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Media Bites: The Secret Not-So-Boring Side of Canadian Politics

06/06/2013 08:23 EDT | Updated 08/06/2013 05:12 EDT

Andrew Coyne, God bless him, wrote an adorably earnest editorial in Monday's National Post. He'd noticed a few "shoots of independent thought" sprouting through Canada's "blasted political landscape" and it made him a very happy guy.

Rejoice citizens, said Andrew, for Canada's political class is finally shouting once-verboten heresies against the "suffocating consensus" of the establishment.

"Third rails are being touched," he cheered.

Among other signs of subversion, Coyne observed that the federal Tories are thinking about ending our so-called "supply management" dairy cartel, Premier Wynne might introduce tollbooths on public roads, and the PM wants aboriginals to own property. Radical stuff!

It was an insightful, well-informed, and revealing piece, as is typical Andew Coyne fare. It was also a bit too cute and safe, which isn't that unusual, either.

To put it another way, while Coyne's broad thesis was right -- Canada's sacred cows are under attack like never before, what he missed was the sheer sacredness of the cows in question. We're well beyond dairy at this point.

Quebec's place in confederation, for instance, has probably never been regarded with more open indifference and contempt in the Canadian political sphere than it is now. Confident in their ability to win a majority government without the province, today's Tories unapologetically attack their opponents for being too Quebecky, with clear faith that few English-Canadian votes will be lost in doing so.

Current Conservative propaganda bashes Justin Trudeau for the obviously euphemistic crime of "dividing Canadians," though the substance of the bashes is hardly ambiguous: he thinks he's something special 'cause he's from Quebec. By historic standards, it's an unprecedentedly brazen effort to tap a wellspring of public sentiment that Canada's political elites used to actively deny existed (or at least ignored) -- the virulent distaste in Anglo-Canada for an uppity province that hates and belittles them, yet still gladly takes their cash.

In 2010 every party in the House of Commons unanimously voted to denounce a Maclean's cover story that accurately designated Quebec our "most corrupt province." That was back when Thomas Muclair was denying he'd ever been offered bulging envelopes by the mayor of Laval, and the Tories believed they could still elect a couple French MPs.

Now, of course, Mulcair's admitted he was questioned in a bribery investigation, the mayor's facing jail time for gangsterism, and his city's in receivership. And any ROC sympathy that might have survived that has long been drained by a breathtakingly entitled student strike, the election of a belligerent, chauvinistic separatist government, and a daily trickle of gallingly xenophobic headlines, most recently this business about the Quebec Soccer Federation not letting a turbaned kid play soccer. Today it's easier to imagine Quebec being denounced from the floor of the Commons than defended.

Or how about immigration? The tremendous backlash against Minister Kenney's foreign worker program earlier this year was at least partially the result of recession-era financial anxieties -- cheap labour depressing Canadian wages and so on -- but also a growing public distaste for the massive inflow of third-world residents their government's been importing for mainly political reasons.

Kenney, who once bragged about letting in more immigrants than any government prior, now demonizes the NDP for favouring "huge increases in immigration levels" as opposed to his "small number of innovative  entrepreneurs." It's a disingenuous claim, but he's clearly seen the poll numbers -- only 19 per cent of the country thinks our current foreign-born population is "too low." Even cranky old Haroon Siddiqui at the Toronto Star is calling for a total immigration freeze.

Then there's Duffygate and its exposure of the staggering lows in which Canadians hold their Senate, and their growing interest its outright removal.

Traditionally, the only acceptable form of Senate dissent among establishment politicos was endorsing polite reform, with even the nominally pro-abolishment NDP backing Mulroney's Charlottetown tinkering in the '90s. Today, however, the Dippers are on a cross-country abolishment tour, and routinely introduce abolishment motions in the Commons, which the Libs and Tories must grit their teeth while voting down.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall's recent embrace of the abolishment cause may represent the final western-populist nail in his region's once strong embrace of reform, and even the Tory Senate boss has implied openness to the a-word.

Talking of embarrassing anachronisms, seeing how it's currently the 60th anniversary of our gracious monarch's coronation, it's probably worth saying something about the remarkably open contempt in which Canada's Crown is increasingly held, too. There was a time in this country when newspaper editors would not even publish cartoons of the Queen, yet today only 28 per cent of us want her institution to outlive her.

Both the NDP and Liberals proposed anti-monarchy policy amendments at their most recent national conventions, and there's more open republican sentiment in the Tory party -- and Tory base -- than is fashionable to acknowledge, even among some of the men who might one day replace Mr. "I'm not a strong monarchist" himself.

A large reason why Canadian politics often seems so boring is because Canadians (or at least our politicians) are usually too timid to honestly debate the issues that actually make this country an interesting place -- Quebec, immigration, the constitution, etc -- and instead pass off stuff like cheese market reform as brave iconoclasm.

We were, as Coyne said, a nation ruled by fear of the third rail. These days, however, we'll gladly ride it to parts unknown.