the folly of a canadian culture war.

“Cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy. If the cranky old men in Alberta don’t like it, too bad. Go south and vote for Palin.” – EKOS Pollster Frank Graves‘ advice to the Liberal Party of Canada.

What a surprise, an Ottawa-based politico who called for a “culture war” in Canada shows his misunderstanding of western Canada. I generally try to avoid writing too much about the distant politics of Ottawa and I could really care less about what Mr. Graves thinks of Albertans, but it is the coverage by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on the above comments that concerns me. I am normally a defender of the CBC, but in this case, they got it all wrong.

During a taping of CBC’s Power and Politics with Evan Solomon last week, the broadcaster chose address Mr. Graves’ comment not by debunking them, but by perpetuating the myth of Albertans as a group of gun-toting crazy redneck oil barons by seeking a western response from an Albertan who is not just a conservative, but a fanatical conservative straw man. Enter Ezra Levant.

As a friend pointed out, none of the panelists on the program even discussed whether it was okay for the Liberal Party of Canada to use these kind of wedge issues in a “culture war,” as if to suggest that they simply accepted the idea that all Albertans were just as susceptible to these extreme wedge issues as Mr. Levant (to be fair, I did know Ian Capstick when he lived in Edmonton years ago and I hope that the politics of Ottawa have not diluted his memory).

Do Mr. Graves’ comments actually reflect an undercurrent within the Party he was advising? Whether or not it does, they do have an effect on that Party’s reputation in Western Canada. I am told that last week, the Liberal Party of Canada in Alberta cancelled a bus booked to travel from Edmonton to their upcoming annual convention in Lethbridge because they could not find 35 people in the 1 million person metro Edmonton region who wanted to make the trip.

Canada is a big country and it is easy, and dangerous, to allow regional divides define our already apathetic national politics. Just as most Ontarians are not latte drinking tax-loving socialists, most Albertans are not gun-toting crazy redneck oil barons. Mr. Graves’ “culture war” comments are not helpful for those he provides political advice for and they are not helpful for Canada.

13 replies on “the folly of a canadian culture war.”

I’m not sure I agree that it’s dangerous to have regionalized politics at the national level. I’d counter that this country (and many other nations) federal politics have always been regionalized to some degree. In a nation of this vast physical size it’s a natural tendency for people to identify more with their provincial culture than with the nebulous notions that make up the so-called Canadian identity.

As long as the regions don’t go marching to war inside Ottawa against one another, we’re probably doing ok. If there’s a lesson to be learned from the last few years it’s that minority governments are great for the unruly beast that is Ottawa. In those rare scenarios, no one regional player holds all the power. If we could ever get true electoral reform, we’d likely never see another single party majority government again, and that would be a very positive development for the representation of all Canadians in their national government.


Yes the distances in Canada are vast – if you’re traveling by oxcart. It takes me the same time to fly from Edmonton to Ottawa or Toronto or Montreal as it does to drive to Calgary. it takes the same time to fly to Vancouver, Winnipeg, or Victoria as it does to drive to Red Deer. it takes less time to fly to the Atlantic Provinces (including switching planes in Toronto) than it does to drive to Winnipeg.

Yes, there are still regional differences, but I suggest they’re diminishing more and more rapidly. With the internet, communication is virtually real time (albeit not face to face). The differences are largely historical and (I would hope) the Canadian raison d’etre is such that we don’t hold onto grievances, real or imagined, that literally span centuries.

But having said that, Dave is quite right that the media (including CBC on a regular basis) perpetuates and indeed, one might suggest stimulates this regionalism. Because of course conflict is the stuff of media; sensationalism draws viewers/readers.

I’m not a journalist, but I have been in employment situations a number of times where I was a “go to guy” when the media wanted to play on the conflict and sensationalist aspects of a story. They would go to someone presenting one side, and then go to me to present the “opposing” viewpoint.

See, that’s “balanced” reporting – you present both sides of the issue – right?

But of course, how you frame those, through headlines and quotes; or who you choose to provide the “voice” of either side, predetermines the message that’s actually delivered.

Dave’s point is that this yet another example of perpetuating stereotypes that are inaccurate.

But I do agree with your point(s) that (some) regional differences do remain, and that a balance of regional viewpoints, while they remain, is probably more healthy from a governance perspective than an overwhelming viewpoint from one (or two) regions only.

The thing is, the single most significant factors from a regional perspective are not cultural – they’re economic (maybe Quebec is an exception, though I’m not convinced of that).

The differences we’re experiencing in Canada are not so much a reflection of regionalism, but rather ideology – or lack thereof. In my view, and no doubt again somewhat stereotypically between those that believe and accept without proof, and those that question and demand proof. Those in the former category like to categorize themselves as the “silent majority” whereas (certainly in Canada) they are “vocal minority”.

And the media loves, and does everything it can to stimulate that. Because it means more profit.

The thing is that Alberta has been bashing Ottawa at least since Aberhart, and other regions do so too. The Reform-Alliance-Conservatives, including Frothy-mouth Levant, have been happy to bash Quebec, the Maritimes, and every non-western province. They jump at the chance to use wedge politics for their advantage. One would hope the Liberals would not indulge in wedge politics, but it’s not like they just invented the idea and nobody else ever did it.

Yes it’s annoying when they have Levant pretend to represent us; but I guess some people find him entertaining. How do we get more rational Albertans onto national TV?


