Sunday, February 28, 2010

Am I a Progressive?

I did the inconceivable this weekend and took two days off to attend the REBOOT 2.0 conference at the Delta Kananaskis. Me taking time off work except for being too sick to get out of bed or because of a family emergency is rarer than the USA beating Canada in an Olympic gold medal game. Yet, I drove 400 km to a very plush hotel and attended a conference of self-described "progressives" to consider what that label actually means... and if it does mean anything, what sort of agenda can we collectively pursue to make Alberta a more "progressive" province.

Reflecting on my own perceptions, I've always felt myself to be a small 'l' liberal... yet for reasons of convenience, I've always labelled myself a small 'c' conservative... not that labels matter that much. Still, I always plopped myself in the Red Tory category when labels were needed. It's just easier... and until the Ralph Klein, Stephen Harper and Ed Stelmach eras, I had no real feelings of conflict between the way I felt and what I called myself.

This weekend I found myself among more than 100 people who it might be said share a similar set of values with me. For the most part I wasn't surprised by much of what anyone said, or the directions of the conversations I was involved in. It seems all of us want a more inclusive society with more social justice and an insurance that the most vulnerable in society will not suffer. We accept that modern problems require complex solutions and that decisions made by government need to be made based on research and evidence rather than on specific ideologies.

This was a room full of articulate, intelligent folks who (for the most part) had no trouble with communication. This was a group who I quite closely identified with when we talked about values and policies we would like to see. The vision that most people in the room had for the future of the province was much closer to my own than the one I see the province now pursuing.

Yet I can't say I was entirely comfortable at the conference. While the group espoused values that I think could be sold to 80% of Albertans because the basis of those values is one that most caring people share. Still, I couldn't help feel that if some of the folks who spoke up at the conference lived and worked in my everyday world... if they had to engage the same down-to-earth neighbours and colleagues that I meet every day, there would be friction.

I'm not all together why I felt it... but I did. I think there were simply too many four-syllable words and phrases like, "social dichotomy," and "parallel planes of reference" that wouldn't wash in my world. I wasn't even sure at times what the hell some people meant.

We all recognise that we want more time with our families and our neighbours. We all want to feel secure that as we grow old, we will not be abandoned. We all seek justice. We all want integrity from our elected officials. I have no doubt that the values of the people I met with this weekend are the same values as the people I meet at the arena... the guys and gals I work with and the majority of the rest of the people I meet on a daily basis in rural Alberta.

Yet I'm nagged by a feeling that if some of the people who were acting as spokespersons used the same way of talking out here in the country, the ideas we all share wouldn't even get a hearing. There would be no listening because of the patterns of speech and words employed.

This is not to say that I did not meet a handful of people I want to stay in touch with. Some of those I spoke to moved me greatly with their stories and their passion. There were people in that room who will be able to connect the values we shared this weekend with whoever they come into contact with. There were lots of them, actually. It's just that it wasn't everyone.

It was a profound realisation that while we share values... and a vision of a better province... there really is a difference in the way we talk in the city and the way we talk in the country.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's all in the oxfords, I guess.

Last week on my way home from a particularly tough midnight shift, which lasted until 10:30, I stopped in at a Second Cup to wind down, have a strong cup of something hot and read the newspaper. It had been a freezing night. I was cold and tired but not quite ready for bed. I entered the coffee shop in my grubby winter work jacket, my boots and my unkempt toque-head and unshaven, red face. I may have looked a sight to some of the suburban folks sitting, but I took no notice. All I wanted was that hot cup of coffee and my copy of the Edmonton Journal.

I was about most of the way through the front section, reading the Op-Ed pages when a man in a nice suit came over and started thumbing through the other sections of my paper, which I had left on the chair beside me. I looked up a little startled, as if to ask what he was doing. He looked back and said, "I'm goining to take the Business Section; you're not going to read it!"

I thought I must have heard him wrong and asked, "What?"

"Well," he condescended, "you're not going to read the Business Section, are you?"

Ahhh, I thought, he doesn't think some bum in a work-style coat, wearing big safety boots and looking as dishevelled as I did that morning would have any interest in the financial pages of the paper.

"Oh, I get it," I nodded. "You don't think someone like me would read the Business Section. Is that it."

"Well," he stammered, "I just assumed...."

"You assumed that because I look like this, I'm too uneducated to be able to understand or care about economics." "Well, here's the deal," I continued, "you can have the business section while I'm finishing off the Front Section and the City Section. However, once I'm done, I will want the Business Section of the paper I BOUGHT."

"Oh, I'm sorry," he retreated. "I didn't mean to say that you couldn't understand economics." Then he put the paper down and walked away.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I did like my mother told me and got a good education. I just happen to like working outside better and have chosen labour over the inside jobs I used to do.