Head-Smashed-In Politics

WE ARE WORRIED, very worried. And you should be too.

Last December, we warned that “dark resentments thought buried in this part of the country have been reawakened.” We took no pleasure in reporting this.

Screen Shot 2019-03-16 at 10.21.40 PMAn image in mind that best explains what lies ahead politically is to imagine a spooked herd of bison galloping toward a cliff. 

Who benefits from the calamity will be determined in the aftermath.

It’s clear who stands to lose most.


There are many, many people who are considering what was once unthinkable as the only way forward. And that is to go it alone in Canada. To secede. 

While we have separation anxiety, the conditions have been created to push the crowd in a direction that mirrors the provincial election of 2015. 


In our last blogwe argued if the country is to survive, Albertans—and our neighbours in The West—must emulate what the Bloc Quebecois accomplished in a political generation. To be maitre chez nous of our own territory is to create the conditions for a political block that holds the balance of power in Ottawa.

That doesn’t mean a new political party. It means being smart as a ‘whip’ and calling on Western MPs—no matter the political flavour—to always vote in the interest of The West.  

We could learn a thing or three from Nunavut. There are no political parties in its legislative assembly. They have non-aligned representatives of communities, whom, depending on the circumstance will be asked to take charge; it’s a meritocracy, with the best person sent in to play and resolve a problem.  It’s kind of like hockey. You change with the flow of the game—send out the goal-scorer or the penalty killer, or the thug if need be—the idea is to win.

Survival in The North depends on getting it right from the get-go. 

Dark resentments thought buried in this part of the country have been reawakened…

There’s a book we highly recommend: The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu. It outlines how you—yes, you!—are being manipulated. If you’re dependent on what you read or hear or watch as primary sources, you could be led in a direction that might be a head-smashed-in-political moment. And if you think you’re the savviest person in the room, resistant to such blather, well…sorry, you’re the easiest to manipulate. 


A snapshot: Tuesday, March 12th.


MORNING: In a trendy downtown coffee shop, a young man with a high-end ‘developer’ laptop is nursing a cup of coffee. It’s an expensive brew. But he can’t afford not to be in the crowded cafe, like everyone else he’s feeding off the free-wifi. “I was an electrician,” he says, but now his twin brother is beating the bushes for business. “We’re making websites.” Business is slow. Yet it’s the new economy for young Calgarians recently thrown out of work. He hates the politics of the moment. The needless bloodbath in the oil patch. He’s also smart. Separation might be a ‘thing’, he says.

AFTERNOON: In a posh Italian restaurant, and in a quiet nook near the back, we are treated to lunch by two retired professionals. They’re well-off, well-connected, and ready to hunt bear. The maitre de acknowledges them as regulars—knows what they prefer and offers suggestions on the menu. We make our choices.  The discussion quickly turns to how, they believe, a coordinated advertising campaign to debunk confederation will soon prompt a prairie movement to secede from Canada. This is not music to our ears.  We argue most people we talk with have no ambition to become another midwestern American state. The old guys at the table think we’re out of touch. And maybe we are.

After lunch, one of the men pings and shares a link to a hot-off-the-press Maclean’s magazine essay by University of Calgary’s David Bercuson & Barry Cooper; they’ve revived their idea for a territory separate and distinct from Canada. The tract reads like moral philosophy, the writers leading The West to some kind of libertarian Valhalla that’s yet to be defined geopolitically; the revived future squirted like old Disco over the pages of Canada’s national magazine—thump, thump, thump—echoing our lunch conversation. 

EVENING: We’re downtown now, along the 8th Avenue pedestrian mall. People are bundled up, moving briskly; it’s getting colder outside. A colleague has invited us to give a talk to his industry association—professionals who do impact assessments on infrastructure projects. We gather in the back room of a chi-chi drinking establishment, set up our powerpoint slides & chat with people as they drift in. It’s an underwhelming turnout. And some of those that attend seem disconnected from the anger Albertans and Calgarians, in particular, have expressed.  

One man, an American “up here,” he says, assessing the Site C dam in the Peace country of British Columbia is unaware and disinterested in Alberta’s history with dams. He knows nothing about the Dickson Dam, and only is peripherally aware of the Old Man Dam (let alone the politics and economics of how these dams are part of a scheme to divert water “down south”). When asked if his assessment work connects the Peace country water along the eastern slopes of the Rockies to “you know where.” He didn’t offer an opinion. And abruptly left the conversation.

