Rancor and divisiveness making their way north
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Rancor and divisiveness making their way north

What happened to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland last week in Alberta may not have been a threat, but it was certainly harassment.

It was also the latest warning of both an increasing dissatisfaction with government and American-style reaction to that situation.

The former is the fault of politicians and bureaucrats who fail to serve the public good. The latter is a dangerous trend that leads to potentially irreconcilable divisiveness.

Freeland was in Grand Prairie last Friday when she was yelled at by a man who used obscenities and called her “traitorous.” It was the kind of action one would traditionally call un-Canadian given the lack of civility. The language was indicative of the increasingly polarized debates we’ve come to see as standard operating procedure south of the border, particularly on the right.

The tone has no place in Canada. A debate over the quality of governance is very much overdue, however.

In the wake of Freeland’s experience, Ottawa is looking at new security options for protecting officials. The government notes there has been an increase in the number of threats against politicians, with fears of growing hostility.

We need only look to the US, particularly in the Trump era, to see that’s not a path we want to follow.

Among Trump’s supporters are people who voted for him precisely because of his divisiveness – racism, misogyny, intolerance – but that’s too simple an explanation. Many voted for Trump because they feel left out and even looked down upon by those they label elites.

The vast majority of Americans have felt the negatives of globalization, outsourcing, loss of blue-collar jobs, declining union rates and a host of other ills related to shifts in trade and regulation that began some four decades ago. Those changes came in the wake of societal upheavals that altered the status quo where race, gender and sexuality were concerned, making the ground unsteady for some, particularly those who benefitted from the status quo.

Steady urbanization in which the cities grew, usually through immigration patterns that were also changing, only enhanced the divide between those areas hit hardest by economic shifts, rural locations in the so-called red states, most notably. That set the stage for the divide between predominantly White, Christian, conservative residents and multiracial, non-religious, liberal residents of the cities, the latter a growing demographic while the former shrinks.

On top of power sliding to the urban centres, those already feeling left behind were also subject to derision – some real, some imagined – from those who saw them as an anachronism. They would become Trump supporters, in part as a way to poke “coastal elites and liberals” in the eye.

That anger is understandable. Change is always difficult. More so when the pace is ever-increasing. And especially so when they feel like changes are being made without their consent – nobody ever asked them if it was OK to make so many economic and societal changes.

Canada is not immune, of course, as we can clearly see in the debate over carbon taxes, pipelines and gun controls, which pit the concerns of the Prairie provinces against the diktats from Ottawa. 

In federal and provincial politics, there is already an established divide between rural and urban areas when it comes to electing Conservative, Liberal and NDP candidates – this country, too, is a patchwork quilt of red and blue. Political scientists and other academics have already noted the growing fault line, though it’s nothing like the chasm to the south.

Still, Canada has a dilemma of its own. The American divide has been widely discussed since Trump’s unlikely rise to the presidency, which caught many pundits off guard simply because those in the urban areas were unaware and/or dismissive of the concerns and problems found in the rural and even suburban areas of the country.

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