Money talks, and what money is saying now, the day before the 100th opening of the Calgary Stampede, is that Canadians are turning away from animal cruelty as entertainment.
Sometimes a whisper is louder than a shout, and the big money was barely whispering on the topic of harm to animals at the Calgary Stampede, which opens for the 100th time tomorrow. But rest assured those sibilant sounds from the upper reaches of Bell Canada's corporate office in Montreal are being heard clearly in the boardroom of the Stampede Board as the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" marks its centennial.
The Calgary Herald, which like its namesake city is nowadays all hat and no cows, briefly reported yesterday that the Canadian telecommunications giant had quietly pulled its support from all rodeo events at the Stampede.
This is not the biggest deal on God's green acres, seeing as Bell Canada has merely switched its support to other Stampede events that aren't seen by large numbers of Canadians as being openly cruel to animals, but it's a sign of the times and of what’s to come.
It does not mean that such events as the unquestionably exciting chuckwagon races, which every year are responsible for the deaths of at least a few horses, or calf roping, a particular bête noir to certain animal rights groups, will stop at once. Count on the Stampede Board, the Calgary rodeo’s powerful governing body, to find alternative sponsors as long as it can.
But Bell Canada's sponsorship decision marks the beginning of the end of these events because it shows public disapproval can bite when it’s tied to something that has the potential to cost the corporations involved in these affairs money. And when that money -- or, rather, the lack of it -- threatens to trickle down to the corporate bottom line, things start to happen.
So while Bell Canada was very careful not to say anything that suggested customer email campaigns like the one organized by the Vancouver Humane Society had anything to do with its withdrawal of support for the rodeo events, it is said here you can be confident that’s at least part of the story behind the sponsorship switch.
Bell Canada can be forgiven for not making the point explicit, and possibly for easing out of the Stampede instead of just marching away, spurs a-jingle-janglin'. The company may not wish to suffer a noisy counter-boycott from some rodeo boosters, or to have its executives' mothers’ virtue abused on-air by publicity craving right-wing television commentators.
Just the same, this perceived success is likely to embolden opponents of the Stampede's most egregious events to extend their campaign to other companies that sponsor activities widely perceived as needlessly cruel to animals.
For its part, the Stampede would prefer to dismiss the campaign as an effort by "animal activists who may be just as interested in the fund-raising possibilities that a campaign of this nature offers" and a few misguided bloggers.
In a post on the Stampede's website yesterday, Programming Vice-President Paul Rosenberg compared the strong feelings of many Canadians about "the participation of animals in exhibition, competition and education events" to the debate between vegetarians and the rest of us who eat meat. He took a subtle dig at the Vancouver Humane Society for not operating an animal shelter, and promised to continue practicing "strong animal care," whatever that means, at the Stampede.
As for the Herald's brief and not terribly informative report on Bell Canada's sponsorship decision, it trotted out the familiar refrain that rodeo is a Western cultural icon. The annual 10-day event, it said, "is a celebration of cowboy culture that features the rodeo and chuckwagon races."
There’s a good case to be made, however, that the story the Stampede is all about the cowboy’s trade, a vital part of our Western culture and all that, ain’t much more than an entertaining yarn to be spun around a campfire.
As a real farmer commented on this blog in response to a recent post on this topic, "the Calgary Stampede was an exercise in urban nostalgia 100 years ago and it was a perverse distortion of the reality of ranching then and still is today."
"Those calves used in roping used to come into the local auction markets in September mostly broken and crippled," the commenter wrote. "Now they disappear. People who actually make their living raising cattle never resort to yipping, yelling or horseplay. A few oil-fueled start-ups do it for a few years while blathering on about free enterprise, while taking advantage of government supplied community pastures, support programs, and any other welfare they can grub up, before they flip the land and move on -- good riddance to bad rubbish."
The Stampede Board, made up largely of powerful business figures to whom too many Southern Alberta politicians all but owe their souls, will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th Century, let alone the 21st. That might be a useful project on which someone can practice his or her otherwise obsolete lassoing skills!
But it will happen, as long as money keeps talking as Bell Canada quietly did this week.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.