Alberta has always been “oil country”, so to speak. The pride of Canada – for our fortunate position to have our provincial boundaries atop of black gold. In many ways, Alberta’s political and social values have been crafted around a resource we have little control over, and despite that, we seem to be consistently willing to let it define us.
This rhetoric has achieved one thing. It has united those on the right and the centre-left of the political spectrum in a common fight against a perceived enemy: anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree that pipeline expansions are in the public’s best interest.
This editorial cartoon, following Jane Fonda’s visit to Alberta, demonstrates that so clearly. It follows an unhappy reaction from government members – a reaction that was flippant and dismissive. Annoyed is the best word I can think of. Annoyed at Fonda and dismissive of the Albertan’s who asked her here, dismissive of the First Nation Chiefs that shared a platform with her.
It is part and parcel of the growing division in our province. A political fission that opened up after the NDP won government in 2015. Suddenly, the debate became about partisan politics, not issues – and here we are now. Defending the pipelines are about the politics of a government – not about the issue of pipelines. It is no longer about respecting Albertans or respectful conversations about the best way to ensure economic growth.
The personal attacks against government members are hateful, and they are designed to cheapen the conversation. They are forged in anger and deliberate ignorance to achieve a political end. If we diminish a person’s existence enough, then regardless of what they do right or inline with our values they are still diminished.
The achievements of a government, an organization, or a person are no longer because their hard work, but because simply a byproduct of something else. An undefined something else.
The state of democratic engagement in our province is not good. Public consultations are increasingly becoming traumatic, for the attendees as well as the hosts. Staff who field the emails, letters and phone calls are constantly under attack. And if you’re a concerned citizen interested in a respectful debate, more and more you are turning inwards to safe spaces because folks with platforms are more likely than not to use that to gaslight you. To redefine your concerns. To put you in an “for or against” camp.
That is everyone’s problem. You can’t put out a hateful garbage fire by adding more garbage. You can’t expect respectful discussion when you directly contribute to a disrespectful environment.
It’s not funny to mock someone or shame them because they don’t agree with you. That response creates ideological walls – and it turns conversations into battles. It doesn’t educate, it doesn’t create communities, and it leaks out beyond that issue.