Two remarkable things happened this week. One remarkably good, the other remarkably bad.
Let’s start with the remarkably good.
Ricardo Miranda, Alberta’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, got married to journalist and communications specialist, Christopher Brown, this week. Premier Rachel Notley officiated at the wedding and had the privilege of declaring them “husband and husband”.
Minister Miranda was a little hesitant about going public with his engagement to Mr Brown but said “Visibility is very important to the community. We’ve seen, unfortunately, even here in the province, a rise in hate crimes. And it takes us back to a time I don’t want to go back to.”
Speaking of going back in time, this brings Ms Soapbox to the remarkably bad thing that happened last week.
In his year-end interview with the Calgary Herald, UCP leader Jason Kenney said he didn’t think stories about his socially conservative political history, including voting against same-sex marriage, would be an issue in the upcoming election because Albertans are focused on economic issues, not social ones.
He dismissed the “a few hundred agitated people on Twitter” as not reflecting the real political debates going on in Alberta, noting he’s done over 20,000 events in the last two and a half years and these “so-called divisive issues” didn’t come up.
(Interestingly, Mr Kenney refused to say whether he’d repeal Bill 24 which prohibits parental notification if kids join gay-straight alliances in schools, so it’s safe to assume this issue is a little more “divisive” than Mr Kenney lets on.)
Dignity cannot be prioritized
Mr Kenney argues that all Albertans want is a fair shake from Confederation, so they can work in decent jobs and pursue their lives with dignity. This is the “give us a hand up, not a hand out” argument, although truth be told the distinction between a “hand up” and a “hand out” was lost on Ms Soapbox when Albertans took to the streets to tell the prime minister what he could do with his $1.6 billion relief package—it was a basket of loans and financing initiatives (a “hand up”), not the promise of welfare cheques (a “hand out”) yet Albertans could hardly contain their righteous indignation.
Mr Kenney is wrong to frame the political debate as a choice between economic issues or social issues, with economic issues taking priority over social issues because, as the UCP put it, in order to be a compassionate, caring province, we must be prosperous first.
This “first one, then the other” characterization obscures the fact that we live in a civilized society. Civility is based on respect. Respect requires us to treat each other with dignity because we’re all human beings and as such deserve it.
There never has been and there never will be a time when we can’t afford to treat each other with dignity and respect.
It is impossible to carve up dignity and respect like Solomon’s baby and bestow it on the population in good economic times and withhold it from the population in bad economic times while we anxiously wait for the economy to improve.
And yet that’s exactly what Mr Kenney is saying when he says he would prioritize economic issues over social issues.
The problem with this argument (aside from it being immoral) is exacerbated when one considers Mr Kenney’s position on same-sex marriage.
After decades of opposing same-sex unions Mr Kenney said he supported a 2016 motion to defeat the Conservative Party policy that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman because there had “…been a change legally, politically and in public opinion and [he would] accept the consensus”.
Mr Kenney did not say he was fine with it because the country had moved forward economically and now had the capacity to address social issues like same-sex marriage. He did not say that a decade after the highest court in the land legalized same-sex marriage he’d come to terms with it.
The tipping point for Mr Kenney appears to be that political and public opinion finally caught up with the law, (although one suspects it was the other way around and the law finally caught up with political and public opinion), the consensus favoured same-sex marriage and Mr Kenney could lay down his objections and go with the flow.
Mr Kenney’s muddled rationale does not bode well for Albertans who believe everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of the state of the economy or prevailing political and public opinion.
Albertans have a right to be treated with dignity and respect because civility puts a higher value on people than things and requires members of minority groups to be treated with as much dignity as members of majority groups and, believe it or not, children to be treated with as much dignity as their parents.
Next year is an election year. Let’s focus on electing outstanding leaders like Rachel Notley who are not afraid to treat all Albertans with respect and dignity regardless of which way the political winds blow.
While we’re here, Ms Soapbox would like to raise her glass to Ricardo and Christopher and wish them a future filled with happiness! Clink clink!