The political branding of Alberta

By Kim Nursall

Last week the voters of Calgary-Glenmore took to the polls in their riding’s by-election. In what some would call an upset, Paul Hinman of the Wildrose Alliance — a right-wing party — claimed 37 per cent of the vote to win the riding. The result is not so much what concerns me, but rather the attitude of a particular voter who stated to CBC News, while explaining their shift in allegiance from Progressive Conservative to the Wildrose Alliance: “I’ve been a strong Conservative all my life like any normal Albertan.” Essentially, the term conservative is synonymous with Albertan, and to not identify yourself as either is to be abnormal.

This speaks to my opinion that growing up in Alberta is kind of like growing up in a herd of cattle. The life of a cow, to the best of my knowledge, goes something like this: You’re born, you’re branded the property of your farm, you chew cud, you share the sentiments of your cow friends (“Moo…”, “Moo!”), and then you die. Every now and then a poorly tended bovine will become ill, but the infected creature will be hastily removed from the presence of the healthy animals and effectively eliminated.

The life of an Albertan, to the best of my observations, follows a similar line: You’re born, you’re branded “conservative,” you chew Alberta beef, you spout similar sentiments to your conservative friends (“Screw Quebec!,” “Oil is life!,” “Trudeau ruined our country!”) and then you die. Every now and then a poorly indoctrinated individual will come down with “Mad Socialist Disease,” but said infected creature is overwhelmingly discouraged from interacting with the “healthy” Albertans and eventually moves to B.C.

Now, my intention is not to suggest conservative values cause this behaviour. My intention is to wage war with what is actually propagating it: a stagnant and dry political environment perpetuated by a blind and adamant acceptance of one, and only one, political ideology. An environment such as this not only thwarts the possibility of true political competition, but is also egregiously detrimental to the creation and development of new ideas and the cultivation of general political awareness. It does not follow that if you are taught from birth you are conservative, you actually realize what values you have committed yourself to defending; nor does it follow that, if you were aware of those values, you would necessarily see them as reflecting your own thoughts and beliefs. By associating an entire province’s population with a particular viewpoint we not only encourage conformity, but allow for the deterioration and eradication of what could otherwise be an active, healthy and forward-thinking political arena.

As one of those aforementioned poorly indoctrinated individuals, I do not wish for everyone to share the same views as myself, because if left-wing ideologues took over the province the same herding behaviour would occur. My conclusion is not that conservative values destroy a healthy political climate; it is that dissension and intelligent and perspicacious discourse are necessary to avert a stale and stagnant political community. Growth is cultivated through challenging the status-quo. With the majority of people in Alberta either touting conservative ideology they may not understand, or finding themselves so frustrated with the overt pressure to conform they shut-up or move away, the present political climate is sapping us of our strength to push forward. A democracy does not guarantee continuous advancement, but it does guarantee the freedom to pursue and become associated with different political ideologies. Alberta has become an example of what happens when citizens do not recognize this freedom, and the very community they live in discourages it. It is the responsibility of citizens to ensure this freedom is not compromised, and as far as I can tell cows are not overly concerned with their personal political accountability. The choice is yours: move forward, or moo.

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