I moved to Red Deer in April 2017 and have lived here ever since, in the same apartment building in the same part of downtown for little more than four years.
I had never in my life been so far out west, so for me there were certain culture shocks I was prepared to face when making this pilgrimage. In my four years as a new Albertan, I have never seen such a divisive community and culture as I have seen here in this province.
There is no middle ground, no respect for opposing views, only the idea that “if you’re not with us you’re against us” from one camp of thinking to the next. If you’re Liberal, you’re the enemy. If you’re pro-further education (non-trades by the way), pro-animal rights, progressive thinking, pro-LGBTQ, pro-anything that isn’t part of the status quo of what Albertans feel comfortable with then you’re the enemy.
I call my dad every Saturday and relay the local news, and recently described the last year and a half as a year of rallies. Protests against restrictions, against vaccines, against masks, against anti-racism, rodeo rallies, Trump rallies, convoys for pro-oil, convoys for anti-lockdowns, and the list rolled on.
As I was saying this out loud I was struck with just how divided this community is on so many issues, especially issues where there is progressive thinking or scientific basis for these topics that people seem to be in opposition of.
Locally, we’re dealing with restrictions and while we can’t seem to agree on that peacefully and safely, we also can’t seem to agree on the homeless issue downtown. Red Deer has been dealing with deeper issues like the homeless and criminality they pose in the community for some time now. I understand that not all homeless are the dangerous but many of them are. I myself have been threatened with graphic violence for not handing over my money and my cigarettes. They are entitled and have every reason to be when our city and people hand everything they could ever want on a silver platter, and ask others to turn the other cheek when they are assaulted, threatened, spat at, or have their property vandalized and stolen.
We also are faced with the fact that we have a White Nationalist problem in central Alberta, where you can walk through downtown and find stickers and posters related to white power groups who mask their agendas with slogans.
The bottom line is about progress. About being able to handle situations in an objective manner where problems are efficiently resolved. The homeless, the crime, the racism and homophobia, these are issues that we need to tackle together if we want to be able to say that Red Deer is an inclusive and welcoming city. A city that people can be proud to say they’re from, not shy away from mentioning. These are the things we need to rally against, to make convoys against, to protest against. Not rallying for a former president of country you’re not a part of. Not rallying against scientifically founded health reforms and restrictions, especially when you’re only making matters worse by spreading COVID among yourselves and others.
If your idea of practicing patriotism involves screaming like an animal at 16-year olds working in retail because you don’t want to wear a mask, then you need to take a look at yourself. Blaming business owners for wanting to be able to keep their livelihood going and keep a roof over their heads after having to repair or replace what the homeless have devastated is wrong and disgusting. Fighting your neighbour, a teenager working minimum wage, a bus driver, or local business owner on issues that run deep and have gone for a long time without being properly addressed or tackled needs to stop.
I’m proud of the opportunities Alberta has offered me, I’m grateful and thankful for the move out west. I just have to hope that Red Deerians can turn around the chaotic climate that we are currently living in and be proud of the progress we can all make if we apply ourselves.
Don Watson moved to Red Deer four years ago. He is a freelance graphic designer and illustrator.