I’ve heard a lot of different predictions about what will happen in this year’s St. Albert election. One person suggested to me that either the people who support the ‘status quo’ of spending on City projects or the people who support cutting back on different kinds of spending, will win a majority on Council. Another person predicted that all the incumbent members of Council would be removed.
Meanwhile, social movements like Idle No More and Black Lives Matter speak on behalf of people of colour who feel as though the rest of society doesn’t listen to them or care about their concerns. Politicians like Rob Ford and Kellie Leitch portray themselves as getting a lot of their support from ‘ordinary’ citizens who feel as though political and intellectual elites look down on them. A lot of the support that Donald Trump rode into the White House came from these ‘ordinary’ citizens.
The common problem both in St. Albert and across Canada is the bitter divisions among citizens. Regular disagreements in politics are one thing, but in some cases, things risk becoming outright toxic. When one group of citizens makes advances or gains, many people in other groups feel ignored or patronized, which further weakens any links between all of them as a community.
Addressing the frustrations felt by suburban Trump supporters, Indigenous people, and other groups of people are major challenges we need to address. However, there is arguably a bigger challenge we need to face—namely, how do we establish larger cooperation and understanding between different groups.
In St. Albert, people are increasingly uncertain about whether they can afford to live here. At the same time, our community is growing and many people come here because of the amenities we offer. Across Canada, many people depend on oil and gas for their living, but many other people are also worried about oil and gas spills harming their livelihoods, especially Indigenous people whose constitutional Treaty rights are still not being respected.
The real challenge for politicians, both locally and across Canada, is to figure out how we can balance all these different perspectives and concerns, particularly when the people who hold them often have very good reasons for doing so. Fortunately, the differences may not necessarily be as big as they seem on the surface. People who support large cuts to City spending have told me about how they accept spending money to fix the Michif House, dismissing the cost as peanuts. Oil and gas companies have supported recognizing Indigenous Treaty rights.
Winning the support of just one particular group of citizens or another can help win elections, but it doesn’t guarantee that other groups who continue to feel excluded will feel like their concerns are being taken seriously. Disagreements are one thing, but the problem with these conflicts is that people who disagree are often treated with outright hostility as enemies. This accomplishes nothing good either for us as citizens of St. Albert, or of Canada as a whole.
This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on March 11, 2017 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/People-need-to-feel-heard-20170311.