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Howard Anglin: A tale of two provinces

Commentary

The political trajectories of Jason Kenney and Doug Ford offer a contrast, but it isn’t the one most people think it is. Their fortunes say more about two provinces than they do about two premiers. Doing my part for national unity, I’d like to elaborate with a passel of lazy stereotypes and recklessly sweeping generalizations. Be warned: what follows is tongue-in-cheek honesty; truth with a wink. If you’re offended, please direct your ire to my Twitter feed, which I never read.

Ford’s campaign team deserves a lot of credit for their somnolent re-election strategy that smartly avoided anything that might smack of inspiration. When you are facing opponents who think and talk in shades of beige, an upbeat campaign that promises with vacuous vehemence to “say yes” and “get it done” is just good politics. So well done to them, really. That the campaign was suicidally depressing for anyone who cares about policy or vision is beside the point, because “anyone” apparently doesn’t include Ontarians who vote. 

The most common question for anyone watching the election from outside Ontario was, “What the heck is the 413, and why do people care so much about it?” The idea of an Alberta election turning on the future of the Calgary ring road, for instance, is beyond funny—it’s unthinkable. But the listless campaign seemed right for a province that has lost its mojo. The sort of place where the government can fence off cherry blossom trees during Covid and the people don’t just laugh and tear them down. A place where the pedal pubs aren’t allowed to serve beer,Want to actually drink on a pedal pub? That may prove surprisingly tricky https://www.tvo.org/article/want-to-actually-drink-on-a-pedal-pub-that-may-prove-surprisingly-tricky which may or may not be related to the fact that there is still a Prohibition-era outfit called “The Beer Store.” 

Ontario used to bill itself as “a place to stand, a place to grow,” but it feels like it’s been all downhill since the province’s last burst of creative energy in 1976, when it built a really tall tower. Today the province appears to think of growth in terms of ever-expanding sprawl across farmland to keep a mortgage-based economy afloat. It’s certainly no place to grow a family, not in a million-dollar tear-down in the outer suburbs with a 60-minute commute to a grey forest of steel and glass office towers. Viewed from the West, it is not surprising that almost half of the people who left Canada in the first quarter of the year left Ontario.Canadians Permanently Leaving Was Unusually High For The First Quarter https://betterdwelling.com/canadians-permanently-leaving-was-unusually-high-for-the-first-quarter/

Alberta could not be more different. It is Canada’s youngest province, demographically speaking, and its best-educated—and its politics reflect that. The electorate bristles with the uncompromising vigour of youth and the entrepreneurial impatience of the newcomers who are drawn to it. That is a good thing, mostly. Albertans have little patience for provincial leaders who don’t meet their high, sometimes unreasonably high, expectations. It’s not just Kenney—six of the last seven premiers left office before completing a full four-year term. The fractiousness of Alberta’s politics is part of the province’s dynamism. 

As Schumpeter might have predicted, there is also economic creation to go with the political destruction. A lot of it. Alberta isn’t just younger than Ontario, it feels newer and fresher. It feels, dare I say, hopeful. I’ve never understood the science behind the wide prairie sky—surely the sky is the same size everywhere—but d*mn it if the sky doesn’t look bigger when you step off the plane in Calgary or Edmonton. There is also sun and space. The most sun in CanadaThe Sunniest Cities In Canada https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-sunniest-cities-in-canada.html and space as far as you can see around every city. And where there is space, there is room to imagine, room to dream big and demand more. Room, pace Ontario, to grow. The economy is also booming, thanks to global commodity prices but also thanks to the economic policies Kenney introduced before Covid. And it is, once again, the most attractive province for other Canadians, who are voting with their feet.Canadians Fleeing Ontario Is Accelerating, Alberta Becomes Top Destination https://betterdwelling.com/canadians-fleeing-ontario-is-accelerating-alberta-becomes-top-destination/

Alberta overspills with confidence, which is often misinterpreted by self-deprecating (read: self-doubting) central Canadians as arrogance or entitlement. On a recent podcast (it was one of these, I don’t recall which), journalist Matt Gurney suggested that Alberta’s identity is “anti-Laurentian.” This is funny, because Gurney lives in Toronto, a city that has no identity. Toronto prides itself on being a cultural mosaic, you see, which is a worthy ideal—except the point of a mosaic is that when you step back all the individual tesserae meld into a harmonious picture. It has been so long since anyone thought about a united and unifying culture in Ontario that when you step back and look at the bigger picture, the impression is of slapdash patchwork. Sorry, a world-class slapdash patchwork. 

Alberta, by contrast, is a place where newcomers are greeted by an impromptu junior rodeo. Refugees and immigrants are met by Stampede Royalty, a man in a goofy horse costume, and a white-hatting ceremony. Go ahead and snigger at these cheesy faux-Western pretensions in suburban Calgary, but I defy you to watch this and not be charmed. And I’ll bet anything those families feel a little bit more a part of their new province than they did the day before. It is an effective way of showing new Albertans that they are part of something bigger, something fun, something exciting, something unique. A confident identity. 

As for the anti-Laurentian sentiment, what central Canadians don’t seem to get is that the West (by which I mean the prairie provinces—British Columbians never even think about central Canada) doesn’t dislike them. It just doesn’t have time for them. Living in Alberta and looking east feels like being stuck on an escalator behind someone who won’t walk or get out of the way, a slow-poke who thinks he is the only person on the escalator. Albertans chafe at an earnestly plodding national politics that constrains their vaulting ambition.

