Calgary-North MLA Muhammad Yaseen remembers his time living in small-town Alberta fondly.
“Here I learned and experienced rich rural culture, a culture of hospitality and collaboration with rodeo being the most favourite sport,” Yaseen told an Alberta Government standing committee meeting Monday as he introduced Bill 212 — a private member’s bill that, if passed, would make rodeo Alberta’s official sport.
“As a proud Calgarian I was deeply saddened that the iconic Calgary Stampede had to be cancelled last year,” Yaseen said.
“This bill will be a beacon of hope for Albertans as we make our way through another challenging year and serve as a reminder that we have much to look forward to.”
Unlike hockey or football, rodeo isn’t one specific activity — rather, a compilation of events in which cowboys show their skill at riding broncos and bulls, roping calves, wrestling steers, and more.
Bill 212 has the support of the Bird family in Nanton, Alta. Logan Bird is a Canadian champion tie-down roper, but for the last year he’s only been able to compete in the United States.
“We all lost our jobs, going on 12 months now,” Logan said. “I stayed in Canada last summer, hopeful that it would open up and we’d have something, but it never happened so in November I came to the States.”
Bird is currently in Texas preparing for a rodeo event in Fort Worth. His father, Manerd Bird — a rodeo stock contractor — is working in Arizona.
Manerd Bird says he’s hopeful he’ll be able to work in Alberta again soon.
“It’s really time to put rodeo back on the map and help Alberta regain some of its economic swagger of which we’ve lost,” Manerd said.
COVID-19 restrictions on outdoor sporting events could be eased by the province as part of Step 4 in its re-opening plan. Designating rodeo as an official sport would be a largely symbolic gesture, but not everyone think its a good idea.
“I think this was probably intended as a well-meaning pick-me-up for a province that is having a time, but I think that it actually touches on this battle to define what Alberta is,” said Lisa Young, a political scientist with the University of Calgary’s school of public policy.
“The dilemma with this is there are lots of people who don’t see rodeo as being reflective of the modern Alberta, and in fact, it’s controversial.”
Camille Labchuk, executive director for national animal law advocacy organization Animal Justice, says the bill sends the wrong message.
“Frankly, I was surprised and disturbed because not only is rodeo incredibly cruel, it’s so cruel that it’s been banned in many jurisdictions,” Labchuk said.
“So Alberta shouldn’t be considering celebrating this as a provincial sport. It should be considering banning this activity.”