The annual political stampede to Calgary — big hats tilted awkwardly, mouths stuffed with pancakes — seems like so much opportunism.
But there is more potential than meets the eye in the summer pilgrimage of politicos to the self-styled greatest outdoor show on Earth.
Obviously, Calgary voters alone are not nearly important enough to draw the A list of leaders and wanna-be leaders who have shown up this week in the Southern Alberta city (or will show up in Week 2).
You may wonder what political mileage Bob Rae or Justin Trudeau get out of wearing belt buckles and riding boots? A Liberal is still a Liberal in Alberta, even if dressed in western finery.
Or how Tom Mulcair can improve the fortunes of the NDP by arriving in Calgary next week, fresh on the heels of his spring rant (followed by a fact-finding tour to Edmonton and Fort McMurray) on oilsands development?
Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a transplanted Easterner who now boasts Calgary roots, could be seen as more than a little cynical for his appearance in the Stampede city this week.
But everyone loves a big party.
The Stampede, as it celebrates its 100th anniversary, is the biggest party going. Even CBC has recognized this, sending its big-hitters out to cover the fun and frivolity (and catch more than glimpses of politicians in the process). Wherever the spotlight shines brightest, you are sure to find the public’s elected servants.
And in the heat of summer, when Canadians would rather think about anything but politics, it takes a big party to get our attention.
Certainly there is almost no serious political business being done in Calgary.
The exception seems to be the provincial Progressive Conservative government, which is fitting cabinet and caucus meetings around the glad-handling. MLAs have apparently been told by Premier Alison Redford to expect the summer to be a busy, productive time. (That’s more than a little refreshing, given it is such a departure from standard political practice.)
But if interim Liberal leader Rae, or prospective Liberal leader Trudeau, believe they can gain insight and impetus from coming West, even for something as ultimately trivial as the Stampede, then we should welcome the opportunity to bend their ears.
And if Mulcair is willing to wade back into the shark-infested waters of oil-steeped Alberta again, so soon after his ill-conceived condemnation of the oilsands, then we should applaud his bravery and embrace the chance to educate him.
And if Harper wandered into a crowd with ears at the ready, surely Canadians would speak frankly to him, even if distracted by summer fun (of course, Harper wandering into a genuine crowd, even in Calgary during a party, seems more than a little far-fetched).
But there’s always the potential. And whenever Albertans can impose upon the nation’s leaders to consider our perspective, we should take the opportunity, however fleeting and controlled.
Even when we’d all rather be enjoying ourselves in a rare week of unwavering summer sun.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.