Newspapers, televisions, and Twitter trolls from coast to coast in Canada and well beyond the borders excitedly watched the historic election as the Liberals swept the East and eventually were declared the winner by most major news outlets just as polls closed out West.
But the too-often-used phrase "sea of red" stopped at the Manitoba border except for a few ridings and the Conservative blue started its slow seeping out to the the Northern Rockies even as a Liberal majority was being declared. In the end, although the Liberals captured 184 seats they only actually received 39.5 per cent of the popular vote with the Conservatives trailing closely at 31.9 per cent, and the NDP far off at 19.7 per cent.
What is this area starting in southern Manitoba, moving through Saskatchewan, and conquering Alberta and most of British Columbia's eastern border where the CPC pulled in their popular vote? Well, to a lot of people it's Canada's "bible belt"
The bible belt
Pop culture -- books, movies, news, TV-- have been referencing the bible belt for a long time but just in case there are people who haven't come across the term it refers to the south-eastern and south-central United States. This area has a strong, conservative, church-going population and obviously a fairly uncomfortable history with things like slavery, unreasonable walls across the Mexican border, and a flag that just won't come down.
In 2010 I did a quick trip down into the bible belt and the fun of being called "ma'am" and cheap beer was quickly overshadowed by a narrow-minded, conservative, terrifying rhetoric.
Obviously for the majority of people the context of being called part of the "bible belt" is not a source of pride. A lot of people who are religious and very fond of the bible (as in using it as a base for their lives) even use the term "bible belt" to demonstrate an unreasonable extremism.
In Canada, that honour goes to rural Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and generally all of Alberta -- the Prairies, my home.
Especially after my journey through the American south I would argue the hateful discourse in the Prairies is not as strong but in this most recent, historically long election period there has been a lot of concern and conversations --- specifically in urban areas --- of that trend changing.
The politics of the Prairies
With the recent provincial election in Alberta, there was a lot of hope about a changing political dialogue in the "bible belt". The population is younger and more diverse then most of Canada expects with large, quickly growing Aboriginal and new-Canadian populations.
With new district boundaries for the federal election expected to better represent the divide between urban and rural areas, there was an optimism that maybe this time, there would be some change.
In Saskatchewan, the Conservatives won 10 of 14 federal ridings. In the cities, well-liked and long-running Liberal Ralph Goodale took his riding in Regina again and the NDP's Sheri Benson took her riding in Saskatoon-West with Erin Weir barely grabbing an NDP win in his Regina riding. In Saskatchewan's north, with an exceptional Aboriginal voter turnout (two First Nation's actually ran out of ballots at different points in the day), the NDP's Georgina Jolibois won the Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River riding in one of the strangest and most exciting races in the country where the first place NDP had 10,300 votes, close behind the Liberals had 10,230, and even the Conservatives were barely trailing with 9,110 votes.
Of Manitoba's 14 seats, the northern areas with lower populations but more Aboriginal communities went NDP while the rural south went Conservative. Urban areas saw an NDP-Liberal split but in the end the Conservatives took a large swatch of territory with five seats.
Alberta looked like nearly a clean Conservative sweeping but once again in the urban settings there were some trend changes. Darshan Kang and Kent Hehr became the first federal Liberals elected in Calgary in almost half a century with Kang barely beating out Conservative incumbent Devinder Shory in Calgary Skyview. Two more Alberta seats were taken by the Liberals in what had long been a red-desert but it did come at a vote-splitting cost for the NDP. (Something which you saw in Saskatchewan's urban ridings as well with turnouts like Saskatoon's Grasswoods seeing more than 26,000 votes for the left, but the conservatives sports-caster candidate crept in for the win with just over 19,000 because of Canada's lovely voting system and confusing pre-election talk about strategic voting for the West). Of Alberta's 34 seats, Conservatives took 29.
In BC where the bible belt clashes with the west-coast vibe, Conservatives took 10 seats before possibly "BC weed" vibes took over for Liberal wins in snowboard country and NDP wins up the coast.
What's going on in the bible belt?
As a woman living in the belt, shielded by my urban bubble (although my riding went CPC), one of the most disturbing thing about politics in the bible belt is my right to choose what happens with my body.
The website Campaign Life Coalition pointed to 15 candidates in Alberta, mostly middle-aged white men, who were pro-life. Out of those, nine were Conservative and they all took their ridings. In Saskatchewan, there were 10 pro-life candidates (two women) with seven winning their ridings. I recently wrote about the slippery slope that the pro-life campaign tactics are relying on to bring abortion back into the Canadian political dialogue which show this bible belt and how its ideology can change the country is becoming all too real.
But the most concerning thing happening in the bible belt, heightened likely by the prominence of social media and hate in this campaign, comes from the constituents who voted in these candidates.
There have been conversations across the country about the amount of misinformation in shitty meme form or random Facebook rants that has actually defined political discussion. But, especially in the wake of a Liberal win groups like Coalition for the Separation of Western Provinces from Canada and Western Canadian Separation Party WASP are springing up with thousands of people liking them.
The people in these groups (I'm keeping them anonymous but it's pretty easy to go have your own look) spout things such as:
"Until people no longer fear death at the hands of the government, there will be no change. I tell you this, though, death is not the worst thing out there. Death is natural. Taxing the people into poverty, and ruling over them with an iron fist, is not," from one poster.
And the expected and not so vague racism towards refugees, specifically Syrians:
"It is naive to think that the terrorism groups do not see and plan for this as a method of getting members into foreign countries. I am all for helping people in war-stricken nations around the world, but first, we need to help those here at home... Then, when that battle is won, we can look at providing entrance to refugees, once they have been properly screen and provided they are watched closely for a period of time once they gain access," another poster said.
There's also the pictures that look to be cut-and-paste right from the original U.S bible belt.
From racist meme's, uninformed statements, and threats about separation, the bible belt of Canada is looking a lot more like it's neighbour's to the south. It's not only that there are still music festivals predominantly portraying the confederate flag but a change more inherently linked to our character as a population on this beautiful, fertile, and special land.
Not only are the ideologies which are becoming more prominent (pro-life, climate change denying, and the like) but also the sense of entitlement to land that really anyone who isn't First Nations is an immigrant on.
After nearly 10 years of omnibus bills pushed through under the guise of "there's no climate change", "terrorists could be anyone", "and prisoner's should pay" it's not surprising that the message track has become less of a guideline for too many western voters and more of a doctrine... or should I say bible?
So what is it like living in Canada's bible belt? Five years ago I would say we had a bad rap, that we are becoming more progressive, less racist, and there is an exciting future which will hopefully include a stomping fiddle soundtrack.
But after the past 11-weeks, I'm rescinding my optimism. Outside of certain urban bubbles, Canada's strip of blue can be scary, not because of their political or economic beliefs, but because of how it's become a source of pride to antagonize, estrange, and disjoint themselves from the rest of the country and from the ideals that it was built on.
Kelly Geraldine Malone is a freelance journalist, podcaster, and radio producer based out of Manitoba, Canada