Before the clock struck 5 p.m. yesterday (Feb. 9), a large crowd had already gathered in front of the Cochrane RancheHouse, and they kept coming until they numbered around 150.
Deborah Murphy organized an hour-long protest leading up to Mayor Jeff Genung's State of Cochrane address inside with the catchphrase, "Your globalist vision is Not our vision." She strongly believes both Genung and the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB) are agents of globalization.
Murphy says the line implying the mayor would be making an announcement on the 15-minute agenda for Cochrane wasn't hers. She says someone added it and reposted the protest announcement.
That afternoon, the town issued a statement on the 15-minute city concept.
It reads in part, "We understand that some larger urban centres are considering urban plans which aim to give residents access to most of what they need within 15 minutes from their home. This includes access to grocery, recreation, retail, employment, and entertainment amenities.
"Cochrane does not have any plans to adopt the ‘15-minute city’ concept as most residents can already access all main services within a 15-minute drive," it concludes.
Murphy has some concerns with that statement.
"To even think that some of our urban areas will be implementing it is not OK."
She's concerned that if some urban areas do pursue the idea, they might be able to convince Cochrane to do the same.
The idea that he would be making a 15-minute city announcement came as a surprise to Mayor Genung. There wasn't a hint of the topic in his hour-long address that focussed on managing growth, town finances, and economic development, topics he typically addresses in his annual State of Cochrane.
"I don't understand it," said Mayor Genung walking into the hall. "There's been some misunderstanding with the smart cities thing we applied for in that contest a few years back. There was a thing on social media saying we were a part of it, but that's just not true."
The placards expressed several different things but a common thread was the belief that our freedoms are being threatened by government overreach. To many, that means saying no to globalization, 15-minute cities, digital ID, and digital currency.
"Inside Cochrane, we have communities that are wonderful and a lot of community spirit," said one protester. "We don't need smart cities, we don't need anything to go near that. I'm a rancher, and I just brought some steers to market. The way I did it was a big area, small area, smaller area, trailer, and off they go. They're setting us up for the same thing, and it's all being done by unelected officials in the United Nations. It has nothing to do with Canada. They don't know anything about us, but they have decided this would be good for us."
"They've underestimated the people. There's more of us than them, and they're slowly starting to wake up."
He explained why he was wearing a Netherlands flag like a cape.
"I'm wearing a Dutch flag because my relatives are in Holland, and they're trying the same thing with them. We need your farmland, but they're not touching the king's 25,000 acres. His farmland seems to be OK and hasn't got a nitrogen problem.
"It comes to a point where enough is enough. I've got a lot better things to do on a Thursday night, but I'm not letting this go."
To others, the protest was an opportunity to express frustration over the lack of response to their questions to the mayor and town councillors, including Murphy.
"When are we going to get a town hall where we can actually ask questions without having to pay $50?" asks Murphy. "Are we not already taxpayers? Is this not already our RancheHouse that we pay for? When are we going to get to do this?"
Why town council declined to hang the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms in council chambers was a burning question for one of the protesters, who discussed it with Councillor Tara McFadden on her way into the function.
"She had voted against hanging the constitutional rights in the town hall, and I basically said she needs to do her job and stand up for Canadian rights. Why they would do something like that, I don't know."
The majority of the protesters were peaceful, but some spoke out, some louder than others, while guests made their way into the RancheHouse. Mayor Jeff Genung, himself, got the loudest jeers. When Murphy attempted to stop him, a video shows him gently brushing aside her hand from his arm and saying a few words while continuing to walk inside.
Inside, the mayor spoke briefly of it as being a frightening experience for some.
The State of Cochrane function was jointly sponsored by the Cochrane and District Chamber of Commerce. Executive director Kelly Carson says the protesters on the whole were peaceful and understands why they chose this function for the protest.
"I think that's where I would pick if I was going to be a protester. Would we like to have no protesters? Of course, we would, but by the same token, it's their right and we respect that."
A youth dance recital was being held simultaneously in the RancheHouse Theatre, which had some parents concerned for their children. Dance teachers made sure to keep students away from protesters when some walked into the building with their flags. One initially made a fuss when asked to leave, but moved on when informed children were performing.
There was an RCMP presence, including plain clothes, that kept a low profile.