It’s going to take a little getting used to not having the premier of Ontario living in our town. There’s a lot of advantages to it, not least of which is having someone at Queen’s Park who knows Ottawa exists. That hasn’t always been the case.
It’s a pretty big city, Ottawa, but a bit far from Toronto.
The reviews on Dalton McGuinty’s tenure as premier have been mixed. The consensus seems to be that he did quite well, but his last few months didn’t do him credit. In Ottawa we knew him as sort of a clunky guy, not a smooth politician, but a person we could be comfortable with. That might explain how he got elected six times as an MPP, three times as premier.
McGuinty’s last election was a minority win, which means the opposition parties are looking forward with some relish to the next election. What kind of an election will that be? Could it be different from what we have seen — mild-mannered affairs in which ideology plays a minimal role and the parties cluster into the centre?
What observers now fear is a culture war, of the kind we have seen recently in the United States and, to a lesser extent, in Canadian federal politics.
In a culture war, the two sides are bitterly divided. Rather than cluster into the centre, they diverge widely and bitterly. They are divided not only on political issues, but on personal beliefs and patterns of behaviour.
The stage is set for it, that’s for sure. One of the two leading parties is led by a businessman from Fort Erie, with a traditional marriage; the other is led by a community activist from Toronto, who is a lesbian.
So there you have it: big city versus small town, man versus woman, old values versus new values, traditional marriage versus same-sex marriage, businessman versus activist, Barrhaven versus the Glebe.
People have talked about this kind of divergence in recent federal elections, with the Harper Conservatives, the hockey fans, versus the Ignatieff Liberals, the Chardonnay-sipping intellectuals. Tim Hortons versus Starbucks. The notion of a culture war is supported by the breakdown of the vote: Ignatieff’s main strength was in downtown Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver; Harper won the small towns and the suburbs.
Where the NDP fits into the culture war idea is difficult to say — Starbucks or Tim Hortons? Second Cup, maybe? The presence of a third party makes the idea of a culture war inconvenient. Still, the notion pleases many pundits by simplifying the issues and providing drama.
So is that what we have to look forward to when Ontario goes to the polls?
Probably not. Because we are more complex than that. Our downtown intellectuals like hockey. There are opera fans in small towns, book clubs in Carleton Place. Barrhaven has a Starbucks, Tim Hortons has Wi-Fi, McDonald’s has lattes. There’s a gadget wine fanciers use to put air into the stuff and supposedly make it taste better. They buy that at Home Hardware. We are all moving closer together.
We all see basically the same TV and get the same Internet. Isolation is a thing of the past and differences no longer shock us. Even the gay factor, the one thought to be the possible spark for a culture war, is far less of an issue than it might have been 10 years ago. Small town parents have children with gay friends. It is not a big deal.
Certainly you won’t hear anything about it from the opposition party leaders in the next election campaign. Whatever their private views they know that the biggest political risk is in appearing to be intolerant.
It’s pretty hard to wage a culture war under those circumstances. It will likely be just another boring old election, fought on the usual issues, which is not that bad a thing.