The Epistle of Q — Chapter 119

Are we in danger of losing Canada?…

As I begin to pack up and clear out of The Shack I’ve been living in while at Concordia University of Edmonton, I’ve had an opportunity to reflect back over the totality of my teaching gig, including some ancillary events and activities (including another visit to my 103 year old mother). And I’ve noticed something.

Something has crept into the national fabric that Covid-19 has actually exacerbated. Let’s just call it a new form of NIMBY… I have been sensing it for awhile; in fact I really came face-to-face with it upon moving to Prince Edward Island in 2007 and their penchant for labelling new people arriving – CFA’s (Come From Away) – luckily my mother was born there so I was considered a “returnee”, but I digress. This NIMBY is getting ramped up and is not anywhere close to being a local joke, especially in BC and now perhaps on the Prairies. But first the back story. When I was in Grade Four, we moved from Bassano Alberta to Embro Ontario. Fairly significant for anyone, but especially for a kid in elementary school. One night early in the second winter, while at the rink to play hockey, kids were talking about this and that and I casually commented that “out west” we didn’t do any of that. Immediately an older boy (and I could give you his name and where he was sitting on a bench in the change room) blurted out: “I’ve had enough of your out west talk; you’re in Ontario now, so act like it!” It did shut me up for that evening, and I think I did reduce my references to the prairies. But it bothered me, even then, because I thought people would like to know the differences as well as the similarities across the land. Later while on a summer mission field (for the church) in Manitoba I got into quite a conversation trying to convince some prairie farmers in a café that not every easterner was the enemy. While I think it may have been the last time I defended so vigorously the populace of Ontario, nevertheless it again concerned me that people couldn’t see the great benefits of such a diverse country.

Then I moved back west, transferring to the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where I knew no one and where even my relationship with the church was not as positive as it had been. Nevertheless the friendliness and openness of everyone I did meet certainly convinced me that the west was friendlier than the east, albeit perhaps because I was seen as coming home. Moreover, often at the UofA serious efforts were undertaken to try to connect the campus with the rest of the country and vice versa: Second Century Week, having Claude Ryan from Le Devoir speak, inviting Quebecois and other musical communities to come and perform, teach-ins, etc. all contributed to an atmosphere of Canadiana. It was a good time, it was a good experience.

And for most of my life, as I worked and/or lived in various parts of the country (including residing in eight of the provinces, while work took me into every province and territory), I felt at home and believed I was respected regardless of my place of residency or birth. The only time I sense a bit of friction was during a return from BC to look for work in Alberta at the end of the last millennium. The search was somewhat difficult and it was suggested to me that even though many of the power-brokers were old college colleagues, I needed to realize that I had moved out to BC when I was much younger and spent most of my life avoiding winters. Therefore I should not expect to be instantly welcomed back. But I didn’t really let it get me down and eventually life moved forward.

Now what I’m seeing is something significantly different and far more impactful in large part because it is being led by our political leaders. We ought not be too smug in our critiques of the country to the south and the divisions within that realm. We now have it here too. While our PM started bashing the prairies well before Covid-19, he hasn’t let up his anti-resource mantra since it befell us. And perhaps that is what has inspired different provincial premiers to take up the “modus operandi”.

The BC Premier has been very strident in his anti-Alberta rhetoric. While initially it was over a pipeline and then holiday-home taxation, in recent months under the Covid-19 umbrella he has become almost breathless in his desire to keep Albertans out. Provincial campgrounds became off-limits, even if pre-existing booking contracts were in place. These were summarily cancelled for people with non BC addresses. And then it was recommended that outsiders shouldn’t even come to their own summer residences or other resort properties upon which they have been paying BC taxes (often with a surcharge). It hit home to me in June here in Alberta when twice while filling up my BC-plated SUV an individual (perhaps a new Canadian) in the facility would ask; “Why does your Premier not like us? I thought we were all Canadians!” In return though, I was welcomed and thanked for coming and spending some of my money in Alberta (they didn’t even ask if I was working here).

Then the Maritimes and especially PEI with its “Bridge & Ferry” accesses began shutting out others even if they owned property, had family or otherwise were invested in the place. Ontario made it clear that others should stay away. Québec was even blocking bridges in the Capital Region, seemingly uncaring that most of the traffic was due to work – federal office are on both sides of the Ottawa River.

It made me sad. And then it happened directly to me. One evening driving up the QE-2 towards Edmonton I came across a sherriff’s car on the shoulder with its lights flashing. I couldn’t pull over as cars were passing me in the left lane. I couldn’t really slow down that much as there was a car right behind me. As I passed, the car the officer had stopped pulled out behind me, and soon passed me. Another car came up behind me but didn’t pass although another car did. Then the car behind me put on its flashing blue/red lights. Initially I thought he was going to pass me and go after one of the vehicles that had passed me but no he stayed right on my bumper. So I pulled over, got out my I.D. and rolled down the window. He didn’t come immediately, but then I heard a rap on the passenger window – so I opened it. For the next four or five minutes I was harangued about not pulling over and slowing down enough. I was about to argue and then I realized this wasn’t about any of that – he had decided that the BC plates deserved to be harassed. Maybe the two poppies on the tailgate (a gift from the time The Saint was Deputy at Veterans’ Affairs) kept him from giving me a ticket, I don’t know. I do know that I was the only car he pulled over even though at least a half-dozen were traveling faster in the very same space at the same time. I also know he did not have his speed-gun radar on either.

Now I realize this was not the same as being carded because of race or colour – but it did suggest to me that at least some public servants were taking their cues from their political masters. Places of residency matter.

And so I ask – under the cloud of Covid-19:
• Are we as a nation growing more anti-Canadian and more pro-provincial?
• Why have we become so insular along provincial lines and not municipal or county or even regional?
• Is this going to be one of the truly negative legacies of Covid-19 – that we become so afraid of each other that we want to see each other’s driver’s licence before we will even open our doors, let alone our hearts?