An Albertan's Thoughts:Copyright (c) 2012 Graham L. Wilson. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included at this link: see my profile page.
This essay/letter was written in response to an editorial in the October 1-15, 2012 issue of Canada's People's Voice titled "Peter Lougheed's True Legacy". An abridged version of this letter will appear as a letter to the editor in the October 16-31, 2012 issue of People's Voice. Here is the full version:
The op-ed piece on Peter Lougheed from the last issue did raise good points, but it missed a larger point that so far I have seen next to no one raise. It is true that Lougheed was backed by and represented the corporate elites in this province, as was the case for every single Premier any Canadian province has ever had, unless you exclude some of the farther left Progressive/United Farmers, CCF or NDP governments. There is no denying the fact that Lougheed was a conservative, at the head of a Progressive Conservative Party. It is on that point we can all agree, so writing an article in order to trumpet that fact strikes me as a needless exercise. It is the former word that everyone seems to have missed, and the distinction is more important, particularly in Alberta, than many realize.
Lougheed did back the oil and gas industries, to the profiting of energy elites at the expense of the people and the environment, again, no question. However, he had a more enlightened attitude to them compared to his successors, most notably Ralph Klein, in the case of provincial revenues from the resources. Where King Ralph believed that high royalties would scare away the oil companies, King Peter understood that there was no point in extraction without real taxation (and yes, Albertan politics for the past eighty years or so can quite rightly be called downright monarchistic). He spent at least some this money on social projects and infrastructure (and it would be wrong also not to recognize his socially progressive policies, such as the end of provincially funded eugenics). Do not get me wrong, he was no socialist, but he was a 'Progressive' Conservative.
Again, not trying to dismiss the points raised in the article off-hand, but the writings of the leader of the Communist Party of Manitoba also seem to miss this importance in distinction with regard to the last provincial election and the fight between the PCs and the Wildrose. The Wildrose are straight neo-conservatives, very much in the mould of Stephen Harper and his cronies, while under Alison Redford the PCs still cling to what little of that Progressive or Red Tory legacy remains. Of course this is still not enough, but to discredit it entirely is to undermine what concessions we have managed to gain in a province all too often dismissed as a haven for right-wing fanatics. At the end of the day, Albertans have proven that, while we may not yet be aware of all our alternatives, we did not want to blindly follow the path set out for us by the Koch brothers and other largely foreign corporate interests.
Also, the points raised about the provincial rights issues also seems to miss another point with regards to current issues like the Keystone Pipeline. To claim that provincial rights are purely to break the country and harm Canadian unity is a very divisive statement, and one that may turn off a lot of Western ears. The perception out in the West, particularly in Alberta, has long been that the political elites in Ottawa see us as little more than a colony from which to enact mercantilist resource policies, to steal away our own product and earnings for themselves. And our fear is valid to a degree when you consider how our raw resources are now planned to be extracted out of the province and into another nation, no less, for processing, sacrificing jobs for us here in Alberta. Thus, the distinction between Washington and Ottawa, or any foreign capital, is very minimal in the mind of the average Albertan.
This is why the notion of taking control of our own resources has been so popular in Alberta, and it has to be said that no federal government, Liberal or Conservative, has ever supported a plan of building production plants here in Alberta or even really here in Canada. At least when the power is in local provincial hands, we feel safer that we might get a fairer deal for the transfer. NDP leadership candidate Brain Topp made this point well when he compared statements by both Lougheed and NDP Premier of Saskatchewan Allan Blakeney on the importance of maintaining our hold over resources and processing them here. This is also why the unelected Senate, so predominantly filled by voices of the elites from East and Central Canada, has long been opposed out here. However, I do personally agree with the notion of removing the institution entirely, and save us all the tax money wasted.
Anyhow, this is not to say that Lougheed did keep the resources, jobs and profits solely in the hands of Albertans, as of course most of the profits went to resource moguls. Again, the case I am making is that it is not good to obscure what progress has or had been made in the province, as laying the foundations of progressive policies is often a first step towards real progressive change. With the defeat of the Wildrose and the draining of the PCs of its Klein-era backers, Alberta has a chance to begin to stem the tide of neo-liberalism that so ravaged us in the 1990s. Yes, this is the lesser of two great evils, but it is progress in the right direction. This is also not to undermine the fact that our province's, and our nation's, resources have been stolen from aboriginal peoples. It is also not to say that the issue of provincial rights has not been used to be divisive, and that Western protest parties like Reform were not used as a stepping stone by the corporate right in Canada to take power (often by non-Western Conservatives; Harper was not raised in Alberta).
However, it is equally divisive to try and claim that Albertans should have no control over their own resource future, particularly in an age where U.S. imperialism, backed by the current Canadian federal government, is sucking us dry and leaving us polluted and broke. As Premier Redford said in her victory speech, Albertans choose to build bridges rather than walls, and for once what she said is true. Albertans do not hate Quebec or the Quebecois nation, but we do not want to be left out either - we want to play with all the other provinces fairly. I am not speaking for our leaders here, as we all know they have their own elitist agendas, I am trying to speak for my fellow inhabitants of this province, who are often falsely maligned in the mainstream and even left-wing press. Fundamentally, the point is that Alberta, like Quebec, is also a unique region with its own heritage, history and culture (Aboriginal, English, French, Ukrainian and many more), and so we stand as a key contributor to what Canada is as much as anyone else. A fair deal can be made for everyone here, from coast to coast to coast, respecting everyone's unique standing and contribution. That is what sovereignty, equality and self-determination is really supposed to be all about.
- Graham L. Wilson
Albertan family rancher
October 1, 2012