History Takes Right Turn
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, October 7, 2006

Martin Scorsese’s movie Gangs of New York concludes in 1863 and, as feuding immigrant gangs collapse in yet another fit of vengeful violence, their dramatic and historical significance reduces to mere threads when the camera pans the skyline to reveal the smoke and din of the Draft Riots. Abraham Lincoln needs 300,000 young men to fight a prolonged Civil War and in New York they are resisting. A whole new era is underway.

Admittedly, it’s a stretch drawing parallels between 1863 New York and 2006 Calgary but last weekend’s Calgary Congress on Renewing the Federation had a similar air of history made and history moving on. In the room where in 1996 the Winds of Change Conference promoted conservative unity, moderator and co-author of the Alberta (“Firewall”) Agenda, Andy Crooks, intoned that “This is sacred ground in terms of planting seeds that will grow into the future.”

The beginning was promising enough. Sponsored by the Calgary Herald, The Manning Centre and The Citizens’ Centre for Democracy and Freedom, the congress attracted populist stalwarts from across Alberta and beyond. Preston Manning exhorted participants to “think big” and to “build bridges” while congress Co-chair and Alberta senator-elect Link Byfield carried the torch set alight by his one time publisher father, Ted. The arch prairie populist, social conservative and patriarch of Alberta’s reform movement in turn introduced dinner speaker and outgoing premier Ralph Klein.

It was as close as you could get to old-home week for political reformers and, in fairness, anticipation wasn’t exactly thick in the air. No, this was a working group. Early to bed and early to rise to listen and to deliberate about how centralization has promoted separatism in Quebec and the fiscal gap in Ontario and why the West is rising and the rest of Canada isn’t. Then, from a speech (also transmitted by CPAC in both official languages), to learn about how proposals for political reform are ineffective unless there is an “or else”. Yes, separatism remains an option.

Why then, was the sense of history moving on so compelling?

Perhaps it was because in a city of one million whose service sector is increasingly dominated by Indo and Chinese Canadians, no Indo or Chinese Canadian appeared among the participants. Or perhaps it was the age demographic, erring on the side of mature, or the geographic demographic, erring on the side of rural. Perhaps it’s because the objectives of the Reform Party and the Calgary School, through the election of a Conservative government, are nearing realization.

Or perhaps it was the fact only one question emerged about the Canada-U.S. Security and Prosperity Partnership, the first of many steps toward Building a North American Community – the agenda established by an influential group of business and other North American leaders that at one time included Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jim Dinning. Among other things, the group recommends increased labour mobility within the NAFTA countries. In a province whose tar sands development raises environmental concerns, this adds the burden of calculating the social implications of meeting labour needs that one oil company executive told CTV could number in the hundreds of thousands.

That means Mexican labour but in An Empire Wilderness, a book which posits a Road Warrior American future of migratory upheavals “beyond the reach of moral or political purpose”, author Robert Kaplan suggests Mexico survived its peso crisis by subsisting on its drug trade while Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald, in this summer’s issue of City Journal, points to an Hispanic American illegitimacy rate of 50% (in Mexico, 38%). Both writers present grim pictures of the resulting underclasses.

Of course 9/11 changed everything – and nowhere more than Alberta where the geopolitics of oil has created a boom mentality, one that according to a Leger Marketing poll published earlier this week, is now turning to anxiety about everything from staff shortages to rising housing costs. Even so, Alberta, like the rest of Canada, has yet to fathom the fortress North America inexorably growing around us.

Leaving Calgary, rush hour traffic extends beyond the airport exit but between the skyscrapers and suburban business parks, you can still see fields with snow fences and bales of hay. You can even imagine Bert Brown, Alberta senator elect, carving three “E”s in his wheat fields.

Somehow a Triple E Senate seems curiously anachronistic though perhaps more important than ever.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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