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The family farms and ranches affected aren’t just picayune operations. They represent one-third of Alberta’s tripod economy: oil and gas, agriculture, and tourism. They feed us. Some of their operations help to feed much of the world.
How important are they to Kenney’s government? Of the 41 seats outside of Calgary and Edmonton (out of a total 87), the United Conservative Party took 39 of them. “That’s a significant power bloc and those seats and the Calgary ones are the UCP’s basis of support,” says Duane Bratt, political science professor at Mount Royal University. “Rural Albertans put him into office,” with a 70 to 80 per cent majority, he adds.
The premier didn’t return the favour. His cabinet has 23 members: 12 from Calgary ridings (including the premier); two from Edmonton; one each from Red Deer and Grande Prairie and seven from all the rural ridings. “Kenney’s respected, but not liked,” says Bratt.
Maybe it’s the constant negative messages. He seems to be fighting everyone from doctors to municipalities to the growing, if uncoalesced, separatist movement. Maybe it’s the focus on the previous NDP government and what can be blamed on Rachel Notley. After all, in living memory, no Alberta government has had to face a former premier on the opposition benches; has had to face those who know intimately how governments work because they were there. When previous NDP health minister Sarah Hoffman challenges current minister Tyler Shandro, she knows where the chinks in the system are.
It’s no secret — and Bratt and the southern ranchers agree — there’s an air of dreaming going on: that an oil boom is coming back. Just wait and it will be 2004 again.
Shame on us if we buy into that pipedream instead of having a serious adult conversation about where Alberta goes from here. Ragging on the federal government, screaming and whining about how much money we are owed may feel good, but it’s a diversion.
We are better than that.
Catherine Ford is a regular columnist for the Calgary Herald.