A Time for Albertans to Stick Together
There are two possible reactions to natural and manmade disasters. Driven by fear, we can allow disasters to divide us and our communities. Or, in the midst of disasters, we can consciously decide to unite – to stick together and work together more closely than we’ve ever done before to overcome the adversities that beset us.
So for Albertans, currently facing the twin disasters of the COVID-19 pandemic and a contracting economy, which will it be? I address this question from the perspective of an Alberta family that has been involved in our politics and economy for more than 85 years.
On the governmental front, is now really the time for the municipal governments of Edmonton and Calgary to be at loggerheads with the provincial government? Or is now the time for maximum cooperation?
In the legislature itself, is now really the time for the opposition to do nothing but oppose? Or is now the time to set an example of “pulling together” through cross-partisan support of measures aimed at restoring our health and economy?
On the labor front, is now really the time for the public service unions to think only of themselves and declare war on their employer? Or is now the time to share more fully in the sacrifices that other Albertans are being called upon to make?
On the economic front, is now the time for each sector – energy, agriculture, services, manufacturing, high tech – to fend for itself? Is now the time for “dog eat dog” competition to secure the biggest possible piece of a shrinking economic pie? Or is now the time for maximum cooperation within the private sector to help pull the Alberta economy on to more solid and prosperous ground?
On the health care front, is now really the time – during a pandemic – for doctors and the provincial health department to be in conflict? Or is now the time to submit outstanding differences to third party arbitration and get on with jointly discharging a collective responsibility to meet the health care needs of Albertans?
And on the broader political front, is now the time for Albertans to divide between separatist and federalist camps? Or is now the time for both camps to unite in support of those measures which both consider necessary to secure fairer treatment for our province from a hostile federal government?
On the media front, controversy is always more newsworthy than cooperation and sparking division invariably gets more hits than searching for common ground. But is now really the time to amplify the controversial and divisive and for mass media to become the chief carrier of the fear virus? Or is now the time for a conscious media effort to inoculate the public from the fear virus by focusing much more on the positive and constructive?
Contrary to the views of those who ignore Alberta’s political and economic history, this is not “the most divisive period Alberta has ever faced” nor is it the first time Albertans have been forced to deal with natural and manmade disasters at the same time. Let us learn therefore from that past experience about the dangers of pulling apart and the benefits of pulling together under such circumstances.
In the 1930’s, the years of the so-called Great Depression – when agriculture was Alberta’s major industry and largest employer – the prairies were afflicted with a terrible and prolonged drought. Combined with the collapse of the financial system, the result was a 50% drop in the provincial GDP, an economic contraction even greater and more disastrous than what Alberta is experiencing today. Note also that in those days unemployed and desperate Albertans were literally “on their own” with no comprehensive social safety net in place to cushion them against the consequences of such a combined social and economic collapse.
Did this combination of disasters feed negative reactions and division? Of course it did! Farmers uttering dire threats against the banks and the railroads, unions blaming management for the desperate plight of workers, violent strikes in the Crowsnest Pass, bankruptcies and law suits galore, death threats to politicians and executives, violent scuffles between individuals on the waiting lines outside the soup kitchens, provincial politicians vehemently denouncing the federal government, and the “ride the rails to Ottawa” protest initiated by the unemployed brought to a violent conclusion in Regina by the federal authorities.
But what eventually brought much of this division to an end? The efforts of reconcilers and peace makers? To some extent, yes, many of them from the faith communities – communities now largely ignored and disparaged by the secular decision makers of today. But also, and ironically, it was the threat of an even greater disaster – the beginning of World War II – that brought the dangers of internal division into a new light and made “pulling together” an obvious and absolute necessity.
Would it actually take something as drastic as the prospect of a War to force Albertans – indeed all Canadians – to pull together in the face of the challenges that now confront us? Or will we individually and collectively find the will and the courage to actively support rather than criticize and attack those who are doing their level best to implement positive measures to cope with those challenges? Note, as a first step, the merit in reconceptualizing as “challenges to be overcome” what, up to this point, are most often described as “disasters”.
“This too shall pass” as did the Great Depression. And what will future history books say about how we Albertans handled ourselves in the midst of these current challenges? Will they record that we allowed fear and mistrust to sink us in a sea of discord and division? Will they name with shame and regret those individuals, organizations, and media who led that discord and division? Or will they tell the inspiring story of a successful effort to “pull together” in meaningful and extraordinary ways? Only time will tell, and the story it will tell is up to you and me.
by Preston Manning