Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Tale Of Two Canadas

That is the title of a very interesting piece by Michael Valpy in today's Star that is well-worth reading. His thesis offers something of a challenge to a post I put up the other day talking about the fact that our core values as Canadians managed to survive 10 years of dark rule under the Harper Conservatives.

While admitting the recent election was a rejection of a policy direction that was simply alien to most Canadians, Valpy notes that it was the participation of a certain demagraphic that tipped the scales against Harper:
What shifted on Oct. 19 was the appearance of three million more voters than in the previous election of May 2011 — most of them young and wanting to declare that the Harper government was alien.

What shifted were the significant numbers of small-l liberals who had voted NDP in 2011 and large-L Liberals who stayed home, but not this time. As well, in the last days of the campaign, what shifted was a significant chunk of the over-65 vote from Conservative to Liberal.
Citing pollster Frank Graves' analysis of the election, this past election differed from the one in 2011 thanks to values and emotional engagement,
values that said Harper’s-Canada-is-not-my-Canada and an emotional engagement largely absent in centre-left voters in 2011. Emotion is what gets people to the polls.

Whether it was tough-on-crime, the passivity toward climate change, the diminution of the federal state to an unprecedented 14 per cent of GDP, the shuttering of research and evidence-based decision making, or a much more militaristic foreign policy with an unblinking pro-Israel stance, collectively those positions were increasingly disconnected from what the majority of Canadians considered their country’s core values and the public interest, says Graves.
However, Valpy points out that there is another side to this picture:
The popular vote that gave Harper his majority in 2011 — 39.6 per cent — was almost identical to the popular vote that gave Trudeau his majority in 2015: 39.5 per cent.

Harper’s absolutist approach to government with the backing of not much more than one-third of ballots cast (and the support of only 24 per cent of all Canadian voters) was branded a debasement of democracy.
That assessment will likely not be made of the Liberals, Valpy suggests, because theirs are values represented by a larger proportion of Canadians. However, the fact is
the roughly one-third of voters who stuck with the Conservatives on Oct. 19 are real people, with a very distinct profile in terms of both demography and values. Conservative Canada is older, more likely to be male, less educated, rural, and focused to the west of the Ottawa River.
Valpy concludes that
there are two Canadas, each with seemingly irreconcilable values, maybe bringing us to the necessity of seeing the country in a new light — as a modern, pluralistic society with no national consensus, with only limited harmony at the political level, with tensions and contradictions cemented into the basic operating DNA of the country.
It means that while the positive response to the new Trudeau government is the highest this century, the idea of common values in Canada is a chimera, a fantasy.
While his last sentence may be a source of discomfort for some, and certainly challenges my notion about Canadian core values, the tension between opposing visions is also something that should remind all of us of the importance of political engagement and the nurturing of our voices and values. It should also prompt an acknowledgement that a competing vision and competition for our vote is an absolute necessity in a healthy and dynamic democracy, preventing to a degree both governments and voters from taking things for granted.


  1. It's disconcerting to think that we might be returning to a newer version of the Two Solitudes, Lorne. Only superlative leadership can bridge the divide.

    1. That and constant vigilance, Owen. If the new leadership has learned any lessons from the past 10 years, I hope it is not to ever treat any member of the electorate with the blatant contempt that Harper bestowed on so many.

  2. I think any society, ours included, can be whipsawed into division by sustained wedge politics, Lorne. That's all Harper ever did. He whipped his own base, exploiting them with fear and anger and appeals to their basest instincts. What this would do to the greater society and social cohesiveness mattered not the slightest to this venal,craven bastard. That was evident in his policies that were so repugnant to the majority of the citizens it was his duty to serve.

    It's part of Junior's challenge to heal the rift and bring those who succumbed to Harper's manipulations back to the fold. We can and should still disagree on policy but not as enemies.

    1. Well put, Mound. Surely it is a mark of both personal and societal maturity to be able to disagree respectfully. Maybe with the new guy at the helm, this will eventually become the norm rather than the exception it was under the harper cabal.