(Author’s note: Kellyanne Conway cancelled her planned trip to Alberta just before President Trump’s inauguration Jan. 20)
Some memories are not faded with time.
I can still see him, with his charcoal suit, shirt and tie, close-cropped white hair and ruddy complexion, my old high-school history teacher Mr. Greason, pointing at a topographic map of North America he had pulled down over the blackboards at the front of the class.
He smacked the end of the pointer on the Rocky Mountains and made quick sweeping motions up and down, from northern Canada, south across the Canada-U.S. border.
He moved east and smacked the end of the pointer again on the Canadian prairies and made the same north-south sweeping motion up and down across the border.
With an emphatic swirling motion over the massive Canadian Shield he also made the point that the Shield with its wild and difficult terrain was a natural barrier between eastern and western Canada.
“Geographically, Canada makes no sense,” he told his teenage class of Grade 11 history students, “especially out here,” he added, moving the pointer back to the west, “out here where the geography so clearly runs up and down, north and south, not across.”
With those last words Mr. Greason dragged the pointer slowly across the east-west border from the Pacific coast to Lake Superior, as he said, “from a geographic point of view this makes no sense.”
“Which is why Canada must have a strong central government.”
Of course it was a political statement. Maybe he was out of line. In our utter naivete about such things in the late 1950s we wouldn’t have known any better.
Just shy of 20 years later I rescued an old Dodge pick-up from a date with the scrap yard, did a fair amount of body-work, gave it a fresh coat of paint, and headed out west to start yet another new life. That was the plan anyway when I landed in Edmonton.
By then I had more than a few years of warehousing under my belt in various capacities, from lowly order-filler, to supervision, to operating one of the first computerized material-handling systems in North America. So, when I spotted an ad placed by a company looking for a warehouse manager I applied.
It was an American-owned, heavy-equipment manufacturer with a parts warehouse in Edmonton. Like many companies in Alberta it was gearing up for the boom times coming soon in the province’s oil industry, as tar sands development began to take shape.
The company was in expansion mode and needed to staff up, I was told by the first company official who interviewed me.
I guess he liked me well enough to take me to the next level, an interview with the regional operations manager.
Things seemed to be going okay as that big, 40-something man sat behind his big desk and asked me questions. He seemed to relax and – I’m not sure what brought it on – but he started talking about how in his view Canadian workers were not as productive as American, nor were Canadians as good in general at doing business.
I said I knew lots of Canadians who were hard workers, and lots who had a good head for business. I think I was polite enough about it, but I guess my reaction didn’t go over very well.
To make a long story short, I didn’t get the job. The first guy who had interviewed me told me later, by way of explanation, “It didn’t help that you got into an argument with the boss.”
Actually, I think a good manager would have appreciated my response as a positive indicator; but I’ll leave it at that and move on to why these recollections come to mind.
I was doing my usual daily perusal of on-line news earlier this week when I chanced upon several articles in news venues on both sides of the border about Kellyanne Conway being invited to visit Alberta just a week before the January 20th inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the U.S..
Conway took over as Trump’s campaign manager at a critical point when his campaign appeared to be floundering. She is widely credited with keeping the notoriously scatter-brained Trump on message, and away from his twitter account long enough to get him elected.
She was also often seen on U.S. cable news as one of his best “surrogate” spokespersons, with an astonishing ability to make one-plus one add up to something other than two. She is now often described as one of Trump’s “top advisors.”
She has been invited to come to Alberta to make a speech at a private fundraising dinner hosted by the Alberta Prosperity Fund on Jan. 12 in Calgary. She is also slated to tour the oil sands.
The Prosperity Fund is a conservative political action organization dedicated to “uniting the right” in Alberta to overthrow the province’s current NDP government in the next provincial election. Quoting the group’s chairman, the Toronto Star article reported a Fund member was sent south to work with the Trump campaign.
Far be it from me to dabble in conspiracy theories; we’ve had more than enough of them already. But there’s something about this interesting little turn of events that troubles me.
I think I’m starting to hear my old, long-gone history teacher turning in his grave.
He may have been right about the need for a strong central government to keep this geographically unlikely country together. That may be part of it.
But one way or another what we need most of all at this critical moment in history is a strong, shared sense of being Canadian, and being proud of it.
A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in November, 2016