Calgary’s culture of defeat

Brian Jones bjones@thetelegram.com
Published on July 5, 2013

A deluge of hypocrisy has gushed out of Calgary and surrounding areas lately.

Floodwaters and their aftermath have put the region in national headlines for two weeks, and understandably so, as a massive spring runoff from the mountains swamped the city to an extent not seen in a lifetime.

When a critical mass of flooded basements was reached, thousands of residents of Calgary and nearby towns suddenly morphed from self-reliant pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstrappers into wailing, whining adherents of the formerly despised welfare state.

There were instant calls for government assistance, both provincial and federal.

The Tory premier pledged financial aid. The Conservative prime minister assured there would be federal financial assistance.

That would be the same Stephen Harper who once mocked Atlantic Canadians — including Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) — for their “culture of defeat,” i.e., their relatively low standard of living and alleged reliance on government.

Awash in hypocrisy

The water has receded, but the hypocrisy keeps rising. The damage is estimated to be in the billions of dollars, and residents have been instructed about how to apply for government aid.

(I will briefly interrupt this lambasting to state that I support the giving of such aid; helping each other is part of citizenship, and if tax dollars flow from East to West for once, well, there might be some lessons learned, mostly on the latter side of the country.)

But back to the hypocrisy — it bobbed to the surface while the water was still rising.

Representatives of the insurance industry shamelessly announced that the majority of policies did not cover damage caused by water that entered a residence through its doors or windows. “Did I read that right?” millions of incredulous newspaper subscribers wondered.

So, in a city that owes its wealth to free enterprise and sanctimoniously preaches to other Canadians about the glory and gain of free enterprise, its soaked and ruined citizens were betrayed by the fine print on a freely-entered contract.

Sticklers will rightly point out that this is irony, not hypocrisy. But it is related.

New right

The deification of free enterprise and the devotion to ultraconservative ideology enabled the Reform party to be spawned in Calgary in the late 1980s.

This is a good way to put the Reform party’s founding in context: its supporters were so right-wing, even Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives weren’t conservative enough for their liking.

It began as a wing-nut movement, but within two decades

produced a PM (originally from Ontario, it must be pointed

out) who dismissed a significant region of the country as cultural defeatists.

Calgary foisted upon the nation a conservative creed that epitomizes selfishness and narrow-mindedness, and is mean-spirited at best and cruel at worst.

(Lest I be wrongfully accused of prejudice or discrimination — of being Calgaryist, as it were — I will state, for the record, that I was born and raised in Calgary, graduated from the University of Calgary and left at age 22 to attend the University of British Columbia.)

My knowledge of the place prompts me to point out, as a footnote, that it is also home to some of the most strident supporters of privatized health care, as Alberta in general is home to many opponents of Medicare, but let’s explore that raging river of hypocrisy another day.

There have been reports that the flow of spring runoff has permanently changed some watercourses. It will be interesting to see if there is a permanent change in Calgary’s political culture. Perhaps this disaster will make some people realize there is no such thing as a culture of defeat, and there are no welfare bums — just fellow citizens in need of aid.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com