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WAGNER: How early American immigration shaped Alberta’s cultural distinctiveness

The large numbers of American immigrants in the province’s early decades, as well as during the post-war oil rush, helps to explain why Alberta is a culturally distinct region within Canada.

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The question of whether Alberta is a culturally distinct region has been raised recently by the authors of the Buffalo Declaration, and by others in the past. Over the years, a number of scholars have written about this issue, attempting to explain how and why Alberta differs politically and culturally from the other provinces. 

For the most part, these scholars do not approve of Alberta’s uniqueness, since a common theme in their work is the influence of religious and political conservativism on the province. 

What is it about Alberta that makes it different? One answer would be the people that originally settled here.

That is to say, a key influence on the culture of any newly settled community – such as Alberta – is immigration. Early in its history, the province’s identity was shaped by the cultures of the early settlers who founded it. With this in mind, it is significant that Alberta welcomed a particularly large number of American immigrants, much more so than other provinces.

Nelson Wiseman, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, has probably written more about the political effect of American immigration on Alberta than anyone. Wiseman specializes in the study of “political culture.” He has carefully studied the political cultures of Canada’s various regions and provinces, and he has highlighted the impact of American immigration on Alberta, especially during its formative years. 

The effect of American immigration according to Wiseman, has been substantial. As he writes in his 2007 book In Search of Canadian Political Culture, “In 1911, American-born Albertans (22 per cent of the population) outnumbered the British-born, Ontario-born, and European-born. Almost certainly, this was the largest concentration of Americans in any jurisdiction outside the US.” 

He adds that, “Americans and their ideas helped shape provincial politics because they settled in the politically determinative rural areas. Their influence was particularly pronounced in the south.”

After the discovery of oil in 1947, more Americans came north to help in the development of the province’s petroleum industry. According to Wiseman, “Between 1955 and 1970, nine of the fifteen presidents of Calgary’s exclusive and influential Petroleum Club were Americans. In no other province were Americans so prominent as captains of industry.”

Besides the over-sized influence on the oil industry, something similar occurred in the realm of religion. Wiseman writes that, “Alberta has been the province most receptive to Christian evangelicalism. As early as 1908, the Calgary Daily Herald reported that American and central Canadian ‘evangelists seem to have a grip on the city.’”

To a certain degree, this religious influence has carried over into politics because “Alberta resembles the US” in that “evangelical Christians have played leading political roles there.” 

Wiseman points out that the connection between religion and politics is not just a phenomenon of the distant past, either: “That conservative religious influence lingers in Alberta can be seen in the federal party leaders recently produced by the province: Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, and Stephen Harper are all evangelical Christians.”

Wiseman is not alone in emphasizing the crucial role of immigration patterns on the province. In 1990, historians Howard and Tamara Palmer published a one-volume history of Alberta entitled Alberta: A New History. Among other things, the Palmers wanted to explain Alberta’s conservative political culture, and like Wiseman, they root their explanation in immigration. However, their analysis differs somewhat from his because they suggest that, besides the Americans, certain Europeans also contributed to the right-leaning orientation of Alberta’s political environment.

As a general point, the Palmers argue that the post-World War Two wave of immigration that flowed into the province, “contributed to the rightward shift in Alberta’s political culture.” In particular, they write that the political perspectives of eastern and central European immigrants escaping communism, “were among the many factors that helped to shift Alberta’s political culture to the right during the 1950s and 1960s.”

But movement in the conservative direction didn’t come just from eastern Europeans. Besides that group, there were also, “British immigrants fleeing socialism, conservative rural Dutch Calvinist immigrants, and the small-business oriented Germans, Austrians, and Scandinavians, who were usually leery of government regulation.”

Like Wiseman, however, the Palmers also note the disproportionate influence of Americans in the post-war period. Although their numbers were not large, a considerable number were prominent oilmen and, “Like their counterparts in the United States, they often held strong right-wing views.”

It should not be surprising that the culture of early settlers – and even the arrival of later immigrants – can have a profound impact on the culture of any society. The fact that Quebec was originally settled by people from France affects Canadian culture and politics every day.

