In naming herself the “cities critic” in Alberta’s shadow cabinet, Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith referenced the province’s urban/rural divide as if it were a primary cultural phenomenon of the province. That divide does exist — it does everywhere in Canada — but it’s a lot less important and a lot less of a factor in our lives than Smith asserts.
What really should concern Smith is the urban/Wildrose divide. Becoming the cities critic — whatever that is — is going to be one step in her education on what that very real political divide really means.
Smith spoke on Tuesday of the need to build bridges between the cities and rural areas. Those bridges already exist; they are called economic activity, and they are also called extended families. And contrary to Smith’s assertion on Tuesday, those bridges already “go both ways.”
The Advocate would like to offer Smith an opportunity to explain more fully what she means by her professed need for Albertans to build bridges between urban and rural voters.
Many thousands of Alberta’s city residents have rural roots. Like me, they grew up milking cows, feeding livestock, moving their manure, driving machinery and missing school at harvest time. We know the problems and potentials of farming, and we have family members who farm. We simply choose to live in cities. What gap does Smith suggest we need to bridge here?
Rather, Smith needs to address why Wildrose policies failed to resonate with urban voters in the last election.
In early going, the party has made a rather poor start on that front.
People were still chattering about the failure of the polling industry when Gary Bickman, the MLA-elect for Cardson-Taber, began flapping his gums about city voters’ lack of common sense in voting Conservative, thus sinking the Wildrose’s chances of forming a government. Ouch.
In the days before naming the party’s critic positions, Smith herself spoke of “urban elites” who apparently look down on their non-city counterparts. Ouch again.
And while attempting to extend an olive branch to the city of Edmonton, Smith actually dissed the city’s mayor, saying she’d like Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to mediate peace talks between herself and Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel. Double ouch.
If you really want to build bridges, you call people yourself. Mandel says he’s spoken with the leaders of Alberta’s other political parties, but he’s never received a call from Danielle Smith.
Maybe that’s because Smith won’t want to hear what Mandel has to say about a Wildrose policy to delay refurbishing the Alberta Museum. Oh, and that little thing about Wildrose cancelling Edmonton’s plans to close the city’s under-utilized downtown airport and redevelop that land — which would only become the largest, most important and most profitable urban renewal project ever undertaken in North America.
The link between urban and rural Albertans is not the High Level Bridge — one way, going south. But the bridge between cities and the Wildrose Party is still in early stages of construction.
The pillars of that bridge need to be mutual trust and respect.
We’re all citizens, we’re all Albertans. The vast majority of Albertans live in urban environments, and the places where they live are facing costly challenges in infrastructure, transportation and social inclusion. That’s just a fact.
Telling the majority that we’ve got something wrong and need to bone up on common sense seems like a poor start at bridge-building.
Many a bridge between people has been damaged by misunderstanding. So, can we take a part in fixing that here?
There will be space on this page and in our online edition for an essay on how the Wildrose is more city-friendly than this bit of screed is suggesting.
We also welcome reader’s thoughts on how cities, rural communities and the province can better work together.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.