I recently did something I’ve never done before. I’m fairly certain I will never do it again. It’s now been two days since Albertans did the electoral version of streaking at a Grey Cup game; I suspect you’ve heard about it. The B-train oil tanker truck that is Alberta politics, which reliably drifted to the right, unpredictably over-corrected to the left on Tuesday. In fact, it crossed the median, careened through oncoming traffic, smashed through a guard rail and plunged down a steep embankment into a rocky, rushing, flood-swollen mountain river. I was one of those yanking on the steering wheel.
I have never voted NDP in my entire voting career, provincially or federally. This is actually quite surprising since their branding colour is a beautiful, shocking orange. A quality core principle like that is not one I haphazardly reject. They’ve also had, with the rare exception, kind of a runt of the litter aura about them. I don’t like them per se, but it’s hard to really hate them. They’re just so cute and enthusiastic you can’t help but want to pat them on the head and say “awwww” before walking away and voting for someone else.
I’m a political fence sitter
I still don’t consider myself an NDP supporter in any sense. I appreciate their social liberalism for the most part, admire it even. They just lose me on the fiscal stuff. Conversely, conservative parties theoretically should appeal to me from a fiscal perspective but the social conservativism that comes along with that package is awful. I’m six of one and half dozen of the other. So I’ve always considered myself a Liberal under the notion (possibly mistaken and/or naïve) that Canadian Liberals were centrists; socially to the left and fiscally to the right. My voting has primarily wandered across that arbitrary line with the expected ongoing disappointment since all politics is a bunch of lies. Harrumph!
I guess when it comes down to it, like so many others, I’ve joined the ranks of the jaded cynic and try my best to tune it all out. I still vote, but I’m not very happy about doing so as I alluded to in an earlier post. This Alberta election, unnecessarily and arrogantly called a year early, only added to my scorn. Nonetheless, I forced myself to re-engage enough to make a somewhat informed voting decision. And here’s the funny thing; I was likely going to vote PC. Despite the idiocy of calling an early election, I did believe Prentice to be genuinely focused on making changes, though his cut and run routine after losing has me questioning that judgment call. I thought the budget was a reasonable compromise. Even the infamous “look in the mirror” comment, which he was pilloried for, rang true to me (this is part of a larger political philosophy I have but won’t delve into here…you’re welcome).
The alternatives were even less appealing. Wildrose? No thanks. Too much rural bible-thumping undercurrent still lurking around them parts, partner. And the droning “I won’t raise taxes” dogma is as irritating as it is selfish. On the other hand, the NDP are, well, the NDP. Together with the other “left leaning” parties, the Alberta Party and the Liberal Party, this is traditionally viewed as a wasted vote because it, well, was. In Alberta, before all reality was altered into absurdity, a voter like me had two voting choices; assholes or bat shit crazy assholes. I was settling for assholes.
Then something strange happened. And not strange in an I’ve never noticed that house had a pink door before sense but strange in a what the hell is that incredibly beautiful woman doing with that fat, tanned, old guy in the Speedo sense. Not only were the NDP starting to get attention but they were starting to gain momentum. Poll after poll (none of which I participated in because I joined Harper’s vaunted No Call List and still naively believe that means I should get NO CALLS) showed that the NDP were first becoming competitive, then threatening to become a major player in the upcoming government, and finally threatening to BE the upcoming government. The beautiful woman wasn’t just flirting with the fat guy in the Speedo, she was inviting her friends along for drug-fuelled orgies. So I put on my swim trunks (that just so happen to be orange) and snuck in poolside.
I decided to vote NDP in those final hours before voting booths opened for a reason many will say is wrong. My reason is surely immature, possibly petty, definitely cynical, and some of the more dogmatic of souls (hello Twitter) will view it as entirely undemocratic, possibly even traitorous. I voted NDP because I thought it was funny. Not funny in a ha ha sense so much, though I am giggling still, but funny in a schadenfreude sense.