Although Alberta was not founded by Americans in the way that Quebec was settled by the French, Americans constituted a disproportionate number of early settlers – and later pioneers of the oil industry. Their cultural and political influence helped to make Alberta different from the other provinces to some degree. In other words, the large numbers of American immigrants in the province’s early decades, as well as during the post-war oil rush, helps to explain why Alberta is a culturally distinct region within Canada.

Michael Wagner is columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta. His books include ‘Alberta: Separatism Then and Now’ and ‘True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada.’

Michael Wagner is a Senior Alberta Columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta. His books include 'Alberta: Separatism Then and Now' and 'True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada.' mwagner@westernstandardonline.com

Opinion

MORGAN: Has Kenney dodged a bullet?

“Whatever shortcomings he may have, it is undeniable that Jason Kenney is a master political player.”

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Apparently the meeting was quick, but strategic discussions went well into the night before the Executive Committee (EC) of the UCP agreed upon the rules to set out for a future leadership review for Jason Kenney.

The political brinkmanship leading up to this meeting began months ago. While rogue constituency associations (CAs) were trying to meet a constitutional bar set for invoking a leadership review, Kenney loyalists were organizing to ensure the EC elected at the UCP’s November 2021 annual general meeting (AGM) could control the terms of the review. It appears the Kenney loyalists have won this round.

A total of 22 CAs issued a letter demanding a leadership review to be held by the end of March in 2022. That met the bar set out in the party bylaws to invoke such a review and it put Kenney on the spot. An attempt was made to raise the bar for calling a review to 29 CAs, but that motion was soundly rejected by party members at the November AGM. Plan B was to stack the party EC and that appears to have been a success.

A leadership review is now slated to be held in Red Deer on Saturday, April 9, 2022. This review will look nothing like what the 22 constituency associations wanted to see, however. The terms of this review have been set by the party executive and they will slant the odds in favour of Jason Kenney.

The CAs wanted the review to allow every member of the party to place a vote. The only party members who will be able to vote in the leadership review will be delegates who pay a fee and travel to Red Deer on April 9th in order to vote in person. That fee has yet to be determined, but we can rest assured it won’t be inexpensive. This will likely reduce the number of people voting in the leadership review down to well under 1,000. This provides a much more manageable number of members to manipulate in order to ensure a positive measure of support for Jason Kenney.

In the late hours of the last night of the legislative session, the UCP government invoked closure and passed Bill 81 that will allow a single person to purchase hundreds of memberships on behalf of other people in a political party. CAs that used to have to disclose the source of all donations will no longer be obliged to do so. This provides a mechanism for a political action committee (PAC) to funnel funds to CAs which could sponsor members to attend events such as leadership reviews. Theoretically, memberships could now be purchased for others who then have their transportation and convention fees sponsored in order for them to place votes favorable to the leader. Do you think this may happen?

Whatever shortcomings he may have, it’s undeniable that Kenney is a master political player. He knows rules and procedures inside out and he has decades of experience in winning campaigns from general elections to leadership races. Kenney is pulling out the stops to keep himself in the leader’s seat of the UCP and it looks like he may very well pull it off.

While Kenney may have just won the latest battle, it will remain to be seen if he wins the war. He is lining up the stars in order to ensure a winning leadership review, but he will be still facing a grumpy caucus and some infuriated CAs the day after the review if not sooner.

Kenney is buying himself time. With time he may win over ruffled caucus members and as we come closer to election time, CAs may become dominated by Kenney loyalists again.

While Kenney may pull off dodging a bullet with his leadership, his biggest challenge remains winning the next election. Being a skilled political operator may help keep him in the leader’s seat, but it doesn’t necessarily endear himself with the general electorate. Political intrigue can foster public mistrust.

Kenney is in a fight for his political life. This war will take place in a number of battles. So far Kenney is winning them.

The final battle will come in the spring of 2023 when Kenney faces the Alberta electorate as a whole.

Cory Morgan is Assistant Opinion & Broadcast Editor for the Western Standard
cmorgan@westernstandardonline.com

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Opinion

The Pipeline: YouTube cancels Western Standard

This week a Calgary Cop suspended for refusing vax, YouTube cancels Western Standard and D-Day on Kenney’s leadership vote rules. Join us live at 12 PM!

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Opinion

MORGAN: Free speech in comedy under siege

“What has happened to our society when a comedy festival may turn into a street battle? “

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Standup comedians have always been on the front lines in battles over free speech and expression.

