Partisan politics taking a back seat to flooding at Calgary Stampede

CALGARY – All the outward trappings are there but there is something missing from the 2013 Calgary Stampede.

The annual parade Friday drew hundreds of thousands of people to the downtown core, people are once again festooned in cowboy hats, boots and jeans and families flock to free Stampede breakfasts.

But the annual cowboy festival is lacking the usual political partisanship that has traditionally been tantamount to the so-called “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.”

Just two weeks after 75,000 people were evacuated from their homes due to massive flooding from both the Elbow and Bow Rivers in Calgary and the total decimation in the town of High River, 60 kilometres to the south, there’s a fragility to the area.

Party leaders, who take on the persona of duelling gunslingers looking for votes in a game of political one-upmanship, have holstered their verbal firearms and appear to be taking a softer approach this year.

“Certainly everybody’s focus is properly on the fact that Calgary just went through a major natural disaster of the flood and other parts of Alberta like High River which I just visited — you don’t come to a community that has just gone through trauma and pull out the normal ‘we’re all here for a good time’ attitude,” Green party Leader Elizabeth May told The Canadian Press at her annual bannock breakfast in Calgary.

“I think we’re all pitching in where we can and the vibe is definitely different.”

May, who is opposed to the partisanship in the House of Commons, said she would like to see the spirit being shown by politicians during Stampede continue but feels that’s unlikely.

She spent the day volunteering in High River, where at one point all 13,000 residents were under a mandatory evacuation order, and streets and neighbourhoods were under metres of water.

“This is a hard, hard thing for people who have to pull together the resources and make things work but they’ve done very well at what they’re doing and the spirit of the community is enhanced and stronger,” May said.

“House after house, street after street, it’s really devastating and I agree with Thomas Mulcair that the rest of Canada may not realize how bad the damage in Calgary and surrounding communities have been.”

The federal NDP leader also took a conciliatory stance when he arrived in Calgary this week. He said Canadians want all governments, municipal, provincial and federal, to pull together.

“I honestly do believe the federal government is doing everything it can. They’ll have our full support. There are times when we will talk partisan politics. This isn’t one of them,” Mulcair said at a Thursday pancake breakfast.

Both May and Mulcair are promising to help eliminate any of the “bureaucratic roadblocks” to making sure those who have lost their jobs have immediate access to employment insurance.

“You don’t punish people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Removing bureaucratic roadblocks in getting the money flowing is a good thing,” Mulcair said.

May said the waiting time required for EI recipients does need to be waived in this case.

“When you think about all the workers at the Calgary Zoo as one example, it would be good to get people helped right away,” she said.

“The time to get on EI has been stretched as of late … maybe we could fasttrack that for people who have been hit by the flood.”

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was scheduled to arrive late Saturday night and take part in events Sunday.

A party release indicated last week that the Liberal party was cancelling its yearly Stampede breakfast and having Trudeau “pitch in” with cleanup efforts around the city.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who represents the riding of Calgary Southwest, attended the Stampede parade Friday but spent part of the day visiting High River.

Calgary got another reminder of its weather woes Friday night when a powerful thunderstorm and more heavy rainfall caused more flooding in some areas. The midway at the Calgary Stampede also shut down during the storm.

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