Alberta's Show of Hands


Convivium, 3 May 2019

Premier Jason Kenney’s no-frills swearing in gives Father Raymond de Souza time to turn from politics to art and find beauty in the work of human hands.

EDMONTON – The swearing-in of Alberta’s 18th premier, Jason Thomas Kenney, and his cabinet was a rather workmanlike affair, in contrast to the swearing-in of Rachel Notley four years ago.

Then, the ceremony was held outdoors, on the expansive grounds of the Legislature, and thousands were on hand. It was a hot, late May day, and ice cream was served.

There was much to celebrate then, even for those Albertans who were nervous about the province’s first NDP government. That was the price to pay to free Alberta from the grip of the corrupt, superannuated Progressive Conservative dynasty.

The party of Lougheed and Klein had degenerated to a spoils-of-power patronage operation ready for a death blow. But dynasties do not die easily, and it finally took the combination of Joe Clark’s last two active disciples, Alison Redford and Jim Prentice, to prove equal to the task of killing the mighty monster; there is nothing like Joe Clark and his ilk to prove lethal to conservatives in Canada!

The end of the crooked PCs, which leached sleaze into Alberta’s body politic, meant that Notley’s sun-drenched ceremony on the steps was fitting, outside where a new breeze might blow.

Four years later, the 2019 election was a mammoth win for Kenney; the people did not so much need to gather on the steps as they had spoken in the polling booths more loudly than ever before in provincial history.

There was much work to do. So, the ceremony was decorous but efficient, and the new cabinet scampered up the stairs in Government House for a substantive cabinet meeting within hours. It was the last day of April, a cold, snowy Edmonton day. No ice cream was served.

I was on hand as part of the group of the premier’s family and friends that could fit into the elegant, but cozy, confines of Government House. It was my first time there.

After the ceremony, while the families of the new cabinet ministers were excitedly mingling, bursting with pride, the courteous staff of Government House gave me a most informative tour of the historic building, including the impressive art collection. It includes works by Nicholas de Grandmaison, William Kurelek and the Group of Seven.

It was these last that caught my attention and carried, it seemed to me, an important lesson for the day on which a new Alberta government, determined that Alberta’s full participation in the Confederation be adequately recognized, took office.

Over the years, I have seen a handful of Group of Seven exhibitions, most recently I believe at the Art Gallery of Ontario. And like most Canadians, I have thought of them as the quintessentially Canadian painters, recording the majesty of our landscape. But which landscape?

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