DISCLAIMER: I am going to do my absolute best not to make fun of Alberta in this post.
Those of you who do not follow Canadian politics news closely may be unaware that the province of Alberta recently had a provincial election. Alberta has often been (somewhat unfairly, but not entirely) characterized as the Texas of Canada. It is rich in oil wealth, and has long held itself out as the victim of a campaign of neglect by central Canada. At least partially as a result of this, and the entrenched conservatism that seems to accompany life on a frontier, Alberta has long been to the political ‘right’ of most Canadian issues. Of course, now that we have a Prime Minister from Alberta who is to the political ‘right’ of most Canadian issues, it’s a confusing time to be Albertan. What does it mean to your long-standing identity as the middle child of the Canadian family when one of your own is calling the shots?
In the wake of this confusion sprung the Wildrose Party, a provincial party that is even further to the right than the Progressive Conservative Party that has run Alberta for the past 40 years. Yes, you read that right – Alberta has been represented by a single party for 40 years, and it is called the “Progressive Conservative” party – Americans, sorry for blowing your minds with our weirdo Canuck ways. The Wildrose Party, branding itself as the populist conservative alternative to the staid, Tory leanings of the PC party, made a strong bid to unseat the reigning PCs in this latest election. Up until recently, political observers (plus everyone with a sense of civic duty) were gnawing their fingernails at the prospect of the right flank of the right wing seizing control – it was a real possibility.
Then… the wheels kind of came off:
Dr. Ron Leech, who was a senior leader of a Calgary church for 30 years — a congregation of over 500 members representing over 47 nations of the world, is a Wildrose candidate for Calgary-Greenway. Leech was recorded saying during an interview with Fairchild Radio in Calgary on Sunday: “I think as a Caucasian I have an advantage. When different community leaders such as a Sikh leader or a Muslim leader speaks they really speak to their own people in many ways. As a Caucasian I believe that I can speak to all the community.”
So there’s a lot to unpack here, and I’ll give it my best shot.
First, I’ll address what I think Mr. Leech* meant when he said that, as a white guy, he had an advantage over someone who owes allegiance to a specific minority community. After all, it is an incontrovertible fact that Alberta is majority white - stating this is neither controversial nor is it particularly offensive. If eighty percent of Albertans are white, then a white politician does speak to their issues with more visceral, organic experience than a non-white person. By not speaking to the issues of any one particular minority group, Mr. Leech can indeed express the generic concerns common to all Albertans.
The first problem is the monumental privilege blindness that Mr. Leech’s comments demonstrate. Yes, Mr. Leech, you may think you know what is important to “all the community”, but it is more likely that you will ignore issues that are not pertinent to white men – that is a basic (and common) outcome of privilege. Your view of what “all the community” looks like is coloured by the fact that you don’t have that same level of insight into their concerns. It is the same problem of a group of men empanelled to speak about women’s health issues. While you might have the best of intentions, there is simply no way you can expect your position to be representative of minority group concerns. It is simply not reasonable for Mr. Leech to assume that he has enough perspective to speak to issues that matter to “all the community”.
The other side of this coin is that the comment itself displays Mr. Leech’s profound ignorance and racially-tinged (I hesitate to use the word ‘racist’) view of Albertans. In his eyes, members of a minority community are the “other” – people who are hyphenated Albertans rather than ‘regular’ Albertans. They are less qualified to speak about the issues facing the general community because their perspective is forever mired in their own insular concerns. He would probably be shocked to learn that minority groups (of any kind, racial or otherwise), immersed as they are in the dominant culture, actually know a great deal about what “all the community” thinks and feels. Far more so than members of a majority group know about minority concerns. If anything, being white makes you less qualified, because you have to overcome your own privilege to understand the issues facing people of colour (PoC). Certainly being completely incurious about your own racial privilege makes you a poor candidate.
So Leech made a stupid comment. He apologized, and was ready to move on. After all, he was otherwise a good guy, right?
Leech wrote an editorial in the Calgary Herald in 2004 entitled Marriage a union between one man, one woman, which argued against same-sex marriage. He said redefining marriage “says children don’t deserve both parents, and it will further demoralize their own efforts to become parents themselves.” “It is biblically, morally and practically reprehensible for the government to pretend that two men or two women engaged in mutual stimulation are the same as husband and wife, as potential parents,” he wrote. “Marriage is not about equal rights; it isn’t a special-interest group. It is a repository for the future of humanity.”
Ah, right. Because the government is supposed to be in the business of legislating morality based on the Bible. Nice job, Leech.
So the question becomes whether or not Mr. Leech’s comments, and the beliefs they reflect, are a good barometer of what “all the community” in Alberta believes. After all, in Texas it is actually de rigeur for politicians to invoke Biblical nonsense and get into racial hot water. If Alberta truly is the Texas of Canada, those comments should have only helped:
Monday’s election result caught many off guard, but observers say issues like questionable polling and strategic voting, as well as concerns about social conservatism and controversial statements from Wildrose candidates, help explain the 61-seat PC majority.
“Fear won out over anger,” Paul McLoughlin, who writes the Alberta Scan newsletter, told the CBC radio show Calgary Eyeopener Tuesday morning, referring to “bozo eruptions” from two Wildrose candidates as well as Smith’s waffling on the reasons for climate change.
So, Alberta, I guess the numbers belie the stereotype: the truth about your similarities to Texas is much more complicated than that lazy comparison would allow. After all, you are still Canadians, and despite our quirkiness there is far more than unites us than divides us. Now if only you could vote in a Liberal government!
And to Mr. Leech?
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*I love Dickens characters