What is the root cause of Western Canadian alienation?
Contrary to common arguments, it’s not because the rest of Canada fails to understand the West’s “distinct history, economy and society“, it’s not due to the National Energy Program or even (as my friend and colleague Angus Reid once noted) to the under-representation in our electoral system and public service outposts. David Kilgour may have been onto something when he laid some of the blame on the CBC, but not because it has failed to “reflect local needs and regional aspirations”.
No, my friends: after 16 years in Vancouver, I am now Western-alienated enough to reveal the truth: Western Canada is structurally disadvantaged by the challenges of conducting trans-continental, cross-time-zone media appearances.
These challenges were on my mind last week, when I participated in a panel on the CBC’s The National. It was a great conversation about digital marketing, and I was delighted to be invited to comment alongside the Globe & Mail’s Susan Krashinsky and Polar’s Kunal Gupta. But Kunal and Susan got to sit in the studio with host David Common, while I stared into a faceless camera in Vancouver with only audio feedback. Thanks to David’s excellent moderation and a camera operator who made damn sure I looked in the right direction, I was able to produce a reasonable facsimile of a person-to-person conversation. But I had to trick myself into imagining the camera was a human face — first, by imagining that my husband was surviving an untimely death by turning himself into an artificial intelligence with telepresence equipment, and then, when that made me too sad to smile, by imagining that he was on a 2-week space mission and had asked me to keep his telepresence device online so that he could interact with me and the kids.
I ask you: how is a crazy woman talking to her imaginary space-traveling husband supposed to compete for air time with live, in-studio panelists? This is the kind of challenge we Westerners have to contend with all the time. (And yes, we all handle it by picturing our spouses in space. Every single one of us.)
Radio is no better. I have lost track of the number of times I’ve participated in radio panels at times when my fellow panelists were well into their work day, or at least their waking hours, whereas for me it was the middle of the night. I haven’t lost track because I’ve done it so many times; I’ve lost track because I don’t remember much of anything that happens at 4 in the morning, unless it’s a steamy dream about Paul Rudd. But I can tell you from hearing the audio replays that while I can be reasonably articulate while still in my pajamas, I can’t kick Eastern Canadian intellectual butt the way I would after a couple of cups of coffee.
Even print appearances aren’t immune to the Western disadvantage. In an effort to accommodate reporters on EST deadlines, I’ve done media interviews while eating breakfast, while driving my kids to school, and worst of all, while getting dressed. (Now you know why people in Toronto dress better: they aren’t talking to reporters while picking out their outfits.)
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate media opportunities that come my way, even if the timing means I’m 30% worse-dressed and 50% stupider than I would be in an in-person interview at a normal time. What I just want central Canadians to understand — speaking as someone who grew up in Toronto, and didn’t understand what Westerners were whining about — is that Westerners are not as whiny or stupid as we seem. If we’re whiny, it may be because you’re catching us before we’ve woken up, and if we seem stupid or disoriented, maybe it’s because we’re not sure where to look when someone is talking in our right ear but appearing on a screen to our left.
So that’s it, folks. It’s only taken 16 years for me to become an Officially Alienated Western Canadian. I’m available to discuss this topic anytime via TV, radio or print…but if you want to hear the best take, please call after 9 am Pacific.