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Albertans should worry when Calgary becomes the city Canadians love to hate

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Alberta Premier Alison Redford

We won the lottery. Now we won't stop telling everyone else how to run their financial affairs. And guess what? They don't like it!

I've always suspected this was the way Canadians were reacting to Albertans. Now we know it was already true way back in 2008, thanks to a public opinion survey of Toronto and Vancouver residents conducted for the Alberta government that year and reported yesterday by the Canadian Press.

"Albertans 'smug' and 'condescending,'" reads the headline over yesterday's Toronto Star story about the Harris Decima poll.

Moreover, it's almost certainly even more true now, as even the political scientists inevitably trotted out for comment on occasions like this agreed.

"In Toronto and Vancouver, there were also considerable perceptions that Alberta was a fairly right-wing or conservative place, and that compassion, open-mindedness and tolerance was not always what it could or should be," Harris Decima's report on its poll diplomatically hedged.

No need to be mealy-mouthed like the author of the commentary, who was obviously cognizant of who was footing the bill. What that means is that Canadians in Toronto and Vancouver -- and I'll bet in other unsurveyed cities as well -- thought Albertans are heartless SOBs who care only about themselves.

Indeed, as the CP story said, "it found 40 per cent of non-Albertan respondents felt Albertans didn't care much about the rest of Canada. More than a quarter described Albertans as greedy and another quarter found them arrogant." (Emphasis added.)

As part of the same project, Harris Decima surveyed Albertans in a number of communities. "Many Albertans also felt that the province had, somewhat unfairly, acquired a reputation for being less tolerant, less compassionate and less environmentally careful than ideal. While some argued that the problem was one of perception, some also felt the reality was that Alberta had had some room to improve in all three respects."

My guess is that many of the Albertans surveyed didn't think this perception was somewhat unfair at all, but a pretty accurate reflection of the attitudes of sufficient numbers of their neighbours to justify similar perceptions of all of us in other provinces.

How can we avoid such conclusions when, time and again, generation after generation, we elect the same right-wing politicians at both the provincial and federal levels?

How can we avoid such perceptions when those politicians preach constantly about the efficacy of their far-right economic policies as if Alberta's wealth were evidence of that and not the fact we won the resources lottery before human beings even turned up on this quarter of the Great Plains?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, what the CP story, which as the cheap little shot at Toronto in the lead makes clear was written in Alberta, ignored is the potential political implication of such attitudes for this province, or for Conservative federal politicians who come from here.

Alberta's wide-open Wild West approach to developing its petroleum resources is seen in Ontario -- not without some justification -- both as environmentally irresponsible and extremely detrimental to Central Canada's manufacturing-based economy.

Here's Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty on how he sees Alberta’s approach to oilsands development: "The only reason the dollar is high, it's a petro-dollar, driven by the global demand for oil and gas to be sourced in Western Canada. If I had my preferences as to whether we have a rapidly growing oil and gas sector in the West or a lower dollar benefiting Ontario, I stand with the lower dollar."

This perfectly reasonable statement for an Ontario leader caused the Conservative-dominated mainstream media to go wild, calling McGuinty "an idiot" and worse. Alberta Premier Alison Redford called his conclusions a "false paradigm." Others, of course, disagreed with her, but in a way the facts of the matter are less important that the perceptions.

If Central Canadians see the federal Conservatives as favouring Alberta's narrow interests over those of the rest of Canada, they will be less likely to vote for them -- not a bad idea on its own merits, of course

But if Albertans want to see policies from some new federal government that really will have a negative impact on this province's economy, the way to ensure that happens is to continue irresponsibly on in a manner that will drive other Canadians to feel they have no option but to protect their economic and environmental interests.

After generations of constant propaganda, the hysterical mythmaking about Pierre Trudeau's National Energy Program is deeply entrenched in Alberta's psyche. Yet, through its policies, the Alberta government is setting the stage for another NEP, or worse.

That's the real reason why results like those of the weirdly unpublicized 2008 survey -- which apparently have been available to the media since 2009 -- are important.

As an op-ed piece in the Toronto Star pointed out back on Feb. 29, "the national media objected to McGuinty stating aloud the truth: the value of the Canadian dollar is heavily impacted by the price of oil and the dollar’s appreciation has hurt many in the manufacturing sector.

"There are things that can be done so the continued development of the oilsands does less damage to some communities in other parts of Canada," the article went on, enumerating a few, such as easing the pace of development.

The author, Matthew Mendelsohn of the Mowat Centre in Toronto, didn't say what might happen if we don't. But his answer was pretty obvious between the lines of his closing remark: "Please, stop asking for our love. Isn't our acquiescence enough?"

Results like those of the 2008 Harris Decima survey mean more than just that Calgary has replaced Toronto as the city Canadians most love to hate. Albertans need to wake up and pay attention.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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