Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Us vs Them

Isn't it ironic that the rise of regionalism and divisiveness has occurred during a historical era which supposedly represents the emergence of a "world community". Terms such as multinational, mosaic, ethnic diversity, world wide web, free trade, United Nations, European Union all speak to a world where borders are less rigid, geographic distance less daunting. Why is it then that a nation such as a Canada, often cited as the premier example of the new world reality, is falling prey to the backward lure of narrow self interest?

We live in an age where interconnectedness is growing exponentially(this medium a perfect example), yet the Canadian experiment of inclusiveness and commonality is failing. Instead of breaking down barriers, we are witnessing the emergence of new "peoples", based on nothing more than an imaginary detachment which is clearly a product of ignorance.

I have lived in the West on a couple of different occasions. What is particularly striking about the different regions of English Canada(Quebec is another matter), is how strangely similar we all are, despite geography. I have never felt as though I couldn't relate to anyone on a personal level, never felt out of place or alien. The everyday issues that concern people in Fergus, Ontario are eerily similar to the ones that concern people in Sundre, Alberta. The issues that urban communities wrestle with are all the same, whether it be Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto or Halifax for that matter- more a question of degree than anything. My point, we are close despite the distance.

My ideal of a common human spirit took a direct hit on my last visit to Alberta this past summer. The level of vitriol, the overt hatred for all things eastern and the misplaced sense of alienation that continues to fester is downright disheartening. This Us vs Them mentality that is institutionalizing itself in the West is a dangerous development.

The entire premise seems to surround this notion that those in the West have no say, their voice is irrelevant. Well guess what, my voice is irrelevant too and that is the nature of "one man, one vote". I live in rural Ontario, we elected a conservative MP, whose views have no resemblance to mine. Should I erect a fence around my property, stop paying taxes and declare my backyard Stevieumbia? The sad reality is a person in Olds, Alberta has more in common with rural Ontario than the do with someone from Edmonton. Yet, the stereotypes remain and a warped sense of nationalism develops under the banner of an arbitrary border, mostly through illusionary differences, but perpetuated by a sense of "team" that regionalism fosters.

This is mostly incoherent I know, but I think I can sum up my point with this one example. When we arrived in Alberta for our last visit, my wife's uncle asked us "did you fly WestJet?" I said yes, and he smiled like a proud papa, "better than Air Canada eh?". My only response, "it was cheaper". See, I booked my flight based on economics and convenience. Air Transit, Air Canada, WestJet, whatever, just get me there in one piece and don't shaft me. What was apparent, and I heard this a few times, is that many Albertans will only fly WestJet. If I had flown Air Canada, I have this vision of my wife's uncle using it as proof of my anti-western bias- it really has become this silly. The global experiment called Canada is wanting.

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