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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Right turn in the Wrong Direction

I used to teach school and we used to talk about the 80/20 factor, how 20% of your kids took 80% of your time. I say the same is true in Alberta where 20% of the voices get 80% of the time. The rest of us are quietly working, building skate shacks in community centres, volunteering at our kids' schools, going to work, giving to charity, raising families, taking care of our parents, and being good people. The kind of people who get media play and take up the public discourse, who want to deny human rights, gay bash, call women who exercise their right to choice murderers, those folks, the kind of people who make us look like rednecks on the national stage, are in the minority. But they sure do waste a lot of time.

Recently, this image was starting to change. We've actually been starting to look diverse in our public image, as diverse as we really are. No one has done more to accomplish this than Calgary's Mayor Nenshi. Then Raj Sherman became opposition leader and Alison Redford won the PC leadership. Whip smart, thoughtful, a "red tory," by all accounts. And I've got to say, she seems like a good person. She wants Alberta to have a place at the national table. She wants Alberta to lead. Redford said quite plainly that Alberta is different now than it was twenty or thirty years ago, and thank goodness for that is all I can say. The redneck image, the embarrassing slams against LGBTI persons, the cries by Klein against "eastern bums and creeps" driving up the crime rate, incidents like throwing change at homeless people, and the "get a job" approach to social problems, was all getting to be a bit too much in the 21st Century.

Smith of the Wildrose mocked Redford for being happy about the way Alberta is growing, mocked her for pointing out what the rest of us have known for some time. Alberta is much more progressive than anyone thinks. Alberta is all grown up and ready to lead.

I have often said that Albertans are the most wonderful people in the world as individuals. If your car were to break down on the side of the road, someone will stop to help you. They might even bring you back home for a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. As individuals, Albertans are kind and neighbourly. As a group, we have not been that way in the past. We've been isolationist, xenophobic, advocated for Firewalls, flaunted our wealth, and refused to play nice in the sandbox.

Now Ms Smith wants to lead us back to the past, a time not so long ago when Alberta was still a bit of a joke. A rich joke, yes, but a joke. She wants to implement "conscience rights," giving a license to discriminate to marriage commissioners, pharmacists, doctors, and who knows who else. She's willing to put social "issues like abortion" to citizen initiated referendum. She refuses to say she will not allow abortion to be de-funded or de-listed as a service paid for by public health care dollars. She invokes the spectre of "eastern liberals" when she faces dissent. The Globe and Mail found her channelling Klein with her comments that dissent she was facing in her campaign was a plot by “Eastern Canada and Eastern Canadian critics” intent on derailing conservative parties. Smith is leading us right into the past. Comments like that don't make us welcome in a national conversation.

Redford has a difficult job this campaign. Mired in the politics of the past, in the history of a party that has made mistakes, in the reality of Bill 44, there's plenty of reason to say she's the pot calling the kettle black on these issues. I'm the last person to defend a Tory. The Last.

But, remember this. The worst of her party, the most right wing, the most extreme, the most strident, the ones who believe the most outrageous things, the ones who want conscience rights and an end to abortion and who defend homophobia and want abstinence only education in the schools, moved over to the Wildrose. The PCs that have remained under Redford are more moderate. As the Redford campaign says, "This is not your father's PC party." Where did that party go? To Wildrose.

I know enough about politics to know that Redford is fighting the battle of her life both from party insiders who didn't want her there, and from outside the party in this election, from those who left the PCs behind and made a hard right turn into Wildrose country. I don't know what happened on the "no meet committee" issue behind closed doors, but the compromise she attempted with the old boys against her better judgement backfired horribly. She's admitted her mistake. What I don't know is which former Tory members now in the Wildrose had an influence on making that decision in the first place? Are there Wildrose members who received that cash? I don't know. But I do know, when the decision was made to pay committees in this way, many of the Wildrose folks were still PCs on the inside. They are as responsible over in the Wildrose for whatever problems there are in the PCs as the PCs are.

I'm not a PC, but at least their newest vision of Alberta under Redford is something I can take some pride in as an Albertan. Under Wildrose, I'd be explaining once again to my non-Albertan friends why I'm living in a province that thinks gays and lesbians shouldn't have rights and won't protect a woman's right to choose. Even Klein was smart enough to know you don't mess with abortion.

What does this mean? Ironically, it means the best chance for change in Alberta is sticking with the PCs. If you had told me a year ago I would publish that sentence, I would have told you that you were insane. The best chance to protect human rights and reproductive rights is to stick with the PCs. Yes, I know the Liberals and the NDs have better policies in this regard. But this is still Alberta. A few of their members will be re-elected this time and I am so glad we will have them as part of our public discourse. But we have to be pragmatic.

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