In their recent special report The Economist magazine says fresh water is a very big deal. And the Wall Street Journal recently advised its readers to look to Canada’s Peace River country as a smart investment as climate change impacts agriculture.

Connecting the dots:  

If Canada is neglecting Alberta, well… given future prospects maybe that might be something to exploit, eh. 


BEYOND POLARITY was launched almost two years ago.

The intent was to hold a space open for dialogue, informed conversation, spirited thinking & fresh ideas that tend to be eclipsed by noise on the extreme left and right. 

It was a nice idea.

1AEAA1AF-A5A4-4D11-A452-5088CA0025D9.jpegWe learned that unless you are willing to change your pitch—as we have over the past few months, changing with the times we live in to be harsher, didactic, pedantic, even militantyou will not be heard.

Sorry—that’s just the truth. It’s not that we didn’t try hard to play nice (or for that matter seek ‘social license’). 

Our change in pitch gained attention (attracting many, offending some) and altered some of the conversation around the country. And it was then—and only then—that the national media reached out to find out what this voice from the prairies was going on about. 

“Our open societies, however, face their own danger—not the suppression of ideas, but the drowning out of alternative options. There is, in other words, a constant risk of the contest for attention coming to dominate the contest on the merits. If and when this happens, society can risk losing its ability to make good decisions at all.”

–author Tim Wu, The Attention Merchants


827233EA-B310-4692-914B-02BEA6989616If you want to get dramatic, it’s Game of Thrones and winter has arrived.

And where Albertans are accustomed to seeing a blue sky, we can only see clouds socking us in.

The old guard is taking advantage of our disgust with politics in Canada. They are pleased as punch to foment unrest & talk of Western separation (a mirror opposite of the well-funded advocacy groups that crashed Alberta’s economy). And they have the resources to make you crazy. 

We’ve pointed out several pathways to remedy the political imbroglio: learning from Quebec (as they learned how to be like Switzerland in a profitable arms-length relationship with the European Union); emulating Norway with its sovereign wealth fund in a re-confederated Canada, and so forth. 

Should Albertans be once again so pissed off that oh-what-the-hell let’s vote for this mostly unknown thing because what else could possibly be worse than it is now, well…it’s not just the learning curve of neophytes governing the province we’ll have to endure, it’s the certainty that there cannot be an independent Alberta (or a Republic of the Northwest as proposed by the brain trust at the University of Calgary) in the realpolitik of a ‘climate emergency’ that pushes population north.


We’re going away for now.

We will be silent, yet listening carefully for anyone up for a different conversation — beyond polarity — beyond the manipulation that puts you in an either/or zen-like scenario where, as the Russians say, both choices are worst.

We’ll be back after the dust settles on the Alberta provincial election.

This column is the consensus opinion of the writers Donna Kennedy-Glans & Don Hill.

4 thoughts on “Head-Smashed-In Politics

  1. Don’t go! We need your un-polarized thoughts especially now to provoke intropspection in the upcoming political onslaught! It truly is winter here.

  2. OK. When is somebody going to bring the Gorilla into the room? Who has the guts? The Gorilla is ‘Digital Democracy’ Referendum on demand. We have it and we speak often of this as a solution and a unifying element this country needs. JOIN the SWEEP or be ‘Scheered’ like SHEEP. JOIN the SWEEP. https://www.linkedin.com/company/we-can-unite

  3. Well, I would say that I am worried but not for the reasons that the author of this post is. I worry as a member of public sector union that I will see more austerity even though we have a lot in the past 25 years. I also worry with this government will be for the oil industry at the expense of the environment and I worry that we might return the dynasties of the past. I will say that while I do have some feelings for those who are currently experiencing difficulty problems gaining employment at this time, but I do disagree with those who feel that Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau are responsible for it. I am not the expert that many(and the author has a lot of it)but it appears that there is a changing landscape where this industry is not going to be what it was before. There has been a lot of automation that has replaced these jobs as it has done in other sectors or industries, and that is a question that needs to be asked of the society at large. It is also hard to have a lot of sympathy for so many in this province because there appears to be a lot of entitlement. When I was in a similar place, many of these people would not have shown any sympathy or empathy. I also know that outside of the aggrievement that believe are true, we also have many things that are just myths. The biggest is one that when I hear people say that Albertans work hard implying that no one else does. I have heard this again and again in private conversations and I am frankly getting tired of. It implies some sense of arrogance and it makes it difficult to gain sympathy for those who live outside this province.

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