The elevation of Alberta-born chanteuse k.d. lang to the Alberta Order of Excellence last week is both a positive sign of change in Alberta and a timely reminder there’s nothing new about bozo eruptions from the back forty of the province’s conservative movement.
Ms. lang, now 56, was born in Edmonton and raised in the southeastern Alberta farming village of Consort. She is one of the great talents Alberta has given the world and one of our province’s best-known success stories.
She has had many accomplishments since early 1993 when she won an American Music Award for new adult contemporary artist and, the very next day, seven Conservative members of the Legislature refused to grant the unanimous consent required for her to be officially congratulated by the Assembly.
The rural Conservative MLAs in question claimed to be exercised about Ms. lang’s appearance in an animal rights advertising campaign that used the slogan “Meat Stinks.” But as news reports at the time made clear, Ms. lang’s openness about her sexual orientation was probably the main reason for their refusal to let the Legislature congratulate her.
The whole thing was a national embarrassment, not least to Premier Ralph Klein.
The House of Commons rubbed a little salt in his PCs’ self-inflicted wound the next week when party leaders in Ottawa made sure their MPs gave consent for approval to a motion of congratulation by Edmonton East New Democrat MP Ross Harvey.
Stopped by reporters in early February while visiting Montreal, an exasperated Premier Klein, chagrinned at the antics of his own backbenchers, told the Canadian Press the problem was that the motion to congratulate Ms. lang wasn’t presented under the normal order of business for debate. In other words, had it been, Mr. Klein and the party’s whips would have ensured it passed.
Later that month, after Ms. lang’s third Grammy Award was announced, Mr. Klein sent her an official letter of congratulations. It read, in part: “Your talent as a singer is undeniable. I also know that talent has to be bolstered by grit, determination and a capacity for hard work. You have shown you have all those qualities, ones shared and admired by your fellow Albertans.”
The PC premier, rather plaintively, then said he hoped the letter would make the bad press the province was getting for his backbenchers’ gaucheries go away.
Well, Ms. lang certainly never let any of that bother her publicly and has surfed from critical success to critical success over the years, while also standing up publicly for the rights of LGBTQ people. She was formally made a member of the order Thursday at a ceremony at Government House in Edmonton hosted by Lieutenant-Governor Lois Mitchell.
So Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, a New Democrat, certainly got it right when she said on social media that Ms. lang, “throughout her career, (has) been a trailblazer, opening doors and bravely championing many causes, including LGBTQ2S+ rights.”
If the Conservatives, now doing business under a slightly changed name, will behave themselves on this file, we can probably stop reminding readers about it.
Another sign that the Alberta Order of Excellence, the province’s highest honour and part of the Canadian honours system, is doing a good job of reflecting Alberta society under the leadership of Chair Andrew Sims was the presence with Ms. lang of labour leader Reg Basken of Edmonton on the 2018 list.
At various times, Mr. Basken was a representative for the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (a predecessor to the CEP and Unifor) and on the staff of the Canadian Labour Congress. From 1972 to 1978, he was the last volunteer president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. I wrote about Mr. Basken at length in May, when the 2018 list was announced.
The other 2018 recipients were:
Rosella Bjornson of Sherwood Park, the first female jet aircraft pilot in North America. She may not have broken the sound barrier, but she certainly broke through the glass ceiling in the airline industry. She was the first female member of the Canadian Air Line Pilots Association.
Wayne Chiu of Calgary, a real estate developer who emphasized affordable and sustainable social developments in his career.
David Manz of Calgary, an engineer who invented an inexpensive water filtering system to make safe water accessible in many parts of the world.
Solomon Rolingher of Edmonton, a lawyer and armed forces reserve officer devoted to interfaith co-operation and protecting Edmonton’s river valley.
Allan Wachowich of Edmonton, a prominent jurist, admitted to the Alberta Bar in 1959, who served as chief justice of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench from 2000 to 2009.
Ralph Young of Edmonton, chair of the Melcor real estate development company board and Chancellor of the U of A.