Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 11, 2004
Build bridges, not firewalls
Canada could use a few statesmen. If that wasn't apparent after last month's first ministers' conference at which the provinces took the federal government to the cleaners, it should be with Alberta Premier Ralph Klein's Sept. 29 plea to the Edmonton Petroleum Club asking the business leaders to help him build a "political firewall" around the province.
"By God, Ottawa, keep your hands off" Alberta's wealth, the premier proclaimed.
There is an assumption in some places that Albertans worked hard to put the oil and gas in the ground and now we're working hard to get it out. We deserve that wealth and we're not going to share any more of it than we have to.
There is another assumption in other places that there is a moral superiority to being Albertan. Because we consistently elect some of the most socially conservative MPs to Parliament, our province embodies what is true and good and right.
And because of these two "facts," we need firewalls. Firewalls to protect "our" wealth from greedy easterners and firewalls to protect us from the godless forces without.
Except, of course, these are not facts. Our vast petroleum resources are an accident of geography, a gift of God. And while Alberta has successfully developed its resources, that development brings as many responsibilities as it does privileges.
One responsibility is to ensure that the rights of the poor among us are respected. The pathetic $850 monthly allowance paid to the severely handicapped in this province is a scandal. Another responsibility is to do more than other provinces or countries to help when a hurricane devastates Haiti or when the people of Sudan and Zimbabwe cast off their oppressors and begin to build locally-based economies that can support their own populations.
As for the myth of Alberta's righteous social conservatism, it is just that - a myth. Abortion rates are as high here as in the rest of Canada and our premier has blessed those abortions by calling them a matter between a woman, her conscience and God. Divorce rates are high, liquor stores are on every corner and gambling is embedded in our province's way of life.
We don't need to erect firewalls; we need to build bridges. We ought to be Canadians first, Albertans second. Canada is not a foreign nation seeking to plunder and conquer. Canada is us. And Alberta is blessed to have so many people, educated in other provinces, helping to build our economy and our society. They have helped to make us more outward looking, less insular.
When Pope John Paul spoke in Winnipeg in 1984, he singled out Canada's finest characteristic as its "atmosphere of respect for cultural diversity." He asked us to apply Christ's commandment of love in our relations with those who are different.
The pope did not ask us to build firewalls, but rather to recognize the pluralism of traditions and cultures as compatible with the unity of society.
"Remember, O Canada, that the greatest richness of your multicultural character is to be able to reach out and help others - your brothers and sisters in need," the pope said.
While the pope was speaking about multiculturalism, the same applies to federalism. It is respect for diversity from sea to sea that has built the finest elements of this country. We are enriched by building bridges, not by erecting firewalls.
There are plenty of Albertans who not only want to build bridges, but who are actively doing so. It is this spirit of helping and cooperation that our political leaders ought to appeal to, not the lowest common denominator of fearing what the rest of Canada might do.
Raise us up, Mr. Premier, do not cheapen us with divisive rhetoric.
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