Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Jeffery Simpson misses the point

I know, I know, big surprise.

Few tears, however, are being shed for Calgary elsewhere in Alberta. (Edmonton never sheds them.) Calgarians won't appreciate the comparison, but, in Alberta, their city is now regarded provincially as Toronto is nationally: fat, self-absorbed and whining, a kind of Hogtown West.

They see all those construction cranes, expensive condominiums, millionaires and corporate towers (the construction of EnCana's vast new tower will close a major downtown street for a year) and wonder what the moaning's about. In fact, Calgary's problems have more in common with Toronto and other large cities than with rural Alberta - notably how to finance and build infrastructure and accommodate ethnic diversity.

Calgary's candidate for the Conservative Party leadership, Jim Dinning, lost because, well, he was perceived as the Calgary establishment candidate. Mr. Stelmach won because he was the most acceptable candidate to those in rural and northern Alberta and Edmonton, where Conservatives just didn't want another premier from Calgary after a decade of Mr. Klein.

Calgary's nose remains out of joint. A lot of other Albertans reply: Tough.

That much is true - the part Simpson is missing is that a lot of those Albertans lacking sympathy for the complaints of the Calgary elites are Calgarians.

The growing divides in Alberta, urban and rural, North and South, Edmonton and Alberta are, for the most part, misapplied models - often deliberately so. The real distinction, much as the elites would go red in the face denying it, if they even allowed the argument to be made in any kind of major forum, is a good old fashioned class war distinction between haves and have-nots.

Between all those shiny new towers in Calgary that Simpson waxes rhapsodic about are the growing ranks of the urban poor being priced out of the city by rapacious landlords and ever increasing costs of living as employers whine about a lack of employees willing to be exploited and underpaid. You can't afford basic food and shelter in Calgary on what some employers still think they can get away with paying. Asking for enough for basic survival is attacked as being arrogant and unreasonable. Charging what the market will bear was never meant to be something workers could do.

In the countryside, working for exploitation wages and frequently horrifically abused on the farms owned by good God fearing Tories, forbidden by law even from trying to unionize, are the rural poor. You can find them working in hellish meat processing plants or clinging to the margins of the small town service economy as their costs of living rise more slowly but just as inexorably as they do in the cities. Even so, big business fears they might get uppity and look to exploitative guest worker programs to cool the labour market.

As the rich wallow in the Alberta Advantage the poor - many new arrivals from provinces with real political alternatives - begin to examine their options. Hence the Alberta Tories languishing at 35% in Alberta - a drop manifestly not limited to the big cities as Simpson suggests.

Reducing the very real large scale transformations occurring here in Alberta to 'people resent fat-cat Calgary' is just a spectacular example of missing the point.

Oh right, the byline was Jeffery Simpson, wasn't it?

2 comments:

Nativity in Black said...

hey cliff, it's sammy. i don't know how to work this fucking site yet, but yeah dude, message me back

Cliff said...

Welcome to blogger Sammy - you'll need at least one post on your site to comment on - or my e-mail is in my profile on this blog.

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