Premier Ed Stelmach rode into town early last week to join the sea of cowboy hats that flooded Calgary for ten long, hot summer days.
While summer is typically the ideal time for politicians to fill their rest and relaxation quota for the year, Stelmach's trip down south was about more than showing off his western attire. No, like a true cowboy Stelmach came down south with a mission to win back Calgarians support, which has dipped to a record low of 34 per cent since he became leader of the Tories.
The premier's cowboy mission began early Monday morning as he welcomed eager Stampeders to a politician-friendly pancake breakfast. During his speech, Stelmach reminded attendees that the Stampede is really 'about community pride… honouring the pioneer spirit behind the event… and gathering with family and friends.' He spoke directly to Albertans by saying 'we have the chance to extend our world famous western hospitality to visitors and welcome them to the greatest outdoor show on earth' and before he began serving up the flapjacks, Stelmach encouraged everyone who had travelled from outside of Calgary to 'take in all the sites and sounds the city has to offer' while they were there.
Although Stelmach was most likely encouraging visitors to attend one of the city's many hoe-downs, if Stampeders actually took the time to look around as they journeyed from the fair grounds to Cowboys, they would see a lot less fun and games.
Instead they would be introduced to the harsh reality of Alberta's economic boom-that a disturbing number of citizens are sleeping on the streets of the province's beloved 'cow-town.' Stampeders who were at the Premier's breakfast received a preview of Calgary's dark side, as one protestor attempted to give Stelmach a pie in the face to express her frustration with the housing crisis.
A day after the breakfast, and a day after announcing the long-awaited $260 million for the University of Calgary's Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy, Stelmach wrote a $15 million cheque that will be matched by the federal government to expand the grounds for 'the greatest outdoor show on earth.' However, two days after this announcement, a story in The Calgary Herald reported the Tories $9 million renters' aid fund-an initiative to provide subsidies for those who have been hardest hit by Alberta's housing crisis-is expected to dry up by September. The story also noted a majority of the fund's dollars are going to struggling Calgarians.
The debate surrounding the importance and relevance of the Calgary Stampede is multi-faceted. There are those who support the economic argument for the ten day event, and then there are the true cowboys who argue the Stampede is intrinsic to preserving Alberta's western heritage. However, there are also the sceptics who see the Stampede as nothing more than a gong-show where putting on a cowboy hat gives professionals the excuse to down a bottle of whisky and instantly experience the freedom of the wild-wild west.
While the Stampede debate will rage on, before Calgary can continue to extend its 'world famous western hospitality' to Stampede visitors, this hospitality must be extended to every citizen in the city. Calgarians need to stand up and tell the province that finding a solution to Calgary's growing affordable housing crisis is a much greater priority than the 'greatest outdoor show on earth' could ever be.