Welcome back to the edge
It’s been 5 years since I’ve regularly written for this space. During that time we’ve moved from New Brunswick to Alberta and back. A lot has happened in the world, some of it mind-blowing.
When we arrived in Alberta I told people I was the ‘man from the future’. I’d explain that the future of Canada would likely be much like present day New Brunswick: a handful of large corporate players running things, depleted natural resources and so on.
The future arrived sooner than I’d expected. In 2015 the Alberta economy hit the skids when the price of oil crashed, hitting bottom below $30 a barrel by 2016—bringing with it the realities of resource-based economies. And Maclean’s published The Death of the Alberta Dream.
An even bigger surprise arrived on May 5 when Alberta’s voters kicked out the ruling PCs after 44 years, electing Rachel Notley’s NDP. Just as the oil prices were falling and the economy was headed into the tank.
While it doesn’t seem like a surprise now, the 2015 federal election was also a shakeup. Justin Trudeau wasn't even close to a sure bet when the Harper Conservatives called an election with 166 seats to the Libs 34. But on October 19, Team Justin ran the table racking up 184 seats to form a majority government.
Even more surprising is how cozy Alberta’s NDPs and Canada’s Libs became. First, Trudeau stuck his foot in his mouth, telling Albertans that Canada would have to ween itself from the oil sands one day. Recovering fast, he announcing two pipelines: one east to Manitoba, and one west to the BC coast. Rachel loved it. At the same time, the Libs worked hard to put a smiley face on Canada’s climate change commitments. Apparently the telegenic Trudeau is still selfie-popular enough to both suck and blow.
Meanwhile we were settling back to life in New Brunswick. The economy here seemed no better than when we’d left. The ruling PCs had been voted out in 2014 after only one term, replaced by the young, telegenic and charmingly named Gallant. He has certainly charmed big business, giving Irving Oil a huge tax write-down on their Saint John oil refinery property, while raising residential taxes and the provincial sales tax to meet the province’s ever-growing debt (currently $14.4 billion).
Closer to home, locals are upset about the hospital. Doctors are retiring with no replacements in sight, and the surgery has been closed. Just like the local courthouse. So like those with court cases, patients will also be making that scenic one-hour drive to Saint John.
But all of this pales in comparison to changes south of the border. I mean, an obnoxious, self-centred reality show host with no political knowledge whatsoever could be…yes. President. And it wasn’t just him, it was the whole election: Wikileaks, the Podesta emails, rigging the Democratic primaries against Bernie, Trump’s nonsensical tweeting, and the aftermath: the women’s pussy-hat march on Washington, fake news about fake news, Russian hacking nonsense and much, much more. It would have been impossible, back in 2012 when I stopped writing, to dream up fiction more outlandish than this.
Somehow, we’ve managed to normalize most of it. But some things are hard to normalize. Going way–way back to 1970 or even just to 1990, no one would have predicted the end of privacy. On June 5, 2013 Edward Snowden exposed the secret global surveillance system that harvests everything we say and every keystroke we type. Programs like PRISM and Tempora and tools like XKeyscore collect virtually anything we do on the internet. Mobile Stingray gear used by our RCMP can intercept our cellphone calls anywhere, anytime without a warrant. It’s all too 1984 and Brave New World, and all too real.
Yet it doesn’t seem to affect my friends and neighbours here at all—other than vaguely worrying that maybe a US or Canadian customs officer might legally ask them to hand over their cellphone and passwords when they cross the border.
I don’t know about you, but the world seemed like a nicer place back then in 2012.