The Redneck Underbelly: The Alberta Advantage and the Cycle of Boom, Bust and Echo! Co-Presented Paper with Gloria Filax at the 6th International Conference on the International Council for Canadian Studies, May 27-29, 2008, Ottawa, ON
Hanson, Lorelei L.
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A proliferation of popular and academic books and articles has appeared over the past few years focused on Alberta. The celebration of Alberta’s centennial as a province within Canada, the current economic boom, and the election of a conservative prime minister whose home base is Alberta, has been the impetus for many to reflect on the transformations within Alberta over the past hundred years, the kind of place Alberta has become, and where it is headed (Collum, 2005; Ford, 2005; Lisac, 2004; Payne, Wetherell & Cavanaugh, 2006; Sharpe, Gibbins, Marsh & Bala Edwards, 2005). While an image of gun toting, truck-driving, Christian, white, male rednecks often inform the popular sense of Albertans, a highly sophisticated, busy workforce drives the province’s rapid economic growth. Human expertise combined with vast reserves of oil and gas that lie within the Athabasca tar sands are responsible for making the province into what some call “Saudi Alberta,” with all the riches and exotic lifestyle that this representation evokes (Nikiforuk, 2006). Alongside this, the province promotes what it calls the Alberta Advantage: Albertans have the highest disposable income, the lowest unemployment rate, the lowest taxes, no provincial debt, an abundance of natural resources and, if this isn’t enough, a beautiful natural environment (Government of Alberta, 2006). Yet, the view that Albertans are white, Christian, rugged individuals concerned only with entrepreneurialism, resource development, and continual growth is only one story among many about Alberta and the people who live there. Many in Alberta resist what they view as excessive resource extraction and a business ethos based on market solutions to everything – economic or otherwise; not everyone in Alberta agrees with what has been called the Alberta Advantage and questions who and what is advantaged (Harrison, 2005; Laxer & Harrison, 1995). This paper will examine the effects of the recent economic boom in Alberta in terms of its impact on the environment and social cohesion. Based on research arising from a larger project which is broadly exploring Alberta culture, in this paper we will examine two specific case studies: the recent proposals to develop a huge electrical transmission line across Alberta to feed American markets, and housing and homelessness in the province. Although these two case studies may at first appear unrelated, we will discuss how many of the same themes/discourses related to Alberta culture, politics and history connect them. Our interest is in speaking to some of the dominant discourses that support provincial policies that fail to deliver the “Alberta Advantage” to many of its citizens.