Era of Wokeness” along with the ascension of Black Lives Matter into the public consciousness, I believe that it would be detrimental to the Conservative Party of Canada to have Erin O’Toole as
it’s leader.

Mr O’Toole recently refused to use the word ‘racism’ and did not answer clearly when pressed on whether he believes it even exists. Erin O’Toole will hand the Trudeau Liberals an easy victory during the next election, should he become Tory leader. Canada cannot afford another four years of Justin Trudeau. 

Like it or not, most people in Ontario and Quebec (where all federal elections are ultimately decided owing to their number of allotted seats), are very much ‘woke’ on the issue of racism, as well as
sexism, homophobia, ect. In my experience, this also includes most Conservative Party of Canada voters in Eastern Canada.

Right-wing populism and social conservatism does well in Western Canada – but centrist Red Toryism is all they are prepared to accept in most of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. CPC members in Western Canada need to keep this in mind when voting for their next leader. 

CPC members need to be sensible and realistic if they want to win the next federal election. 

Gila Kibner 
Edmonton, Alberta

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Opinion

LETTER: While Trudeau mislabels regular guns “military-style”, he is handing real assault weapons to the police

A reader says that Trudeau is militarizing the police while disarming Canadians.

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RE: Canada’s cops worried Liberal gun ban will hamper training

I enjoyed your article on the gun ban and how it will affect cops. A point of view the CBC would never share.

Perhaps another topic should be brought to the public is this: Although Justin Trudeau said there is no place for these weapons in Canada and Bill Blair said these  weapons have only one purpose – and that is for one soldier to kill another soldier – they gifted more deadly weapons to our local police forces through the Canadian Armed Forces., as was done recently in my hometown of St Thomas, Ontario.

What is the government’s agenda in giving true military assault weapons to the police and banning “military-style” (no legal definition) weapons from civilians. 

John Siberry
St. Thomas, ON

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