I’m not a “true” Albertan
I have been an Alberta citizen for seventeen years now. I work here, met my wife here, am raising my family here, and barring a $50 million Lotto Max twist of fate, I’ll retire here and probably die here. Before staying home with the kids I even made a living in the holiest of holy Alberta industries, the oil patch. My wife, and therefore our household, still does. Most of our peers, friends, and neighbours do as well. And you know what? I’ve never felt completely welcome here. I’m not a “true” Albertan.
I’m from Ontario, you see, and that comes with baggage. And openly identifying myself as of the Liberal persuasion is akin to sprinkling that luggage with cocaine before heading to airport security. There’s a palpable mistrust of someone like me. The more partisan can show open disdain for an “Eastern Bastards” like me as Ralph Klein so eloquently labelled us. Even colleagues and friends, people whom I love and respect, are known to needle me for my politics, all the more ironic since many of them are from elsewhere in the country as well. Some, gasp, are even “Eastern Bastards” themselves!
Sure it was always in good fun, or at least I think it was, and I never was the victim of outright hostility, but there was an edge to it. I wasn’t a “true Albertan” unless I appropriately subscribed to the Conservative mantra; Alberta is great, Albertans worked harder and helped each other up, paid too much in transfer payments via taxes, and the rest of the country was pretty much communist, jealous of Alberta’s oil wealth, and would always try to take it away if given the chance, like they have been for decades, apparently. Oh, and you better be spittin’ when Trudeau’s name is spoken. I may be exaggerating. A bit.
In that context it was just easier to shut up and not say anything that might reveal my true political leanings. And so I did. As did many other people I know. Those that came in the eighties when the anti-Eastern Canada sentiment was at its peak did even more so, sometimes resorting to communication by secret gesticulatory codes and holding secret underground resistance gatherings to disseminate contraband and offer support to the likeminded and safety to newcomers. Again, it’s possible I’m exaggerating. A bit.
That is why, on Tuesday, May 5, 2015, I decided to vote NDP. With a jet stream of momentum at their backs and an angry electorate clearing the path with jungle quality machetes, the unimaginable but seemingly inevitable Orange Crush of an NDP majority government was the perfect smug smirk and snort to years of subtle and not so subtle jabs at my lack of true Albertan credentials. I wanted to see them cringe and I wanted to enjoy it. And I did. And I still am. Tee hee.
I’m also not delusional. I think this was a fluke. A humpback whale sized fluke, but a fluke nonetheless. Albertans have not changed their ideology en masse. This was more of a vote against forty plus years of growing PC arrogance than it was a vote of support for NDP policies. I’m not afraid of the NDP, but I accept the reality of what happened here. I have zero doubt that in four years when it is time to vote again, regardless of how successful or catastrophic this government proves to be, another party will win a strong majority in Alberta. It will likely be the Wildrose Party depending upon how dramatically the PCs finish their implosion. More immediately, I also fully expect Albertans to return to form in the upcoming fall federal election, where they will once again vote a near entire slate of Conservative candidates back to Ottawa with upwards of 70% approval. Alberta remains what it always has been, make no mistake.
We’re not alone
What the NDP win has done, however, and this is no small point, is it has given tens of thousands of left voting citizens of this fine province the permission and the courage to stand up and openly speak their beliefs. They now know that there are others who think like them; a lot more than previously thought, perhaps. They will no longer be shamed or frightened into keeping silent on social, taxation, and environmental issues. They are allowed to have an opinion that deviates from the accepted norm. They have been given their voice. How fun. How novel. How democratic.
For once the mighty conservative machine that so dominates Alberta politics and the Alberta psyche got bitch slapped, leaving quite a few true blue Albertans to guffaw and worry. That alone was worth my NDP vote. I’ll take this schadenfreude and drown it in chocolate sauce and pecans any day. For the moment, at least, I’m just a grinning “Eastern Bastard” holding my chin up for a change and that feels so…so…Albertan.