The eve of destruction/election edition, September 19, 2021

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, “The Missive” on Nov. 19, 2021. Subscribe for free at: https://jodymacpherson.substack.com/ or access background info and special content with a paid subscription.

Just back from a quick trip to northern Alberta to visit my family in Grande Prairie. Traversing the province in the midst of the pandemic is not my preferred pastime right now but seeing my new grandson (and his parents!) remains a top priority.

The eight-hour trip (one-way) through rural Alberta bypassing Edmonton is a beautiful mix of boreal forest, rolling hills, ranch land, hidden lakes and farming country. Unfortunately, it was also littered with election signs for the Maverick Party, the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) and the Conservative Party. I did not see even one Liberal sign, although there were a couple of NDP signs. I also didn’t see any Green party signs.

In the heart of a province whose past, present and future is so closely tied to nature (and natural resources) you’d think there would be more of an understanding of how destructive the policies of these parties would be to the environment if elected.

The sign story reflects an increasingly odd combination of brand loyalty, libertarian rebellion, historical fears and religious fervour that has been driving Albertans’ voting choices for decades.

The PPC is running candidates in 33 of 34 Alberta ridings. That’s more candidates than the Green Party was able to muster, unfortunately. The newly formed Maverick Party has candidates in almost half the ridings running on what looks like an impromptu conservative platform focussed on western Canada.

Meanwhile, it has been revealing to see who is showing up for recent rallies and anti-vaccine protests in Alberta.

Tyler Dawson of the National Post described a PPC rally in Edmonton where a vegan, barefoot, woman in a flowing dress mingled with older men in camouflage. While some of the supporters quote verses from the Bible, others come from the “New Age” movement. These are people who’ve left organized religion seeking guidance from spiritual and wellness influencers online.

Earlier this year, Salon reported on the phenomenon and its eery parallels to the role of mysticism in Nazi Germany. The modern version of this madness has spread rapidly with the help of social media.

“Many of the New Agers drawn to QAnon are probably suffering from unresolved trauma – like many in Trump’s base as well. It’s easier to look to a savior and to find scapegoats than to face one’s own fears and pain.”

“Conspirituality” is the term that defines this movement, coined by researcher Charlotte Ward. She describes conspirituality as “a rapidly growing web movement expressing an ideology fueled by political disillusionment and the popularity of alternative worldviews.”

At a large rally held recently in Calgary, Jason Herring of Postmedia reported signs about masks being “child abuse,” claims of “pure bloods” (unvaccinated people call themselves this now), along with cries for freedom from “medical tyranny.” Maxime Bernier and Derek Sloan (who was kicked out of the PPC for ties to a white supremacist) both gave speeches at the Calgary rally.

“(There’s) a real freedom revolution in this country, because we know when tyranny becomes law, revolution becomes our duty,” Bernier said, echoing a phrase used by far-right militia group the Three Percenters.

“After this election, that will be a new beginning. That won’t be the end, and I will be with you in the street to protest and fight, fight for our freedoms.”

Some of the rally attendees were flying the “Don’t Tread on Me” and Molon labe (“Come and Take Them”) flags which, in recent times, have been used as acts of defiance against government, including the insurgency at the Capitol and are often associated with gun violence.  

Sloan, who parachuted into the province from Ontario to run in Banff-Airdire, spoke against Alberta’s new vaccine passports and suggested Alberta should address its ICU capacity (which has effectively collapsed) with alternative therapies. Should we laugh or cry at this juncture?

You may wonder what all this means and whether to be worried about it. It means we have a big problem in Canada, much like the U.S. and in a word, “yes” – we should all be worried about it. Especially in Alberta.

But the PPC is polling at less than 10 percent, you might say. No big deal. I beg to differ.

Caroline Orr has written a disturbing special report in the National Observer. She argues that the protests unleashed since the pandemic began are not going away and need to be taken more seriously.

