Bronc Busting, Canada Style

The emblem on the Canadian flag is a maple leaf, but it might just as well have been crossed hockey sticks or a proud stallion. Indeed, I have often wondered what it means to be a Canadian if one has never played hockey or mounted a horse. I have done both, admittedly not with a great deal of success. 

Raised in a small town in the north of Quebec, I took to hockey with a passion, but hung up my skates for good after allowing ten goals in a blowout game. My goaltending career was over. Spending many of my summers on farms, I got to know and admire horses and did a fair amount of riding, but never managed to gallop like the wind and more than once found myself clinging to the withers for dear life. It became obvious I was not cut out for the saddle, which did not prevent me from developing a healthy respect for these magnificent creatures. My wife and I have agreed that should we ever buy a fermette, it might be a little late to freeze-over a pond, but we would certainly stable a pair of horses. 

One might speculate that Canadians in positions of authority, prime ministers, say, or provincial premiers, individuals who represent the national temperament, should at one time or another have stickhandled across an imaginary blue line on the neighborhood rink or put foot in stirrup and trotted around the paddock, if only as proof of bona fides, of investment in the Canadian sensibility and way of life. For the most part, our leaders are not athletic types. Rinks and paddocks are no substitute for the musty corridors of power.

There are exceptions, of course. Elite defenseman Red Kelly, who played for the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, and Montreal Canadiens star netminder Ken Dryden, enjoyed parliamentary careers. Former Canadiens coach and Stanley Cup winner Jacques Demers was appointed to the Senate. Canadiens great Jean Béliveau, a Companion of the Order of Canada, declined a Senate appointment. The Government of Canada owns the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch in Alberta, where Parks Canada personnel are trained to ride and pack. Generally speaking, however, Canada’s politicos are not known as hockey buffs or equestrian enthusiasts, aside from ceremonial puck-dropping or fair-attending occasions. 

Be that as it may, one could never have expected a Western premier to call a rodeo “disturbing”—in this case, the No More Lockdown Rodeo in Alberta, attended by thousands of spectators. Ty Northcott, the rodeo’s organizer, was forced at the last minute to move the event to his farm south of the town of Bowden, where it was originally slated to be held.

Alberta’s Conservative premier Jason Kenney, who believes against all the evidence that lockdowns are effective—or only pretends to do so in order to maintain his office—is no fan of rodeos in these fearful and repressive times. “It is disturbing to see large numbers of people gathering this weekend at Bowden in flagrant violation of COVID-19 public health measures,” Kenney began his diatribe. “Rodeo celebrates Alberta’s Western heritage, a key part of which is our community spirit and looking out for others, especially the vulnerable. That’s the opposite of what these folks are doing.”

Kenney’s facile and formulaic account of citizen truancy was duly ridiculed by members of the crowd, who dismissed their premier as a typical political hack forfeiting his legitimacy, doing the opposite of what he should be doing. “We have to take matters in our own hands,” says Glen Carritt, of End the Lockdown Caucus and one of the few political figures respected by rural Albertans. “That’s the Alberta way.” Ty Northcott concurs. Referring to Kenney and his fellows, Northcott is blunt: “They can stuff it.” The time had come to topple Kenney from his high horse. For his part, Kenney seems to have forgotten that Canada’s electoral districts are called “ridings.”

Kenney’s ritual cowboy hat is sartorially picturesque but not a convincing sign of political integrity or true Albertan grit. He is clearly playing to the urban socialist crowd in Edmonton, the province’s capital, which ActionAlberta editor Tex Leugner calls Redmonton. NDP leader and former Alberta premier Rachel Notley perches on a similar rodeo-busting high horse, providing the spectacle of a socialist and a conservative partnering as what the Justice Centre’s John Carpay calls “covidism ideologues.” “Covidism’s heaven,” Carpay writes, “is an Alberta managed by government-appointed medical ‘experts’ who know what is best for all of us, despite their ignorance of economics, finance, philosophy, constitutional law, human rights, psychology, history, anthropology, and other important fields.” 

As has been pointed out many times, the disingenuousness is unmistakable. Massive BLM demonstrations featuring hordes of marchers in intimate lockstep are considered justifiable; a rodeo symbolizing Alberta’s independent character and cultural patrimony is deemed off-limits and deserving of imperial hectoring. Indeed, this is standard-issue Canada. It comes as no surprise that many Albertans—certainly those living on the land and the small towns—feel it is time to saddle up and ride out of Confederation altogether. Kenney, Notley and their ilk are leaders who should be busted, no less than a spavined Confederation should be put out to pasture. 

Writing in the Financial Post, editor Diane Francis warns the country of its impending breakup in an article titled Alberta Can Tell You: Canada Doesn’t Work. A referendum will be held in Alberta this fall “demanding changes in equalization transfers,” the formula by which Alberta subsidizes the rest of the nation at its expense. She concludes: “Obviously, Canada, as currently constituted, doesn’t work. The country’s illegitimate electoral system is the root cause behind electing inept politicians.” 

I won’t get into the issue of a national embarrassment and economic parasite otherwise known as Justin Trudeau, who at least is proficient at skateboarding. Suffice it to say that I cannot think of a single Canadian premier who is not inept, economically illiterate, duplicitous, confused, tyrannical or just plain bracy. Kenney, who once gave promise, has shown himself no better than the premiers of the three provinces I have lived in, Quebec’s autocratic François Legault, Ontario’s bumbling Doug Ford, or British Columbia’s parodic John Horgan. To call Kenney a disappointment is far too weak a designation. Kenney is now busy fining and arresting people—restaurateurs, Christian pastors—for opposing the lockdown tyranny. Astride the seat of power, he has proven to be a bad rider, out of control and trampling over the Charter rights of his citizens.  

As one of the rodeo’s attendees said, “I don’t even recognize Canada anymore.” Neither Kenney nor Notley represent the now fading Canadian ethos of reasonableness and decency. When it comes to Alberta, to show there are no hard feelings and that parting from Confederation should be civil and amical, trophies of memorial relief might be presented to a failing leadership, Notley with a hockey stick and Kenney with a spirited quarter horse.

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