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Rob Ford, Naheed Nenshi, and the Changing Face of Canada

Posted on 28 October 2010

Rob For on CBC As It Happens, October 26, 2010

Rob Ford on CBC’s As It Happens, October 26, 2010

I’m sort of fascinated by this whole Rob Ford thing, even though I’ve never even been to Toronto. In the Globe a couple of weeks ago, Margaret Wente wrote a piece about the Tea Party movement in the United States and suggested that the same waves of discontent that are making Sarah Palin a popular figure were what might be sending Rob Ford to the mayor’s office. Now comes the news that he may have received more votes than any other politician in Canadian history. What does it all mean?

I’m inclined to agree with Chris Selley’s argument in the National Post. Reacting to other people’s reactions to the interview posted above, he writes:

“I somehow doubt the mayor-elect listens to As It Happens. Wouldn’t surprise me if he’d never heard of it — or if anyone else had never heard of it, for that matter. This may shock George Smitherman and Joe Pantalone voters, but in any given day, fewer Torontonians are exposed to Radio One than to The Edge, 680 News, CHFI, CHUM FM, Z103.5, Q107, boom 97.3, Virgin Radio and KISS 92.5…

If you find yourself particularly outraged that Mr. Ford blew off CBC — Of! All! Networks! — you probably haven’t even begun to come to terms with why Mr. Ford won the election in the first place, and might well win the next one.”

Those reasons are, from what I can gather, exactly the same ones that are making the Tea Party so much more popular in the United States. In the Wente piece, a political pollster by the name of Scott Rasmussen

“argues that the major division in the country now is not between the Republicans and Democrats, but between the mainstream public and the political class – the small proportion of the population, perhaps 10 per cent, (including most people who work in mainstream media) that still believes that government tries to serve the public interest, rather than colluding with big business against ordinary people.”

This holds with Selley’s belief that the sort of people who elected Ford don’t listen to the CBC— as a publicly-funded broadcaster, it probably doesn’t rank very high in the list of priorities for people rallying behind a small-government platform.

As depressing as it might be to think that Ford represents an American-style populist politics (as unfair of a generalization as that might be) coming to Canada, it is worth remembering the headline-making election of Naheed Nenshi to mayor of Calgary just a few weeks earlier. A young, Muslim, policy wonk, his election purportedly represented the arrival of Calgary as a cosmopolitan center, rather than the redneck stereotype of “Texas north.” It, too, represented the changing face of Canada, in a different direction than Ford’s does.

There’s probably some underlying economic issues in here, as well: eastern Canada, which relies more on manufacturing and the knowledge economy, is experiencing the global recession in a way that the resource-rich western provinces aren’t— hence the revolt against taxes and government spending. The resource sector doing well works against those who create products, rather than just ship them away. If trends continue, I wonder if you’ll see a populist eastern Canadian bloc revolting against the power of the west.

Both of these elections are said to represent major shifts in the Canadian political system. It’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Filed under: Canada, politics

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