As Canadians, we have managed to create a single political community of equal citizens out of Aboriginal peoples, francophones, anglophones, and all the people like me whose families came here as emigrants from other countries. Out of those different languages, traditions, and cultures, we have forged a political system that holds us together and keeps us talking through our differences peacefully. We have also succeeded in maintaining a distinctive culture and a tradition of proud independence next door to the most powerful state in the world. Michael Ignatieff (1)
Q: "Is there a Canadian culture?" A: "Yes, in a very loose sense. It consists of regional cultures within Canada, regional cultures that cross borders with the US. We're part of a worldwide Anglo-American culture." - Stephen Harper (2)
It has been suggested that Canada is in the middle of a culture war. Stephen Harper is supposed to represent the working class, hockey loving, Tim Horton's coffee sipping crowd, while Michael Ignatieff is the voice of academia, Starbucks and the Canadian "elite".
When Parliament opened John Baird set the tone, with this nonsense. According to James Travers:
John Baird, Stephen Harper’s very right-hand man, lit a firestorm as MPs returned from their long summer holiday. Pre-loading for the gun registry vote Conservatives lost Wednesday, Baird savaged Toronto elites, notably Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton, for imposing their neon big city will on salt-of-the-earth small town Canadians. Poking the privileged is good politics. It’s also brazen coming from someone whose perks include a chauffeur-driven car and gold-plated pension. (3)
Stephen Harper did not come from a working class family. His father was an executive at Esso. He uses hockey, because the Republican pollster Frank Lutz told him to: "Images and pictures are important. Tap into national symbols such as hockey. If there is some way to link hockey to what you all do, I would try to do it." (4)
And while Tim Hortons was created in Canada, it is now a multinational corporation:
... in 1995, American company Wendy's International Inc. acquired the Canadian coffee giant, but eventually let go of its shares in an IPO in 2006 and Tim's is now traded publicly on the TSX and NYSE. In recent years, the company has made a big push in the U.S., opening stores across the country, including in former Dunkin' Donuts stores in New York. Recently however, Tim Hortons has sold its stake in Maidstone, the Ontario-based company which makes donuts for every location in Canada, to the Swiss company Aryzta. (5)
So you might say that Stephen Harper represents the affluent, is directed by Republicans and best linked to multinational corporations.
But I'm not going to say that. Because what Stephen Harper is, is a career politician, and everything he says or does is for political leverage. Not what's good for the country.
The Real Cultural Differences
Not content to simply imply that Michael Ignatieff is an "elite", their latest tactic, (image courtesy of Calgary Grit), is that he's a 'Russian Prince'.
Michael Ignatieff is descended from a Russian 'Count', who earned his title, and his family legacy is one of diplomats. The 'Count' married a Russian princess, but they were forced to flee communism, arriving in Canada as immigrants. They chose to farm. And their children did well because they were smart and worked hard. Any privilege of birth was left behind.
And on his mother's side, the family is about as Canadian as you can get.
Putting on airs would be suggesting that you're an average guy, while riding around in a chauffeur driven limousine. Because you are playing us for fools.
When John Baird was in the Ontario Legislature, his office was found to have spent the most money on things likes meals in fancy restaurants. Perks. Putting on airs with money that belonged to "the little guy".
Baird, whose ministry is responsible for Ontario's poor and disabled, along with 11 senior political staff spent an average of $930.95 a month over a 15-month period on food and drink — more than double the $448 basic monthly allowance for a single mother with one child. Details of the minister's office expenses were obtained through Freedom of Information legislation. Many of the larger dinner bills are from trendy restaurants and bars late into the evening hours but omit a specific list of what was consumed. (6)
We need to start tuning this stuff out. Because as Travers points out, no one in the House of Commons has to sing for their supper. They do OK.
But I don't care.
I don't care that Stephen Harper, John Baird or Michael Ignatieff are wealthier than I am. I don't care that they have chauffeurs or villas or eat in classy restaurants.
We don't belong to the same social circles, and I don't care.
And I don't care that Michael Ignatieff is smart. I want my prime minister to be smarter than I am. In fact, I demand it!
But what I do care about, is that they understand what it means to be Canadian.
We are not a "Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term", (7) nor are we "a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status". (8)
We're Canadian, and that's where the culture war begins and ends. It's a battle between "Canadian values" and "American values". Michael Ignatieff gets the first, while Stephen Harper embraces the latter. It has absolutely nothing to do with what kind of coffee we drink, or where we live, or where our ancestors were born.
Myself, I'm a Timmies fan, I live in a medium sized city, was born in a small town in New Brunswick, and my ancestors are French, Acadian, British and Irish.
I am not part of a "worldwide Anglo-American culture". I am part of a "distinctive culture" with "a tradition of proud independence".
And if that makes me "elite" it's a notion of superiority based on the fact that I am a Canadian!
1. The Rights Revolution: CBC Massey Lectures, By Michael Ignatieff, Anansi Books, 2000, ISBN: 978-0-88784-762-2, Pg. xii
2. CBC Interview 1997
3. Hard right swing hits politicians where it hurts, By James Travers, Toronto Star, September 25, 2010
4. Kick the Liberals as they're down, By The Ottawa Citizen, May 7, 2006
5. Companies you think are Canadian, by Kate Robertson, Investopedia.com, September 23, 2010
6. Taxpayers pay Baird's doughnuts & dinner Average monthly bill for Tory minister & staff tops $900, by Richard Brennan, Queen's Park Bureau, Toronto Star, April 11, 2002
7. Conservative leader Stephen Harper, then vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, in a June 1997 Montreal meeting of the Council for National Policy, a right-wing American think tank
8. It is time to seek a new relationship with Canada, By Stephen Harper, December 12th, 2000