September 25th, 2021

Laying It Out: It’s a zoo out there, but we’re the ones in captivity

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on January 30, 2021.

“I hope the conservatives can find a better monkey.”

I don’t normally discuss the feedback I receive from readers, and I would never put a name beside what someone assumes to be a private conversation. But I had a short exchange this week with a truly loyal conservative voter, and it stuck in my brain.

It’s important to note his initial email was extremely respectful, even complimentary, and that remained throughout. And while he wasn’t pretending to agree with everything I write, we shared common ground on the track record of the current “conservative” government – most notably, its leader.

What stuck with me however, was being told he’d “vote for a monkey before voting for the politics of the (rest). I hope the conservatives find a better monkey.”

The idea isn’t a shock, as we’ve all heard the saying in Alberta: “They’ll vote for a *insert inanimate object here* if it runs for the conservatives.” And there’s no question that in most federal ridings and a significant number of provincial ones, winning the conservative nomination is the only race that matters. Team Blue? You’re in for life.

Of course, neither Alberta nor conservatives are unique to this type of loyalty. It exists on both sides and in every jurisdiction.

There are all kinds of voters – some of whom read this column as a fan – who are on Team Trudeau and absolutely choose to ignore things they would never let go from a conservative prime minister. So-called progressives have on multiple occasions given Trudeau a pass on things that are anything but progressive. Saudi arms deals, blackface, neglecting to bring electoral reform to Canadians, or, you know, drinking water to First Nations reserves – the list could go on.

So, before making my point for Albertans, both sides should know once and for all, I will never tell you to love Justin Trudeau. If you asked my opinion I would tell you there are things his government has done that don’t get deserved credit – like navigating four years of Trump and, for the most part, the financial assistance during the pandemic – but he’s worthy of criticism, and his base can at times be as insufferably blind to that as anyone else’s.

But we live in Alberta, and nothing matters more for Albertans than who we choose to represent us. If we’re going to keep our loyalty to “conservative values,” we need to figure out what those actually are, and we need to insist that politicians we elect to promote or implement those are better than a “monkey,” or a pylon, or a fence post, or whatever else completes the joke now void of any humour.

To do that, we must be honest with ourselves. The minute we decided the team mattered more than the people playing for it, we invited the monkeys in.

Unreliable halfway polling numbers aside, the UCP still enjoys the luxury of loyalty in this province simply because they aren’t the NDP. And even though voters don’t have to pick either party (rarely known fact: Alberta has others), many are terrified of splitting the vote and having another “accident.”

Just because I have different opinions than you might doesn’t mean I don’t fully understand why that fear is there. You don’t want the NDP anymore than their supporters want the UCP.

But none of that is changing our reality, which is that whatever the NDP was doing to “destroy Alberta” has gotten worse.

Your life is a lot more expensive. Fact. Deficits and debt immediately got worse and have exploded in this pandemic. Fact. The exodus of oil and gas companies ramped up despite Jason Kenney’s commitment to gutting revenue so they can keep more of your money. Fact.

Whether we agree to hate the NDP or not, this is factually worse. And if we don’t at least offer the impression that our vote is up for grabs, we’re asking for this to continue.

Kenney does what he wants, when he wants and refuses to shift his behaviour or policy decisions for the betterment of Albertans. If he knows you’ll support him out of simple fear of his competition, in what universe will we come out of this crucial time in our history in shape to recover?

Don’t like the NDP? Great. Don’t pick ’em.

But if we don’t find something between “vote for a monkey” and the Official Opposition, all we’ll ever be is spectators at the zoo.

Scott Schmidt is the layout editor at the Medicine Hat News. Contact him by email at

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