There was a time when the province of Alberta was known as the “Redneck’s Refuge.” The label described a young province with hard-living, blunt-talking, god-fearing individuals, mistrustful of immigrants, left wing cry-babies, and anyone who dared whisper “gun control.” A popular joke of the early 1970s asked, “How many rednecks does it take to eat a deer?” The answer – two. One to eat, and one to watch for traffic.
Whether the stereotypes were true is open for debate. From travelling across Canada, I know that people can be as “redneck” in Newfoundland as they can be in the foothills of Alberta. The Reform Party, created and nurtured in Alberta, has become the national government in Ottawa. Some of the harshest graffiti against immigrants is written on the sides of buildings in downtown Montreal.
If Alberta was ever really “redneck,” surely the label no longer applies. A recent survey by Lethbridge Community College shows that Albertans are in favour of choice on abortion (81.4 per cent), same-sex marriage having the same legal status of traditional marriage (74.3 per cent), and the medical use of marijuana (76.1 per cent).
Canada’s only Muslim mayor, Naheed Nenshi of Calgary and our country’s eighth female premier, Alison Redford, would seem to prove that the province isn’t as conservative as once thought.
Within the past week, the Alberta government has also introduced a policy allowing Sikhs to bring their kirpans, a ceremonial religious dagger, into Alberta courtrooms. The change in government policy is in response to a human rights complaint filed in 2008, and is based on rules currently used in courtrooms in Toronto.
Following the announcement there was a lot of debate on the issue in coffee shops, on the Internet, at the post office. Many of the comments were “redneck” in tone, others were based on fear, or ignorance of what the change in policy would mean to people’s safety. It was clear that those in charge of changing the policy did a poor job of communicating the kinds of facts that might help people make a more informed choice – whether for or against the policy.
I’m not sure where I stand on the kirpan issue. In a later column, I’ll write about some of the things I’ve discovered and some of the arguments I’ve heard. But one thing I know for sure is that it will be difficult to call Alberta a “Redneck Refuge” again.