Experts in Alberta say the province has some signs that show its political landscape is becoming similar to the situation that helped lead to the large-scale storming of the U.S. Capitol Hill last week.
One political scientist in the province said some of the economic frustration that helped lead to the incident in Washington Wednesday is comparable to the downturn many Albertans have recently faced.
“What we are seeing the United States — with the rust belt and the old coal country — who are making up the vast majority of seditionists, we are seeing here in Alberta,” Jared Wesley, a political science professor at the University of Alberta, said.
“These are people who are dislocated from a main industry. They feel like their identity is being ripped away from them. They feel like the best days for their communities, for their families, are behind them,” he said.
“That’s what happened in Trump country, 15 years ago, and the same kind of economic dynamics are at play in Alberta. Particularly in rural areas, and those areas that are connected to the oil and gas industry.”
Alberta is no stranger to controversial protest. In 2018, the yellow vest movement saw Albertans gather against the “global world order.” Members of Soldiers of Odin, a far-right group, were often spotted at the protests.
In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg visited Alberta to host a climate march and was met with counter protesters by the United We Roll group, a pro-pipeline group who also convoyed to Ottawa that same year to protest several bills and issues, including the carbon tax.
In 2020 anti-mask “freedom rallies” were held across the province, including in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge, protesting restrictions and rules meant to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were also similar freedom rallies held in other cities across Canada.
Wesley said despite the recent history of protest in the province, he would still be surprised to see anything similar in Alberta to what happened in the U.S. last week.
“I think the [U.S] events were certainly unprecedented, but I don’t think a lot of us who follow politics were very surprised — disappointed but not surprised” he said. “It’s been a slow degrading of decorum in political institutions in the United States.
“If you look closely at the mob scene in Washington…. many of the same signs and images we’ve seen in much smaller scale rallies in Alberta,” Wesley said.
“So it’s not as if there are a lack of people who share these types of views and were rooting on the seditionists.
“But I think it’s a bit much to say we have the same volume of anger directed at politicians here.”
One psychology professor in the province whose research is focused on processes of leadership said it’s in times of divide that leaders need to work to bring opposing sides together.
“We have a similar divide in Canada, it’s not quite as extreme, but we have seen since Trump has been in office a much louder, sort of conservative side here, especially in Alberta where we are already quite conservative,” University of Alberta psychology professor David Rast said.
He added that the important thing is that leadership needs to step up before protests become violent.
“[Leaders need to say], it doesn’t matter whether you’re on the left or the right — what’s happening is really anti-Canadian or anti-Albertan — instead we should be coming together.”
Rast added that many people in the province appear to be “disgruntled with the government,” and an issue is also that many people put themselves into silos where they are surrounded with like minds.
“Unfortunately, the way that a lot of people operate with their social networks and with social media, is they follow a lot of people that have really similar beliefs to themselves, and they ignore any beliefs that aren’t similar to their own,” Rast said.
Premier Jason Kenney and other Alberta leaders condemned this week’s incident in the U.S.
“Alberta has always had close ties to the United States, so it’s painful to watch the bizarre scenes unfolding at the U.S. Capitol today,” Kenney tweeted Wednesday. “The United States must be an example of democracy to the world.
“I hope that order is urgently restored, and that duly-elected president Joe Biden is certified and sworn in without further disruption from the opponents of democracy.”
Neil Lemay, the former Alberta Sheriffs protective services director at the Alberta legislature, said he questioned how the protests Wednesday even happened.
“I think every security organization in the world monitors the world wide web for indications of threats,” Lemay said. “Open source information was pretty clear there was an expressed intent by many to carry out violence on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, so all of the elements were there and available to be found if somebody was looking for them.
“My biggest question is what prevented the Capitol police from doing their job; they obviously know how.”
Wesley added he believes Alberta is still “10 or 15” years behind an explosive protest. It’s possible the incident in Washington will lead to increased attention and possibly action from severe right- and left-wing groups.
“Seeing events like this south of the border will certainly embolden people on the radical side,” Wesley said. “Anytime people see part of what they believe in be successful in another place, they’re likely to be emboldened and want to take similar steps in other places.
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