ST. ALBERT, ALBERTA – It’s Canada Day.
The pickup trucks with their maple leaf flags may or may not be screeching around Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue tonight, laying rubber in celebration of the provincial government’s edict the masks must come off, Delta variant or not.
But while Premier Jason Kenney insists the summer of 2021 is going to be the best one Alberta’s ever seen, with a Calgary Stampede and everything, it’s hard to shake the feeling of apocalyptic foreboding in the air this Canada Day.
As we gingerly emerge from a year of on-again, off-again COVID-19 restrictions and more than 26,000 deaths across Canada, with a chorus of deranged COVID deniers screeching at every turn that the malls must reopen or freedom will perish from the earth, this just feels like one more bad bet by the United Conservative Party.
The air’s hot enough for it to be Texas, hovering just under 40 degrees Celsius most days this week. But by mid-afternoon it feels like Fahrenheit 451.
It can take you an hour to get an ambulance in Edmonton whether it’s COVID, heat-stroke or something else that’s ailing you. While you wait, you can consider the pleas to take it easy on the power grid because it may not be able to hold up under the strain.
Yet the same hysterical voices that insist COVID vaccines are a billionaires’ plot to put microchips in our bloodstreams are assembling in cyberspace to yell at us that global climate change is a fraud ginned by Justin Trudeau and a shadowy new world order to make us submit to wearing paper masks.
They’d be in the streets, too, except it’s too hot for them as well.
Medical facilities keep getting anonymous letters ordering them to cease and desist practicing medicine, or else.
In the midst of this, unidentified men in Alberta have been attacking Muslim women because of the way they dress and, often, the colour of their skin. This happened last week right here in St. Albert. The Mounties say they’re having trouble finding the culprit.
Worst of all, what we were told over and over, most recently by the witnesses to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is revealed to be the horrifying, undeniable truth as the unmarked graves of little Indigenous children – more than a thousand in just the past few days – are revealed at the sites of former “residential schools” across Canada.
There are many more to come.
But for some reason the COVID and climate change deniers, self-described “conservatives” all, who see a conspiracy to thwart something they want at every turn, have trouble accepting that this horror was the result of a conscious, thought-out national policy.
Suggest using this Canada Day as a moment to solemnly reflect on the horror of the residential schools system, the reality of our colonial institutions, or the global predicament of climate change, and they’ll say they don’t want their culture cancelled.
And it’s not just the mob. It’s the conservative movement’s leaders.
The leader of Canada’s Parliamentary Opposition – a party closely tied to Mr. Kenney’s government – says he wants to “take back Canada.” From whom is never mentioned explicitly, but if you listen carefully, you can hear the dog whistle well enough.
“I can’t stay silent when people want to cancel Canada Day,” Erin O’Toole told his party faithful last week, never mind that Canada Day, like Christmas, is in no danger.
He just doesn’t want to talk about the bad stuff – on Canada Day or any other day – unless there’s a way to turn it into an attack on Mr. Trudeau or demean “woke” liberals.
But cancelling Canada Day fireworks – as St. Albert’s City Council bravely did on the reasonable grounds it would be disrespectful and inappropriate to launch them from the site of the demolished St. Albert Residential School, which may well have its own collection of unmarked graves – is not the same as cancelling Canada. Quite the contrary, in fact.
The night before last, a Roman Catholic Church burned down in Morinville, the next town to the north of St. Albert. The investigation has barely begun before Mr. Kenney was on the smouldering doorstep with his video crew to declare the fire “a criminal act of hate-inspired violence.”
If ever there was a moment in Canada’s history when sober reflection, empathy and reconciliation would seem like the appropriate course of action, this Canada Day is it.
But Mr. Kenney doesn’t do sober reflection. He does incendiary division.
Canada may someday get to a better place because of what we do and say this summer, through generosity of spirit, a willingness to acknowledge our national sins, and our international responsibilities.
But I’m pretty sure that no matter what happens, we’re not going to look back on this as the best Alberta summer ever.