Sometimes you don’t learn to appreciate things until they’re gone. I’ve found that to be analogous to many of the struggles of our province. We yearn for the days when money was easy, and faced less resistance. We regret the damages our institutions have endured, and the costs we’ve faced not to restore them but to merely maintain them.
I could wax poetic about the opportunities we’ve missed and the bad calls we’ve been forced to endure, but I’d rather talk about my grandfathers, John and Walter.
I was too young to appreciate their candor and decency, and that they had much to inspire in both right and left wing politics. It’s only now that I fully understand why I carry both of their names with mine, instead of just one.
My grandfather on my mother’s side was a Knight of Columbus. His name was John. His ancestor came to this country as an indentured servant nearly four-hundred years ago from France. He served in the air force along with his brothers, and ended up becoming a crucial manager at Northlands during the Oiler’s “golden years.” In truth, he was effectively Gretzky’s personal bartender and friend.
He was a staunch Catholic who practiced his faith in his actions. He worked for his community, he was charitable without hesitation. When one of his daughters became pregnant out of wedlock he chose immediately not to excoriate his child for what many might consider “sinful choices’,” but instead supported her. He raised that child like one more of his own, and that blessed little girl grew up strong and independent enough to have her own family. Those are cousins to me, dear and precious.
He voted Liberal. Every time. His fellow brothers in the Knights (while having their own arcane and problematic opinions) maintained a safe distance from the political institutions that governed them. To me, my Grandpa was a titan of goodness. His willingness to practice charity and sacrifice to enable the weak and the downtrodden embodied my early respect for religious institutions. While that faded in time with his passing and our evermore toxic discourse, it never fails to remind me of the true good that men and women of faith can accomplish.
My grandfather on my father’s side was a man I knew much less, but he was no less titanic. Grandpa Walter was a man who belonged to the SoCred days when our energy industry was young. He was born in a tent in Strathcona County and grew up to public service. He was a Protestant. After the end of WWII, he participated in a trade delegation to Japan and dined with the Empress. He was a man of conservative principles and acted as the last chairman of the Public Utilities Board before Peter Lougheed disassembled it after my grandfathers’ departure. The Premier had to wait for him to retire, as a matter of fact.
Walter was an early Canadian conservative. Back then, there was nothing resembling climate change politics or the modern pipeline politics of the present day. Walter was old-school.
What might shock you, then, is to learn that he was responsible for setting not only the utility rates of natural gas, but also the price of milk. He worked with utility companies to determine their costs and how the retail rates should be changed to promote the expansion of their industries in the 1960’s and early 70’s. He worked to establish prices that he judged to be fair and reasonable for the rapidly-growing middle class of Alberta. It’s one of my greatest wishes that I could have known more of his story from his own mouth.
We appreciate these things more as time goes on.
These two men were in many ways diametric opposites. Walter was a man of intellect, and I’m sure some people along the line could have thought him arrogant. John was a man of heart and sweat, and I’m sure some might have called him overly passionate (Actually yes, they definitely did. I remember grandpa John having a foam brick that he could throw at the TV when the Oilers weren’t playing to his satisfaction).
Yet despite such fundamental differences in ideology, these two men had many of the same beliefs. They got along and showed each other respect in spite of their enormous differences. They both believed that those who could not help themselves needed to be lifted up, and that our economy was there to serve the people both in present and future senses. Their actions routinely contravened what today is accepted as politically “Christian” or “conservative.”
Even now as I’m writing this I gain more of an appreciation for these two men, and the times when ideology and objectivity weren’t separated by dangerous agendas and bad information actors.
To me, that’s the Alberta I want. Not disparate. Not a zero-sum. Not driven by some perception of religion or ideology but by the ethics of my grandfathers. They practiced their beliefs for the betterment of people, they did not extoll them at high-volume in the hopes that minds would be changed and all would suddenly be well.
While I can’t say for sure, I think these two men would be disheartened to see the state of religious and economic politics in this province. They would demand better not only of our government, but of our people. They had the experiences and the practicality to know what the government’s job was, and that was to enable public and private good at the same time. They knew that our true needs were not a divisible sum, but a powerful whole that needed to be maintained. John did it from his heart; he knew there that compassion and humility were what his faith demanded.
Walter did it from his mind; he knew that a government and a people’s wealth were not separated. He knew that only by maintaining the structure and intention of our institutions could prosperity come to all.
That is my Alberta, and I want it back.