At the annual Premier’s Breakfast at Stampede, Jason Kenney was serving more than just pancakes. As he was cooking, Kenney announced a new holiday for Albertans to celebrate our unique heritage: Alberta Day. Each September 1, people all across the province will come together to celebrate Alberta joining Confederation in 1905. As Kenney said, it will give Albertans the opportunity to recognize “all things that are uniquely Albertan.”
Now, free concerts, child-friendly activities, and a market filled with Alberta-made goods can be expected at the legislature grounds this September 1.
As Kenney prepares to leave his position, he’s trying to do whatever is in his power unite the province. With what little power he currently has in his own party, the options are dwindling. At this point, this isn’t what Kenney should be focusing on. Out of all the problems we’re currently facing, not celebrating our history isn’t one of them.
All it is is a cheap solution to a much larger problem. In the past two years, Alberta has grown more and more divided. With Kenney at the helm, the United Conservative Party (UCP) have found themselves the target for political anger and frustration from all sides.
For most of the pandemic, Kenney leaned into more conservative beliefs, alienating those who were afraid of the effects of COVID-19. Wave after wave hit Alberta, overwhelming our health-care system. Every action the provincial government took was too little, too late. Even after they tried to reign everything in, COVID-19 denialism took over huge swaths of the province. In the end, this proved detrimental to his success as premier, with his approval rating dropping below 30 per cent.
Even now that many of the mandates have been lifted, Albertans all across the province remain divided and angry at Kenney.
Now, he’s desperate to unite the province in any way he can. Alberta Day is the simplest way to do that with what little time he has before his successor is chosen.
Having a province-wide statutory holiday is no new thing — many provinces have designated days to celebrate their history, like British Columbia Day.
In fact, we already have a celebration of Alberta’s unique and varied culture: Heritage Day. Every August 1, Albertans get the day off to celebrate all the amazing cultures that make up our province. In Edmonton, we even get the Heritage Festival, a three-day event at Hawrelak Park where dozens of different countries get to share their culture, usually by showing cultural dances, and selling food or goods.
Although unsurprising, the fact that Alberta Day won’t be a statutory holiday makes it seem even more last-minute. Albertans aren’t going to care about a day we don’t even get off. Especially if we have practically the same holiday exactly one month prior. Alberta Day is a last-ditch effort to unite the province without any forethought. Additionally, Alberta Day only celebrates a certain demographic of Albertans, and doesn’t represent all of us. A holiday that is intended to unite a split province could potentially divide us further.
We have every right to celebrate our history, and we absolutely should. The fact of the matter is that we already have a day dedicated to our province. Although I share pride in my province, the timing doesn’t sit right with me.
Elections are right around the corner. It isn’t a coincidence that Kenney announced Alberta Day at Stampede, a festival designed to celebrate the cowboy culture that’s dominated by conservatism and runs rampant in rural Alberta. By announcing a slightly different cultural day here, it feels like Kenney is sending a message to those who initially voted for him, and those that abandoned their support during the pandemic. Alberta Day is just a bad attempt at pandering to the people he knows will probably vote for him, instead of doing anything substantial that will benefit all Albertans.
Alberta’s culture, heritage, and history are all made up of the people that live here and contribute to it. In the end, multiculturism is an asset to Alberta. We are made up of cowboys, farmers, and chuck-wagon riders. But, we are also made up of people from all around the world, who share nothing in common with us except for where we currently live. By creating a day to celebrate one small aspect of Albertan culture, Kenney continues to divide us.
Kenney isn’t only dividing Alberta further, but removing us from the rest of Canada. By labelling our culture as different from the rest of our country, he’s furthering the narrative that only Albertans can understand our struggles and needs. He’s not trying to unite us. Instead, he’s fuelling the separatist fire that started three years ago, which he never fully put out.
Our issues are much larger than division, and can’t be solved with an annual celebration. We have plenty of ways to celebrate who we are as a province. If Kenney wants to bring everyone back together, he needs to start with his own party. Leaning into far-right rhetoric, like separatism, will only lead Alberta astray. In the past, separatism was a fringe idea that only a few conservatives peddled. Now, UCP politicians like Danielle Smith are using it to secure their spot in the leadership race.
Kenney has spent the majority of his premiership alienating almost everyone in the province. From teachers to students, no one has been safe from his politics. It wasn’t until he had to step down that he began to reap the consequences. Instead of introducing half-baked holidays, maybe Kenney should have stuck to pancakes.