The Times They Are A-Changing – again

Alberta represents more of a present opportunity than a place

April 29, 2012

VANCOUVER, BC, Apr. 29, 2012/ Troy Media/ – The rehash going on this week in the mainstream media (MSM) about Monday’s Albertan election is extremely boring.

It is largely a group rethink by the legions of media bloviators who really got it wrong in the first place. Pollsters missed it too, with all of their currently trendy reliance on algorithms to predict with certainty the voting behaviour of crowds. Even the prescient Andrew Coyne definitively nailed down the Wildrose majority the day before the election, in a National Post article that was pulled from the blogosphere at warp speed as soon as the real trend was discerned.  

What remains to be said?

Being more of an anthropologist than a mathematician, I am struck by the power of observing individual voters and small groups in some detail. If I just confine my analysis to extended family, friends and workmates, the following was evident starting last weekend:

1. growing anger at the formulaic redneckism and anti-scientism in the Wildrose bench;

2. growing anger at the Ayn Randian ‘Dagny Taggart objectivism’ of Danielle Smith, which tolerated and excused unacceptable statements by Wildrose candidates. It is always a mistake to defend the indefensible;

3. growing awareness that the Wildbunch was actually getting close to the handles of the Alberta economy, which currently functions as Canada’s ATM. Where was the evidence that the 87 Wildrose candidates had the management experience to manage a $40 billion payroll?;

4. growing intolerance of social and fiscal conservatism at the expense of  all other values;

5. and perhaps most interestingly, a renewed commitment to the altruistic and embracing Canadian spirit, instead of mean-spirited and divisive firewall arguments.

Close to home, I also noticed something else: the voters under 30 were growing increasingly tired of the endless rehashing of Lougheed, Klein, Stelmach, Manning, Flanagan, and Harper histories. That was then and this is now. From a university student perspective, who cares anymore about firewall letters, the Calgary School, hating NEP-promoting Liberals, and evangelical approaches to politics, sex and oil?

Students right now care about getting good jobs, getting established in their first homes, and building families and careers. They also care about their friends, and are less loyal to place than to opportunity. In a funny way, Alberta is really more of a present opportunity than a place.

Maybe my biggest election takeaway was learning the obvious: that the youth perspective on the election was the future and not the past. I have an overwhelming and pervasive sense that the Wildrose pitch was and is dated, and premised on conceiving Alberta as a family farm, never to be left, sold, mortgaged or subdivided.

While Alberta is the national zone of opportunity, it is also a second home to all immigrants. Most of us have moms and dads and competing loyalties somewhere else, and that somewhere else is truly home. Having the push-pull of home and away is similar to the grandparents who spoke wistfully of the ‘Old Country.’ Many new Albertans live this reality, and are inclined to a natural diplomacy when conducting inter-provincial family relations. Why would you build a firewall to keep mom out?

The young cohort of voters is also probably the best-educated generation yet produced by the Canadian public school (I say this with relish), community college and university system. The have grown up with a favourite and friendly TV ‘science uncle,’ David Suzuki, and they have an internet-sized awareness of everything from carbon capture technologies to melting Arctic sea ice. They get climate change.

They live in a world characterized by relationships and interrelationships, both personal and technological, and they understand that everything is connected to everything else. This is notably a world where burning lakes of eternal damnation and Caucasian advantage never existed.

Welcome back Joe Clark

I also detect that young voters are tired of a politics characterized by polarization and cheap-shot arguments, ever-present Levantine anger, vote suppressing robocallers, and mean-spirited attack ads. My youthful Facebook friends clearly prefer the values of altruism, diversity, community and reason to individualism and greed. When I look beyond Alberta, I see all of their energy and hope smiling back at me from the new NDP opposition in the House of Commons.

Whether or not the reborn Alison Redford Progressive Conservatives really embrace the values of youth will shortly be revealed. To maintain the political licence just granted, they will have to govern from the centre slightly to the left, just as premier Lougheed famously did from 1971 to 1985. But unlike Lougheed, they were elected from the centre, and not the right. In this respect, Redford resembles more her old mentor, the fundamentally decent Joe Clark from High River. Joe had a tough time as a Progressive Conservative prime minister back in 1980; perhaps his progressive values of internationalism, biculturalism and humanism (rather than objectivism) will play better in 2012 in the hands and heart of the new premier.

The young voters I know are watching with interest.

Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has lived half of his life in Alberta and half in BC. In Calgary he worked for eight years in the oil patch, 14 in academia, and eight years as a cultural CEO. Now back In Vancouver, he is still a cultural CEO, but also has business interests in a resource company and mutual funds.

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