Published:December 8, 2021
Other Canadians don’t much like Alberta? Thanks goodness for that.
I say this in the wake of a national survey on perceptions of Albertans, where the differences in Albertans and other Canadians were highlighted.
The main takeaway from the Maru and Janet Brown Public Opinion survey, a headline from both the CBC and the National Post, is that half of all Canadians would not be comfortable living in Alberta, as opposed to the 80 per cent of Albertans who said they’re comfortable here.
This should come as no surprise. Alberta is different from the rest of Canada. We have our own culture, our own strengths and foibles. If not everyone approves of us, that’s fine, that’s good. There are millions of Albertans who disagree and understand how vital it is that Alberta goes its own way.
Other Canadians might also consider the value of Alberta’s distinctness. Canada would be in huge trouble if all its regions had exactly the same values, policies, hopes and fears. We need to test many different ways of running our governments and economies to see which processes have the most merit.
Of course, Alberta isn’t a separate nation within Canada. We have limited autonomy, too limited. We are often subject to overly aggressive federal legislation. And, of course, our provincial borders are open. Folks constantly move in and out from other provinces.
At my own work place we’ve always had a healthy percentage of people who move in from out-of-province. These newcomers — many of them outstanding journalists who offer much to the community — generally have one of two responses to this province.
One half feels alienated here and is highly critical of our social and economic leanings. Some are even mortified by Alberta’s values. The other half loves Alberta’s wide-open vibe, both in terms of the landscape and its spirit, with our focus on freedom, opportunity and personal responsibility, the sacred values of the Alberta faithful.
Another illustrative question on the survey was whether or not respondents share the same values as Albertans. Only 49 per cent of Atlantic Canadians and Quebeckers and 50 per cent of British Columbians said they do. The survey also found 62 per cent of Albertans share Albertans values, meaning 38 per cent do not. This makes sense, given the historic and sometimes radical dissent from the Alberta conservative mainstream embraced by numerous left-of-centre Albertans.
It’s also no surprise that the least approving outsiders are in B.C. and the Maritimes. Their cultures arise from a vastly different root than our own. In his brilliant and provocative book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America , author Colin Woodard argues that B.C. and the Maritimes have strong links to northeastern United States, which was colonized by puritanical Calvinist English settlers and has as its own sacred value, the goal of creating a utopian society based on religions and community-decision making. This group, now zealously proselytizing its Woke views worldwide, has never been a big fan of more individualistic and libertarian ways of being. Little wonder many of them look down on Alberta’s “work hard, play hard” ethos.
Woodard argues that Alberta is part of the last internal North American nation to form, one that ranges on arid lands from Alaska down through north central B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, all the way to non-coastal areas of California and Texas. Woodard argues the inhospitable terrain and climate shaped the “Far West” nation more than any creed.
The Far West, he said, was dominated and colonized by distant federal governments and by railway and mining cartels, often owned by outsiders. In time, Far Westerners became suspicious and hostile of those distant federal regimes, while at the same time became overly beholden to corporate interests. By the 1920s, this spawned radical internal dissent within Far West regions, opposition which remains strong to this day.
It certainly resonated with me having grown up in Devon, an oilpatch town which proclaims itself to be Canada’s model town, as it was fully planned and built by Imperial Oil.
I take Woodard’s book as a starting point, not the definition, of Alberta’s distinct society. It helps explains major historic differences that divide Canadians to this day.
As an Albertan who has endured grasping and overzealous Eastern influence, I’ll suggest we will all do better if the rest of Canada respects Alberta’s differences, if it allows us the space to build a unique and prosperous society.
You are not us. We are not you.
We will never be you, nor should we be.