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BRIAN JONES: Learning to channel political anger

It turns out Newfoundlanders aren’t the only ones who don’t have a clue what to do with their political anger. In petrol-producing Alberta, they’re getting pumped about separation.

This might bring hope to the tricolour-waving Newfoundland nationalists who dream of regaining the long-gone dominion, and naively think people would be better off if the merchant class could once again rule the place as a country rather than as a mere province.

This is just conjecture, but “Prime Minister Dwight Ball” would probably be even more ineffectual and useless than Premier Dwight Ball.

Albertans’ anger is understandable — most other Canadians get a share of its riches, but whine about “dirty oil” and pipelines (see: Energy East, Quebec opposition to).

With B.C.ers also vetoing a pipeline from Alberta to “tidewater” — there’s idiotic political jargon for you — the prairie sheikhs are denied access to the Pacific as well as the Atlantic to ship their oil. Thus the recent renewed calls for Alberta separation: send the oil by rail, and stop subsidizing most of the rest of the country.

It won’t happen, of course. But there will be consequences, and they will be ugly.

Western anger is as old as Confederation. The idea of Alberta separatism arose almost 40 years ago, in the early 1980s, when then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau put price limits on Alberta oil to benefit Ontario industry (see: National Energy Program; also see: why Albertans still hate Liberals).

As a student at the University of Calgary, I wrote one of my political science term papers on the nascent Alberta separatists, exemplified by the newly formed Canada West Foundation, colloquially known as West Fed. I based my essay on information gleaned from West Fed’s first mass public meeting, when more than 2,000 angry people jammed the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.

A strange thing about political anger is that it makes conservative people even more conservative.

I don’t recall who the speakers were, or what exactly was said. I do recall two things: after the meeting, I immediately knew my term paper would get an A; and I knew I would always remember the date — Dec. 8, 1980 — because when I got in my car and turned on the radio, the first thing to come out of it was an announcement that John Lennon had been shot in New York.

Alberta separatism fizzled out a few years later. More accurately, the anger that spawned West Fed morphed into something thoroughly detestable: the Reform Party of Canada, which arose shortly thereafter.

A strange thing about political anger is that it makes conservative people even more conservative. Ponder Brian Mulroney, who mere minutes after his election in 1984 began his descent to becoming one of the most detested Canadian leaders ever. And yet, he wasn’t right-wing enough for Reformers, who elected their first MP in a byelection a mere five years later. (Deborah Grey, 1989, for the curious.)

Political anger can be justified and rational. Often, the electoral response is less so. This is what leftoids the world over don’t get about the phenomenon of Donald Trump. Americans’ anger about the effects of globalization — stagnant wages, lost jobs, increased inequality in income — was palpable and understandable. This was why they elected a so-called political outsider, his moronic obnoxiousness notwithstanding — not because they are all racists or fascists or both, as so many leftists delude themselves into believing.

Ironically, Albertans’ most recent electoral rebellion, in 2015, brought the NDP to power. It is the exception that proves the rule. It is a one-term wonder, and this spring’s election will surely bring the right-wing United Conservative Party and the awful Jason Kenney to power.

The tendency for political anger to veer to the right helps explain why Newfoundlanders can’t — or won’t — step off their self-defeating Liberal-Tory treadmill. For 70 years, punish the Liberals by voting Tory, and punish the Tories by voting Liberal. Punish them both? It would never occur to the Great Newfoundland Voter.

Related letters

LETTER: A province on the edge

LETTER: Oil and gas the lifeblood of many economies

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

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