I’m well aware of how long airtravel to various parts of our nation take. The fact remains that we’re the second largest nation on the planet when it comes to physical size. If you’ve been to all the places you mention, and more, you’d realize how foolish it is to suggest that there aren’t vast cultural differences throughout this country. Quebec, Nunavut, Newfoundland, all extremely unique. Even Alberta & Ontario have some vast cultural differences. Every province has it’s own unique culture and that’s a strength, not a weakness. Too suggest otherwise is to buy into some sort of nationalist ideal that simply does not exist.

As for Holly’s comments, I suppose Albertans could get a better representative than Mr Levant on to national TV if/when we stop having the most predicatable voting habits in the country.

Befpre the Journal’s Todd Babiak took off for France, he had started to tap into the reality of Alberta in his writing. The myth of this place is the rugged individual and the reality is the exact opposite. We have a culture here of conformity; where true individualism, anything outside the hokey cowboy & oilman stereotypes, is feared and squashed. It shines through clearest in our voting paterns. The collective “we” vote for the supposed conservatives despite years and years of the highest per capita spending in the nation. It’s this combination of myth and reality that makes the PCs so hard to beat. You can’t get right of their mythical image and you can’t get left of their fiscal reality. However thanks to gross incompetence of late, their house of cards is starting to fall down.

Good grief Dave, haven’t you noticed that the culture war is already on? What do you think it is that Harper, Levant and crew have been doing for several years?

I totally agree with the previous poster. For Levant to hoot and holler about the horror of a culture war where Alberta is the target just shows how fearful he is that the Liberals will take this advice to heart. Because the culture war is happening, but so far only the CPC have been waging it. If the Liberals ever find the courage to fight on those same grounds they will find most of Canada receptive, because the LPC’s traditional policies are closer to most Canadians values.

Hey Dave;

Not really a regular here. I was pointed to this site by the site of a gun toting, Palin loving, CBC hating Suckskatchewanian that has been part of the culture wars since before FG knew the war began.

The problem I have with the PP show you refer to is that Mr. Solomon unabashedly used my tax dollars to help FG throw a culture grenade.

@Write for the Country – and Harper doesn’t use tax dollars – billions of them – to wage the culture war? Give me a break…

While having Levant as “spokesperson” for Alberta is ridiculous, the prospect of the Liberals actually stepping up and having a debate about any sort of principled values would be an incredible asset. Right now the Conservatives push their social conservatism and the opposition can’t muster any sort of response besides outrage. Having any kind of positive vision about “values” besides the Conservative “crime bad, religion good” has been a long time coming.

To be honest, I watched the video and couldn’t make much sense of it. But, about your post and thesis, Daveberta, I think you underestimate and thus under-represent the conservatism in Alberta. I know this becomes an empirical issue, but suggesting that many Albertans live in cities doesn’t really prove much at all. Life outside of campus is quite different than perhaps you let on. I’m not suggesting that it is a complete waste-land or anything, but there are lots of guns and the ideology is through and through conservative. Can you explain the rise of the Wildrose Alliance in any other way? If so, I’d like to hear about it…

Frank Graves is only saying out loud what all Liberals think. The LPC hates the west in general and Alberta in particular. Always have. Always will.


As a Westerner, I’m really tired of this stupid politics of victimization. It seems that every time someone does it, some crazy Conservative ‘westerner’ gets all high and mighty. Then some naive western progressive becomes an apologist for it. FYI my point isn’t solely directed at Alberta, but like a spoiled child its political pundit class tends to suck the oxygen out of a room so it’s only fair that it takes up most of the attention.

Let’s present the facts, okay?

Fact 1: More Conservatives are elected from the west than the national average because they win a higher percentage of the vote west of the Manitoba/Ontario border than they do east of it.

Fact 2: This is particularly true in Alberta, especially considering the variety of thought in that province, with right-wing and far-right-wing being the two dominant strains. Not to mention the history of Alberta electing dynasties that rule over the province for generations.

Fact 3: In addition to these things, the Conservative Party, and it’s predecessors in the Reform and Alliance parties were and are still strongly influenced by exclusionary social conservatism. What this means is that they pick ‘groups’ that are outside of the existing power structure and oppose those groups struggles to gain access to that power. This explains why they oppose funding for gay pride parades, punish minsters that support that, want to reopen the abortion debate, opposed gay marriage, oppose funding for women’s groups then tell those groups to fuck off.

Therefore, in conclusion, Graves’s comments were accurate and fair. It’s not as if the East is a bastion of equality and happy fun candy, but our attitudes are reflected in the people we elect. If we don’t like the parochial attitudes reflected by cranks like Brad Trost, Rob Anders, Colin Thompson, etc, etc, then we shouldn’t elect them. But the fact of the matter is that we do, so it’s only fair to call us out on it! So grab some Kleenex fellow Westerners, cause your crocodile tears are tiresome and I’m tired of seeing them.

Frankly, no pun intended, non-Conservatives who want to do well in the west ought to point out the tired old, dare I say parochial, provincial and backward attitudes of some of these really ridiculous Conservative MP’s. The question should then be posed to the sophisticated voters of the new west in Urban, Suburban and even some Rural ridings as to whether we want nut cases like Trost, Anders, Thompson etc, etc, representing us or not? And how are these people going to solve our problems, especially problems that those of us in Metropolitan areas like Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg share more in common with in places like London, Windsor, Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec and Halifax than we do with Swift Current, Red Deer, Dawson Creek, etc, etc.

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