Scott Moe’s anti-trans theatrics harms Saskatchewan’s reputation

Opinion | Emmet Matheson

Decades ago, I walked into La Fondue Prince Arthur in Montreal. The manager, Mike, looked at my resume and hired me on the spot. He told me later it was because he saw I was from Saskatchewan. This was 1998. That was all he needed to know. On my first shift, I sliced open my thumb cutting potatoes.

People had a certain idea about what it meant to be from Saskatchewan. They assumed we all had a strong work ethic, good moral fibre and genuine concern for our neighbours. Unless that neighbour was from Wullerton.

When I left Saskatchewan again, in 2006, I still traded on the goodwill my homeland had spent 101 years building up outside of its rectangular borders. All over Vancouver, I proudly wore a green and yellow Adidas track jacket, an abstraction of the provincial flag. I even had matching green Gazelles with yellow stripes. It wasn’t foolproof: one guy kept asking me why I was wearing Edmonton’s football team’s colours.

It was an amazing time to be out in the world from Saskatchewan. Brent Butt’s brilliant Corner Gas was riding high on TV. In 2004, CBC TV viewers voted Tommy Douglas as “Greatest Canadian.” Even Saskatoon-raised erotic thriller queen Shannon Tweed was doing us proud with her down-to-earth humour and devastating smile on the reality TV series Gene Simmons Family Jewels.

Hayley Wickenheiser came up a lot when people heard I was from Saskatchewan.

But then something happened. Maybe it had something to do with the resource boom that finally brought in the one millionth resident. Maybe something else shifted. But by August 2016, 10 years after I packed up and left, Saskatchewan’s public image was markedly different. It had gone from being known as an underdog province where people dreamed as big as the sky to a petulant bully who didn’t bother looking further than the next quarterly report.

Let’s not kid ourselves: Saskatchewan has worked overtime to earn its (reductionist) reputation as the Alabama or Mississippi of the North (I suspect which southern state you pick depends on your college football loyalties). From clearing the plains to starlight tours, taking pride in Saskatchewan has always demanded we pretend the prosperity of our homeland doesn’t depend on the ongoing degradation and dehumanization of Indigenous and Métis peoples.

Let’s not kid ourselves, part two: the bald-faced bigotry of the Saskatchewan Party’s anti-trans policy isn’t special. Even here on the so-called “left coast”, school boards contend with virulent and frequently unhinged opposition to the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, or SOGI 123, curriculum.

That said, it’s only in Saskatchewan that a provincial government suspended Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms to save face after its stupid pronoun law got blocked by courts.

The sheer mean-spirited arrogance of this Sask. Party government is really something. It might be why these days, when someone hears I’m from Saskatchewan, they’re as likely to bring up Gerald Stanley or Chris Barber as Joni Mitchell or Gordie Howe.

Go Riders. ■

Emmet Matheson is a sometimes-homesick writer and community worker living in British Columbia.