Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Key Ally?

I firmly believe that the anti-Ontario frame of the Harper government is starting to gel with voters. It's not just the polls, but it's also the cementing media narrative. Today, on QP, all four media representatives wondered aloud about the Conservatives strategy in Ontario, basically shaking their heads at the tactics. Oliver pointed out something, which many of us have already noted, Canadian history rarely shows an example, wherein the feds have won in a protracted and public battle with a province. It's a loser strategy all around, and yet that's what the Conservatives have done, basically alienating a third of the Canadian population.

People can debate how Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams plays across the country. However, his positioning on the McGuinty/Harper feud will, in my view, play very badly for the Conservatives in Ontario. For the second time this week, Williams has publicly recounted the details of the Premier's last meeting with Harper, and it paints a vision of a neglectful Prime Minister. Of course, Harper would surely offer a different view, but he doesn't have the political credibility in Ontario any longer to make it believable. In other words, Williams opinion feeds an already held perception, it further reinforces:
He recalled a meeting last year between the premiers and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"I was at the prime minister's house when he indicated he didn't think this was a problem that needed the direct intervention of the federal government," he said.

"So I took (Harper) to task on that and we had a discussion. As well, I've indicated publicly that as a province, we're very supportive of the need to get Ontario through this critical situation."

..."I have great difficulty when (Flaherty) makes a statement that the last place to invest in the country is the province of Ontario," Williams said.

The N.L. premier has had his battles with the federal Conservatives over issues like equalization. However, the province's current good fortune means it will be off equalization next year.

"It just goes to show their attitude," Williams said of his federal cousins. "When they want to dig in and malign a province, they do it at their whim and if it suits their agenda."

Harper can't win that battle, Williams championing the need to help Ontario, calling out the PM's inaction. Williams, the surrogate defender of Ontario's interest, completely in sync with McGuinty, completely in line with the growing narrative, completely believable to an already suspicious Ontario electorate. Williams may be a key Liberal ally in Ontario, or at the very least, another voice in a growing chorus of negativity.


Steve V said...

Williams article top story for the G and M, he gets ink.

sassy said...

Steve V,

Could Williams' statement be giving Harper cause to rethink his divide and conquer strategy.

WesternGrit said...

The Alberta right wing has always had a disdain for Ontario. It probably sprung from some sort of cultural inadequacy. it's amazing when going to any type of social event (or otherwise) in Alberta, and hear the random Ontario and Toronto bashing. If Easterners don't know how bad it is, I would suggest just spending a few weeks in Calgary.

The scary thing IS - no-one - nobody sits there and bitches about Alberta in Ontario. Only the odd time in the past has the odd random comment come up, and it's usually in response to some sort of xenophobic, or extremely social conservative news coming out of AB.

The chip on Alberta's shoulder lives on in this Harper government. They HATE Ontario, and when enough of the caucus hate a province, the handful of rural Ontario MPs really don't have much to say. Heck, some of them bash Toronto regularly too - albeit with less genuine hatred.

MarkCh said...

westerngrit, do you spend much time on Ontario? I live in Toronto, and I can assure you that I regularly hear Albertans personally disparaged as a bunch of unsophisticated rednecks. I think if this gets perceived as Conservatives vs Ontario, they will lose by it, but if it gets perceived as Conservatives vs Toronto, it could do very well.

Steve V said...

Can I jump in here? As someone who has lived in Ontario and Calgary's "Muskoka's" Invermere, I can say the animosity is entirely one-sided. There is a palpable hatred for all things Ontario in Alberta, a sentiment I never really understood- as a matter of fact much of the "pride" comes from the distinction, unions are fostered by a common enemy.

On the other hand, and this may be part of the problem, people in Ontario just don't give it much of a thought, except in reaction to the hostility.

I'll never forget when my brother-in-law came out from Ontario to visit. One two or three occasions in Calgary, he mentioned to people that he was from Ontario. He was stunned by the reaction, as though a leper, very surprised to see people judge him, simply based on geography. I would add my own unscientific survey, most of the people that hold negative opinions haven't travelled to the province, it's just a learned response.

The way I look it, every country has it's mecca's, places where media and influence is consolidated. You don't hear most Americans bitching about NY being the media center, most of the time the city is celebrated as international headliner. Why, in Canada, we can't just put the insecurities aside, and show some pride in all our regions, is something that I find extremely disappointing. I tell anyone who will listen, you HAVE to visit Alberta, great people (Ont bashing aside), amazing vibe and breathtaking scenery, it's a gem. I feel that way about B.C., Newfoundland, the Yukon, anywhere I've lived or visited, because I'm proud of my country, all of it. That said, sometimes I hesitate in criticism, because there is a sense I can't offer my opinion, somehow I'm a foreigner in my own country, because of time zones. The ironic part, from what I've seen people in Calgary have more in common with people in Toronto, just like people in Wingham have more in common with people in High River. Most of it is all construct, and it's frustrating that as the world gets smaller by the day, the regional chasms seem more pronounced.

WesternGrit said...

Steve V... you hit the nail right on the head. I have lived across the West (currently in BC), and spend a LOT of time in Ontario. When I went down East (and wore a stetson) people were asking to have my stetson. Reform friends of mine who went to conventions in Toronto and Montreal, and wore stetsons, had people lining up to get pictures with them.

The animosity is one-sided - and no-one can say otherwise. The response from the other side is simply a "return reply" when someone from Alberta has an "angry moment".

Why the animosity? Well, even if the rest of Canada doesn't carry grudges for decades, many Albertans in the oil industry in particular, felt that it was Ontarians, Quebec, and "the East" that were responsible for the NEP - along with their Liberal and PC friends. Often forgetting the fact that for the first 50 years or so of existence, Alberta was a have-not province being kept afloat and developed by "Eastern" money (and it took TONS of it to build the railway and highways), Albertans simply think only of the NEP as the source for their anger... But there is more. Being almost "biblically Conservative", many Albertans (particularly less "urban" and "urbane" ones)have big problems with the social aspects of Eastern culture, or better put "cosmopolitan" culture (because the same liberal-ness also exists in Regina, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, BC cities, and even parts of "Redmonton" - as some conservative Albertans call their Northern city).

So, it's not just as simple as saying the "NEP" is responsible for some Albertan's hatred of the East... There are distinctions in the social fabric of the areas. When you realize that power in Alberta is still held in the rural areas, then you know that the prevailing thoughts will reflect what their leadership espouses. Albertan media simply reports what the conservative "bosses" say in the Legislature. If you hear jokes and jabs about Ontario and Quebec on a regular basis (even if politically neutral), it's not long before you begin to believe it, or even start taking shots yourself. That's just the process of "enculturation".

Steve V said...

"The response from the other side is simply a "return reply"

Yes, it's not to be confused with genuine animosity, more a response to being slagged. I'm not the defender of Toronto here, but it seems to me its just people going about their business, trying to make a life, a city with negatives, but also one that has its attributes. Every country has a center of attention, and it would seem some semblance of western pride is based on creating the enemy, identification through differentation. I would argue, for every one thing that divides, there are ten that unite, maybe it's time for everyone to focus on that.