08 December 2011

Alberta values are not Western values

Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson recently gave a talk to a standing-room only crowd of Torontonians about how a set of Western values has captured the country. Ibbitson was, I suspect, making a mistake common to Eastern pundits. He was assuming that what might be called Alberta values form a monolithic set of what might be called Western values. In fact, the idea that Alberta values are Western values is false, as is the idea that there is a monolithic set of Western values.

Alberta is a generally conservative province and its politics reflect this. Conservatism has a presence in other parts of the West as well, but to a lesser extent, while other philosophies are also powerfully represented. Manitoba, for example, has an NDP government and the NDP form the official opposition in two other provinces. Alberta is in fact the odd man out, the only Western province with a weak New Democratic Party.

Medicare was invented in the West and that was a triumph for democratic socialism, not for conservatism. The Kyoto Accord, much in the news these days, was least popular in Alberta but its popularity in Manitoba was exceeded only by its popularity in Quebec. Gay marriage was also least popular in Alberta, no surprise there, but popular in B.C. (again behind only Quebec). There is often greater disagreement on issues within the West than between the West and the East, as these examples illustrate.

The current state of political affairs in this country is due a lot less to a rise in  "Western values" than to recent self-destructive tendencies within the Liberal Party. Apparently in his talk, Ibbitson suggested the change is permanent—the journalist as prophet. He should keep in mind that it wasn't long ago the Conservative Party self-destructed and now it forms the government. The only thing we can be sure of is that things will change again.

In the meantime, while I recognize columnists' apparent need to simplify things, I would appreciate Eastern pundits respecting the real West rather than leaning on caricature. We are, in fact, a people of great variety, intellectually as in other respects, a people among whom views and values are strongly represented from left to right, progressive to conservative. It does us an injustice to pretend otherwise, even if it does make for good columns in the Globe and Mail.

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