my year took a turn into thehick dimension the morning after the U.S. election as I barrelled up a central Alberta highway into the heart of Stockwell Day country.The impatiens were still hanging on in my backyard when I left. But in Red Deer the mercury has plunged well below zero. It's snowing, and the majestic mountains to the west are curtained off.
Central Alberta is a harsh, barren land where cowboys raise cattle, covet pickup trucks, guard their firearms and fear God. All the style consultants and spin doctors in the world can't mask the fact that this is the environment that nurtured Day's politics.
My mission is simple enough. I've come to interview Red Deer lawyer Lorne Goddard, who is suing Day for defamation.
I set up my command post at the Capri Hotel, the tallest building in town and seemingly a stopover for everyone passing through. One night there's a formal dinner for Premier Ralph Klein in the ballroom -- but I'm too paranoid to sign in. I don't want to tip off the Alliance types that a pinko reporter from "gawd damn Toronaw!" is snooping around town.
Next morning, in the lobby, members of the BC chapter of the Hells Angels are checking in. Indeed, this is the Wild West.
I tell myself I'm not the kind of eastern, city snob Reformers love to hate. But then again, I'm not ashamed to admit that I believe Toronto is the centre of Canada's universe.
To borrow Woody Allen's sentiments on the necessity of living in New York City, I like the fact that in Toronto I can order won ton soup at 3 in the morning. Not that I ever do. It's just a comfort knowing I can.
My cultural experience in Red Deer isn't a total bust.
After a couple of days in town with no outside stimulation besides Florida recount coverage on CNN, I'm practically teary-eyed with joy to discover the local Chapters (in these parts, any bookstore is an oasis) and a small Vietnamese restaurant where I order a large bowl of pho and some spring rolls. I want to hug the owner but content myself with telling him his soup is the best thing I've eaten since I got to town.
It's not that I don't try to get into the local scene. I do make a pilgrimage to the agricultural fair at the trade centre on the edge of town, where kids climb all over monstrous combines that sell for more than my house is worth. At one booth, Monsanto quietly pitches its genetically engineered seed, and I wonder what kind of response they'd get if they set up a booth at a trade show in Toronto.
I stop by the federal Human Resources Development Canada booth to see how they're holding up. Day and the Alliance, of course, used the incompetent and free-spending HRDC to tar the Chretien Liberals during the campaign. I figure if the nice lady behind the counter hasn't been firebombed, it's been a good day.
Surprisingly, she says she hasn't heard any negative comments. In fact, she says, farmers have been inquiring about the pension plan they offer. So maybe not everyone out west is ready to storm Ottawa with Stock after all.
Despite the Alliance campaign signs blanketing the landscape, there are still some pretty progressive folks out here who don't buy Day's politics. I met some of them. They're teachers, lawyers, museum workers. And unlike in Toronto, in conservative Red Deer there are no lefty organizations or media to take up their cause. As I learned from Goddard, getting on the wrong side of an issue in these parts often has personal consequences.
After a few days in Ralph Klein's Alberta, I pine for my urban life. But before I get on the flight home I take a drive up into the mountains to cleanse my soul. *firstname.lastname@example.org