After attending my first ever Calgary Stampede this past weekend, I can clearly see why many people look forward to this event all year. I mean, where else in Canada can anyone gamble on chuck wagon races while balancing three hi-balls in one hand and a slice of scorpion pizza in the other? For once in a long time, as I strolled around the Midway grounds on the sunny Friday afternoon in my fresh cowboy hat (shout-out to Lammle’s Western Wear) without a care in the world, politics was the last topic on my mind. I should not have been that surprised, especially since I was not in a position to much thinking whatsoever after that one terrifying bungee-cord ride (I swear, it could have easily passed as an advanced astronaut training course.) But, motion sickness aside, it was a day to be simply savoured, in the company of friends, family, and the whole community.
Well, not if an election is at stake… Looking to score some points in the Conservative bastion, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was on site during the opening ceremony parade of the Calgary Stampede to tell reporters, “there’s no question about the fact that people are more enthusiastically inclined toward the Liberal party in Alberta than they have been in a long time.” Noting that the Liberals had an exceptionally strong showing in the Fort McMurray-Athabasca riding (located right in the middle of the oil sands), Trudeau seized the chance to take aim at key issues dogging the minds of voters, namely, the Keystone XL cross-border oil pipeline, adding that, “the people in Fort McMurray understand the reasonable approach that the Liberal party is taking, the responsible approach that we’re taking around needing social licence for these pipelines.” While it seems like just the typical politician banter one could expect at such public events, it was Conservative Leader Stephen Harper’s reaction which indicated that Trudeau had crossed the boundary between ‘simple commentary passed by underdog in adversary’s backyard’ to ‘caught taking a dump on neighbour’s immaculately manicured lawn.’
In a speech delivered to Conservative big wigs at the Harper family’s annually held Stampede barbecue, Stephen Harper accused Trudeau of “having nothing substantial to offer to voters.” A pretty harsh accusation, especially given that most people online agreed in the ‘comments’ section that he at least looked better in a Stetson than the genuine cowboy serving as incumbent (this is the real battle at stake here). Making scant reference to the New Democrats or even Thomas Mulcair, Harper hammered Trudeau on crime, claiming that, “In fact, Justin Trudeau has said he will repeal our reforms. Repeal, for example our mandatory prison sentences for serious, violent crime […] in other words, I like to describe it this way: he will restore that key liberal principle of criminal justice […] that the offender must be considered innocent even after being proved guilty.”
However, in between the repeated booing that arose from the crowd every time the name “Trudeau” was mentioned, Harper did manage to squeeze in time to attack the candidate’s party rather than just the candidate himself, saying that, “The opposition will say now’s the time to spend and spend and spend, but next year we will use the fiscal room to do what we promised: cut taxes for hard working Canadian families. That’s our priority.” Choosing to focus primarily on economic policy, Harper went on to add, “Never, ever cut any spending; Spend more, now and always; let the deficit rise, increase taxes. You can look around the world at any number of basket cases to see how that works out.” But, of course, great speeches are never complete without a little bit of fear-mongering, “And if, God forbid, Canadians are attacked, or robbed, if they lose someone they love to a murderer, or if they see their children driven to suicide by bullying and harassment… The first thing they want their government to do is not make excuses for criminals, but to stick up for victims.”
Now, it would appear that Stephen Harper is more than just a little upset that Justin Trudeau encroached on hallowed Conservative territory. While it is up to interpretation whether or not this reaction is an indeed a sign that Conservatives are nervous about the party’s position in the province, the fact remains that this election season is already off to a wild start.