In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, most of the pearl-clutching busybodies came from the ‘moral majority’ religious right. They feared obscenity within comedy acts would degrade the moral fabric of the nation and for a while, the law agreed. Comedian Lenny Bruce was convicted and sentenced to four months in a workhouse in 1964 for the crime of spreading obscenity in his act. George Carlin was arrested seven times during the 1970s for his famous “Seven Dirty Words” routine.

Bruce died before the appeal of his sentence was completed. He was posthumously pardoned in 2003. Charges against Carlin were all dropped before he could be convicted. Carlin and Bruce refused to back down and in the end, the state couldn’t win. We will never know how many comedians allowed themselves to be cowed into changing their acts due to state and social intimidation in those days. Not all of them had the will or support bases Carlin and Bruce enjoyed.

The ability for comedians to freely express themselves is just as threatened today as it was 50 years ago. The source of puritanical outrage against comedy routines has changed, though. These days the prigs demanding the curtailment of free speech in comedy acts are the snowflakes of the politically correct left.

Canadian comedian Mike Ward found himself dragged before human rights tribunals and the Canadian courts for nearly a decade over a routine in which he mocked a disabled young Canadian performer. The case ultimately went to the Canadian Supreme Court where it was ruled in a tight 5-4 split decision Ward’s right to free speech was to be protected, and jokes were not subject to judicial review. We came dangerously close to having a comedian convicted for his routine during this decade. The threat to free expression is real and it’s ongoing.

The prime target of the cancel-culture mob lately has been American comedian Dave Chappelle. Chappelle has long enjoyed poking fun at the hypersensitive underbelly of the LGBTQ activist community and has never backed down in the face of the enraged blowback following one of his acts. In Chappelle’s most recent Netflix comedy special he went out of his way to antagonize the usual suspects as he made jokes about transgender ideological orthodoxy. The response to his act was immediate and predictable. Activists demanded Netflix pull the special down and small groups of Netflix employees staged widely publicized walkouts in protest of Chappelle’s act.

Netflix never pulled Chappelle’s special down and Chappelle has remained unapologetic for it. The controversy generated by apoplectic snowflakes in response to Chappelle’s act likely only increased viewership of the special.

It has just been announced Dave Chappelle is going to be headlining a Netflix comedy festival this coming April in Hollywood Bowl. This signals Netflix has done well with Chappelle’s routine despite or perhaps even because of the controversy it generated. In having a set date at a large outdoor venue and in such a populated area, Netflix is upping the ante in their battle with cancel-culture activists. Not only are they saying they won’t pull Chappelle’s older content, but they are also expanding the reach for his next act.

American and Canadian courts have proven they will protect the rights of free expression for controversial comedians, albeit grudgingly. Anti-free speech activists will have to take their case to the streets now and I suspect they will. With as many as 17,000 attendees arriving for a comedy festival being potentially greeted by a sizable number of protesters, things may get ugly.

What has happened to our society when a comedy festival may turn into a street battle?

Chappelle’s showdown this spring could be a turning point for comedy. Will he and Netflix stand their ground in the face of protests? Will local authorities ensure the show can go on even if activists vow to shut it down? This comedy event is going to be an important one.

As with any art, the enjoyment of comedy is subjective. Some people like simple clean humour, some like complex satire, and some like vulgarity-laden shock comedy. The only people who can judge good comedy are the audience and they should only be able to render judgment through voting with their feet (and wallets). In other words, if you don’t like it, don’t watch it.

Comedians ply their trade by observing the world and poking at sacred cows. They dig into subjects people commonly avoid and force us to think about them through the lens of humour. They provide a public service by pushing the boundaries of free expression and ensuring no subjects are ever out of bounds. They often make us laugh and we need a whole lot more of that these days.

Comedians will not be able to effectively practice their art if they fear censors or legal repercussions. They will be restrained and they will leave subjects that need to be brought before public scrutiny untouched.

If the speech and expression of comedians are allowed to be suppressed, no speech is safe. We need to stand up for our comics for both their sake and our own.

Cory Morgan is Assistant Opinion & Broadcast Editor for the Western Standard
cmorgan@westernstandardonline.com

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Petition: No Media Bailouts

We the undersigned call on the Canadian government to immediately cease all payouts to media companies.

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