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Edmonton Politics

Central Canada still perceives Alberta as a bastion of bigotry, but they’re wrong

In an article about Olivia Chow’s mayoral campaign, the Toronto Star—apparently trying to show that, while racism can be an issue for foreign-born political candidates, it’s not enough to cost them an election—dropped this gem:

Naheed Nenshi, a Muslim, is mayor of Calgary, of all cities.

Shocking, right?! Calgary elected a Muslim! That’s weird because Albertans are a bunch of racist rednecks!

I’d let out an audible sigh, but this is a blog so you wouldn’t hear it. Instead, I’ll just do this: *sigh*

The line about Nenshi, though probably not intended as such, is condescending in a way that only the Toronto media can manage—like the time they said Edmonton was cool, but it would never be Toronto cool.

The thing that a lot of people who aren’t from Alberta, and who haven’t spent a significant amount of time here, don’t understand is that we don’t care what your religion is. We don’t care what your race is. Most of the time, we don’t even care where you went to school. We care that you can work hard and contribute to the community.

This isn’t to say that racism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry don’t exist in Alberta. They do. But time and time again,  both statistics and anecdotes show that Albertans are incredibly tolerant—possibly the most tolerant people in Canada.

We’re not perfect, and our rural communities do tend to be more conservative than our urban centres, but that’s true of the whole country.

At its best, Alberta is a meritocracy that doesn’t care about your pedigree or the fact that you have a degree from the “right” school. At its worst, it’s no different than the rest of Canada. I just wish people from outside the province would realize this.

3 replies on “Central Canada still perceives Alberta as a bastion of bigotry, but they’re wrong”

It is an unfortunate cliche that Albertans are all racist rednecks, and that Muslim acceptance in Alberta must be a new thing. It definitely couldn’t be the case that the first mosque built in Canada was built in Edmonton, or that Nenshi being a Muslim as well as mayor is only surprising to people not from Alberta.

Not that Alberta doesn’t have it’s problems (all places do), but Alberta needs some better ambassadors to the rest of Canada about what life is actually like here.

Absolutely. I recall a being taught in an Alberta History course that, until an influx of Proper British Folk™ from Central Canada (and Britain) started moving here as John A moved to populate the west, race was largely not an issue among people here. It was not unheard of to have black mayors in rural Alberta, for example, until Victorian ideas about race were imported to the province by middle-class people coming here after the hard work of pioneering was done.

I admit that I haven’t researched this a great deal, but it makes sense since people pretty much had no choice but to rely on their neighbours for help, and refusing to co-operate with someone because of their skin colour or religion could potentially result in both of you dying during a particularly hard winter. (Caveats are required, of course, when it comes to abysmal treatment of First Nations people, etc.)

Despite the problems that we definitely have (and which are really trying to make themselves mainstream at the moment), Albertans are often far more progressive than the people who stereotype the province as a racist backwater. Of course, the fact that we tend to continually represent politicians who reflect the stereotype more than the reality — particularly at the federal level — doesn’t exactly help our case.

Also: we’ve had a huge Lebanese population in Edmonton for decades. Most of them are Muslim and mostly no one has had a problem with that fact. I grew up around tons of kids with Arab heritage. While there tended to be a certain cliquishness among the Lebanese kids, they were generally not treated differently than anyone else, so the idea that Edmonton (as representative of urban Alberta) is considerably more Islamophobic than other parts of Canada seems questionable.

(Again, not denying there are problems and, obviously, if people of Arabic heritage disagree, I won’t question their experiences.)

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