Albertans’ resentment over equalization, for example, isn’t selfish. For decades, Albertans have shared their wealth with the rest of the country—more than $600 billion since 1967. It comes from a genuine bafflement that other provinces don’t seem to share their ambition. Albertans don’t begrudge helping smaller provinces, they just don’t understand why large provinces who choose not to develop their abundant resources should share in Alberta’s development of its own. Equalization is especially hard to take when the reaction to the annual handout is a lecture on the source of the charity. Note, this is not just about Quebec—an annual recipient of $13 billion in equalization; Ontario was a have-not recipient of Alberta’s largesse for a decade before 2019.

This brings us back to provincial politics. Where there is energy in a province, there is interest in its politics. Compared to Ontario, Alberta’s politics look like fireworks on acid. On the Left, the Alberta NDP under Rachel Notley is the most radical mainstream party in the country—far more so than the BC NDP under John Horgan or a traditional prairie NDP party. On the other side, the UCP has aggressively pursued conservative policies. It has expanded education options in the only province that already has real school choice, cut corporate taxes and red tape, pushed private health care innovation, and switched its drug addiction policy from addiction maintenance and a culture of death to funding recovery options and a culture of dignity and hope. 

Unlike the catatonic complacency of the Ontario election, the next Alberta election will be a high-stakes political showdown. The Alberta NDP and the UCP offer voters a clear choice between parties with starkly different visions for the province’s future. It won’t be nice, it won’t be quiet, but it definitely won’t be boring. And that is a good thing. Because life, and a province, should be about more than empty slogans and a regional freeway. 

J.D.M. Stewart: The history of the future on Canada Day

Commentary

It is useful for a country to look to its past for both wisdom and inspiration. Canada, to its good fortune, has had a number of leaders who have helped to shape the country and lay down the values for which this great Dominion has become the envy of the world. 

One such person was Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Prime minister from 1896 to 1911 and the first francophone to hold the position, he left an imprint with his words. “Laurier reveled in language as an artist might revel in paint,” wrote the late journalist and historian Bruce Hutchison in 1964.  

“I am a Canadian,” Laurier declared in 1911. “Canada has been the inspiration of my life. I have had before me as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day a policy of true Canadianism, of moderation, of conciliation.”

These values outlined by Sir Wilfrid in 1911 are clearly relevant today. You don’t have to be a linguist to see the connection between “conciliation” and “reconciliation”, a theme that rightly remains at the heart of the Canadian project today. A June report from the Environics Institute titled “Confederation of Tomorrow” noted that 67 percent of Canadians feel they have a role to play in advancing reconciliation, including half who say they feel strongly about this. This is good news.Relations with Indigenous Peoples https://www.environicsinstitute.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/cot-report-5_indigenous-relations_june-13.pdf?sfvrsn=dda9b6c6_0

And while headlines were made with the report’s findings that 60 percent of Canadians were familiar with residential school history, the category most familiar with it was young people aged 18-24. Students are learning this in schools. Close followers of Canadians’ knowledge of the past might note that a number such as this 60 percent is actually quite impressive. For example, during the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 2017, only 49 percent of Canadians could correctly identify it as one of the country’s most significant battles of the First World War.Ipsos – Vimy Ridge https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/publication/2014-04/6466-tb2.pdf History has not been our strong suit but many toil to change this. Indigenous history is top of mind in many classrooms from coast to coast to coast. 

While reconciliation necessarily continues, Laurier also reminds us that this country is about what lies ahead, too. “We cannot unmake the history of the past,” he wisely noted in 1902. “As to the history of the future, I hope it will continue to be what it is today, that is prosperity, cordiality, good fellowship, and goodwill amongst those whose privilege it is to be inhabitants of this good land of Canada.”

Sir Wilfrid’s optimism and attention to positive elements of our nature seem discordant during a period in this country when politicians appear to seek to divide us rather than unite us. When this is our starting point, when we think only about our own experiences and see the world as black or white, when we stop listening and cease to find solutions, we have lost the plot on what it means to be Canadian. 

Yet, each year on July 1 we get the opportunity to reflect and renew our commitment to Canada. There is much that holds this country together after 155 years besides “good fellowship and goodwill” (though we could certainly use more of both, along with a strong dose of “cordiality”). 

This year marked the 40th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the “Confederation of Tomorrow” report noted the importance of a document that close to 90 percent of Canadians agree is beneficial.Results from the Confederation of Tomorrow Survey of Canadians https://www.environicsinstitute.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/cot2022-constitution_apr-13.pdf?sfvrsn=f7be6631_0)

“The overwhelming majority of people in Canada—young and old, men and women, rich and poor, Indigenous and non-Indigenous—say the Charter has been a good thing for the country,” wrote Andrew Parkin, executive director of Environics in The Globe and Mail in April.  

“This may be the only survey question that elicits the same strong, positive response from supporters of Québec solidaire and of Alberta’s United Conservative Party. If anything in this country unites us, it is support for the Charter.”Are Canadians finally at peace with their Constitution? https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-are-canadians-finally-at-peace-with-their-constitution/

We are also held together by our continuing commitment to fighting injustice abroad as the Canadian government, and perhaps more importantly, individual citizens, have rallied to support Ukraine against the Russian invasion. The grassroots benefit concerts, bake sales, and refugee support exemplify Canada at its best. 

There is no doubt that it has been a difficult year for Canada. Inflation has many families worried. More unmarked graves were found near residential schools. There were the protests in Ottawa this winter that at the very least revealed stark differences of opinion and an egregious lack of civility. But it also showed a growing chasm between the government and the governed. Not surprisingly, Monsieur Laurier had something to say about all of this in what is a fitting message for all Canadians as we celebrate the nation formed in 1867.  

“Be adamant against the haughty; be gentle and kind to the weak. Let your aim and your purpose in good report or in ill, in victory or in defeat, be so as to live, so to strive, so to serve as to do your part to raise the standard of life to higher and better spheres.”