Annoyed, angry, irate, and Albertan? The province again finds itself out-raging the other provinces according to a survey of Canadian moods conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights.
The Rage Index polls Canadians on how they feel about federal and provincial governments, the economy and personal finances, news stories, and changes happening in the country. While 57 per cent of Canadians said they were angry or annoyed about the six topics, 63 per cent of Albertans did.
From high energy bills to climate change, there is no shortage of material reasons to be upset. But the province’s us-vs-them political culture also shares some of the blame, said Trevor Harrison, sociology professor at the University of Lethbridge and co-editor of Anger and Angst: Jason Kenney’s Legacy and Alberta’s Right.
“It’s politically manufactured here so that people are constantly being told that you are hard done by, that you are under attack, and that the people who are attacking you or these various enemies outside. Even when good things happen, there’s a sense that all these people outside are gonna do you dirt,” Harrison said.
This “extremely partisan” culture didn’t spring up overnight, but it has emerged over time as a tactic that is politically useful in the province, he said. The outsider threat bonds people closely even between elections, and during elections drives support for whatever provincial conservative party positions themselves at the barricades against Ottawa or internal enemies, he said.
Studies have found anger motivates people to participate in elections, while anxiety and enthusiasm don’t. Displays of anger from politicians are often mirrored by party supporters, according to research led by political scientists from Colorado. Though useful in the short term, stoking such strong emotion also drives division and comes with lasting social consequences.
“The thing about anger is that it is short. So the psychology of it is, we call anger and approach related emotion,” said Dr. Sean Moore, associate professor of psychology at the University of Alberta Augustana campus.
“It’s often used to sort of get things started in terms of collective action, like getting involved in protest movements. But what they find is that it’s actually something that’s difficult to sustain.”
Politicians aren’t the sole source of anger. As the survey notes, economic anxieties and international conflicts underlie much of the current dissatisfaction. “But when politicians add to this, they’re adding fuel to the fire,” Harrison said.
“This is when we see examples of extremist actions. Domestically, you can see domestic extremism but also sort of when it leads to acts of prejudice and discrimination and hate crimes. Those things definitely increase when politicians focus on that kind of divisiveness that feeds anger.”
‘Baked in the cake of confederation’
Political conflict is in some ways “baked in the cake of confederation” with the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments, Harrison said. Rather than being the impetus for healthy debate, these conflicts are often elevated to the level of “polite warfare” by Alberta’s political elite.
“You can see this right now with all kinds of things around climate change initiatives, the carbon tax everything else. It has to be a really intense conflict.”
“There are events that have happened in the past that become kind of mythological in terms of the fact that Alberta is going to be a victim once more of the rest of Canada. Even when things are good in Alberta – we have the highest incomes in the country lots of things that are going well for the province – but again, there’s constant anger about external forces.”
Harrison remarked that he had been going through files in his office and saw newspaper headlines from era of the Jean Chrétien Liberals that could just as easily be used today.
The front page headlines of the Edmonton Sun newspaper on Dec. 8 read “NEP ‘ALL OVER AGAIN’: Danielle Smith pushes back against feds’ heavy-handed emissions plan” and “Feds target West again.”
Anger continues to fester
Though politically useful, the anger elicited by these conflicts doesn’t do much to address the economic uncertainty or the high cost of living that is troubling many Albertans, Harrison said.
“Across the board, I have to say I think our political classes or political parties are not doing a very good job of addressing those real concerns,” he said.
“The longer real concerns are not addressed in a practical, material way, then anger continues to fester there. And this is where fairly unscrupulous populist leaders, as we’re seeing in various parts of the world, can provide kind of a quick and dirty solution – ‘give all powers to me and I will change things in one month because I’ll go after the enemies that are hindering or causing the problems that you have.’
“I am concerned with the fact that this anger is just kind of brewing there. But it particularly has been really brewing here in Alberta for some period of time . . . We need to get back to some more civil but also pragmatic discourse that actually does deal with the real issues head-on.”
Along with the social ills following from rage-based rhetoric, politicians who take up that tactic are also “playing with fire” for the success of their own party, Moore said. The same things that can foster engagement with a movement can turn against you if that clear enemy is no longer present.
“In Alberta, we typically use the federal government as a foil. But when, for example, Stephen Harper was in power, that was a government that was more representative of Alberta’s interests, and that anger turned against our political mainstream. When you think of things like the Stelmach and Redford governments, the parties tended to tear themselves apart.”
By Brett McKay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Dec 18, 2023 at 08:19