“The anti-vaccine movement in Canada has direct ties to the far-right groups in the U.S. that are behind these violent protests, as well as other acts of violence and terror like the January 6 insurrection. There are also apparent links between the organizers and leaders of Canada’s anti-vaccine movement and Trump insiders like Steve Bannon and Gen. Michael Flynn, who spent months spreading the very same election conspiracy theories that incited the Capitol riot.”

Not only are the leaders of these movements a vehicle for more dangerous white supremacists and violent anti-government groups, they are effectively influencing more mainstream political leaders, such as Erin O’Toole and our own premier, Jason Kenney.

Though their numbers are small, Kenney consistently speaks directly to this minority audience in his news conferences and Facebook live chats, ignoring the majority opinion in an attempt to woo the extremists. O’Toole is taking a similar strategic approach in his messaging, refusing to condemn Kenney’s reluctance to bring in public health restrictions for weeks, for example.

While driving back to Calgary this past week, I had plenty of time to think about the election and there were many reminders about the disastrous UCP government policy. I chose to avoid any indoor dining on the way to Grande Prairie and opted for a picnic lunch at an old favourite provincial park from my Spruce Grove days – Pembina River Provincial Park (by the way – Defend our Parks!).

Pembina River Provincial Park picnic location

On the way back, I did make an attempt at a drive-thru restaurant in a small rural town but alas, it was closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak. I was terrified of getting into a traffic accident along the way as our healthcare system is overcapacity – where would I even get medical treatment and if I did, it would be unforgivable to add to the burden already being borne by our wonderful healthcare workers.

Having lived in both of Alberta’s major cities, several small towns on the outskirts and also in the northern outpost of Fort McMurray, I know the political landscape isn’t as black and white as it seems (or in this case, it isn’t as “blue” as it seems). There are a variety of viewpoints to be found across the province but not necessarily the party apparatus in place to run multiple quality candidates in many ridings. The only real chances for breakthroughs by parties on the left are in the big cities and that’s unfortunate.

The lack of choice in elections, especially federally, is more a shortcoming of the party system than a reflection of the true politics of any area. My experience has been that there are left-leaning people looking for an electoral voice. Still, there are structural problems that hold them back from achieving a truly representative government and for that reason, we should be concerned.

Parties should theoretically be making it easier to organize and run in every riding, but the reality is so much different. Often, politically engaged people encounter barriers to operate within established parties, are forced to support positions that don’t work for their local constituents and can be subjected to hand-picked candidates brought in from outside the riding at the last minute, whom local party members are expected to then support.

It can be good training for future candidates but offers little benefit to the local constituency.

It’s great to see independent candidates like Kim Siever running in Lethbridge, challenging the system.

“I think one of the problems with party politics is there is this tendency of elected representatives to focus on representing their party more than they represent the people who elected them,” he states. “So as an Independent, that is not a risk at all because I am not responsible to any party. I am only responsible to the people who elected me.”

Traditional party structures add to the alienation by establishing strict discipline to keep members in line and keep out anyone who disagrees. There is little patience for dissent and it’s a struggle to bring about change in such a stifling environment.

That being said, with the election tomorrow, I’ve decided to vote for Sabrina Grover, a Liberal candidate running in Calgary Centre. I’ve chosen her, not because of her party affiliation but because she’s run an impressive campaign, worked extremely hard to earn votes and her public positions reflect many of my own.

In this and all future elections, I’m voting mostly on the issues of climate change, and on Indigenous relations – specifically truth and reconciliation. The two are bound together in my mind and reflect mistakes made in the past that we must address, learn from, and stop repeating.

And if you think the battle over COVID-19 has been trying, wait until we get into the real war over climate change. Expect to see more of the same characters now appearing at anti-vaccine rallies back in a sequel opposed to actions to address climate change. The stakes will be much higher so the resistance will be that much more vehement.

I’ll be back next week with more of the usual weekly report on the irrational UCP party. For now, remember to get out and vote tomorrow. Even if no candidate is your perfect choice, mark your ballot for someone because the alternative is to let others choose for you.

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