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Jack Knox: Dear Alberta, when alienation builds, the jokes stop being funny

Dear Alberta, I’m writing to clear up a misunderstanding. That is, you seem to think that we in B.C. have it in for you. Really, I don’t know how you have come to feel that way. OK, we did try to block your pipeline.
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Cattle graze winter pasture in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies near Longview, Alta. on Jan. 8, 2004. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Dear Alberta,

I’m writing to clear up a misunderstanding. That is, you seem to think that we in B.C. have it in for you.

Really, I don’t know how you have come to feel that way. OK, we did try to block your pipeline. And we did, after enticing you to buy a part-time home in Victoria, ambush you with a speculation tax. Then, when the pandemic came, we told you not to visit that home at all (though, being big-hearted, we did say you were free to keep paying property taxes). Then, a couple of weeks ago, we made noises about rebuilding the Berlin Wall just west of Lake Louise. (Well, not quite.)

Oddly enough, all this left your nose out of joint.

OK, I may have contributed to these hurt feelings myself. I may, over the years, have painted a rather broad-brush portrait of humourless redneckery. I may have suggested that the term “drunken Albertan” was redundant. Or that your favourite vegetables were pickled eggs and Spam. Or that your sports cars were made by John Deere. Or that your daycare ­centres had cigarette machines.

“Alberta,” I once wrote, “sings O Canada on Father’s Day, but is pretty sure Ronald Reagan was its real dad. Thinks Stephen Harper is a commie. Drives a Hummer, uses it to drive over Greenpeacers, thumpety-bump. Eats hippies for breakfast, deep-fried.” There was also something about the unsmiling, us-against-the-world paranoia of the ­fanatical Albertaliban.

For some reason, these observations caused some Albertans to fire off blistering letters to the editor WRITTEN ENTIRELY IN CAPITALS, which only cemented the image.

Now, in my defence, I wasn’t the only one dealing in ­stereotypes. You, Alberta, have tended to characterize B.C. as a lazy, woolly hatted, woolly headed, super-woke stoner who takes to the legislature lawn to protest anything that might actually provide some jobs or taxes. B.C. eats a diet consisting entirely of silage and tofu, which he pretends doesn’t taste like drain sludge. Heats his house with grow-op waste. Goes on stress leave when it snows. Albertans shovel their flakes, but British Columbians vote for them.

And that grumbling/teasing is all fine, because at the end of the day, we’re still part of the same family, like a couple of cousins who may not have everything in common, but have enough, and so can poke fun while sharing a beer.

Besides, stereotypes seldom stand up to scrutiny once people get together. In person, it quickly becomes apparent that we’re more complicated than the cartoon versions of ourselves. We have more similarities than differences.

Except, here’s the problem: COVID. The pandemic is keeping people apart, reinforcing divisions, feeding misunderstanding and alienation.

Take, for example, what happened last summer. First, Premier John Horgan laid out the welcome mat: “To all those Albertans who have properties in British Columbia and spend much of their time in ­British Columbia, I’m certain that they’ll be coming for the summer and we welcome them.” Alas, reality was that some British Columbians, the self-appointed Pandemic Police, welcomed out-of-province visitors by jamming nasty Go Home notes under their windshield wipers.

That was followed by an unfortunate mixup after Horgan was asked about the harassment of Canadians who had moved home from the States but were still driving cars with U.S. plates. He replied that maybe the returnees should get B.C. plates, or ride the bus or climb on a bike. Somehow, by the time the story got to the other side of the Rockies, his answer had been interpreted to include vacationing Albertans, too. Since ­Albertans already rated ­Horgan somewhere between Justin Trudeau and the Vancouver Canucks on the popularity scale (see: Great Pipeline/Wine War of 2018), this did not go over well.

Jeez, this isn’t a great (interprovincial) road to travel. Without human contact, we lose ourselves in the politics and rhetoric. We’re not there yet, but we don’t want to become like the U.S., split like an aging couple who have forgotten what drew them together and are left only with what sets them apart. When that happens, the jokes stop being funny.

So, Alberta, what I’m saying is this: It’s a lousy time for us to get together right now (this is no time to travel, not between ­Calgary and Kelowna, not between Victoria and Vancouver), but when we can, let’s have a beer. And complain about Toronto.

jknox@timescolonist.com