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The Emergence of a Canadian Culture War

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In 2008, during the run-up to the then federal election, Maclean's columnist Andrew Coyne argued that Stephen Harper's much maligned $45 million cut to Heritage Canada's budget was not representative of some sort of Canadian Culture War as was then feared.

Instead Coyne argued that Harper's budget cuts were indicative of an emergent class conflict.

In 2008, perhaps Coyne was right. Brouhaha over arts and culture funding was indeed representative of divergences between "ordinary Canadians" and "Canadian elites."

However, I would argue that over the interceding three years (ages in politics) we have crossed the Rubicon from class conflict into what appears to be some sort of cultural conflagration.

For most people the concept of culture war alludes to the United States whose societal dichotomies have been documented since the 1960s if not before. However, the concept was popularized during the Reagan administration, when socially contentious issues such abortion, gay rights and censorship were quick to divide the electorate. In 1991 author James Davison Hunter defined America's two opposing camps as progressives and traditionalists; America has been fighting variants of that same war ever since.

In Canada, however, our culture war has been kept in check by an almost unified belief in the notion of progressivism; a belief that has helped define what it means to be Canadian over the past century. The progressive notion that government involvement was essential to societal betterment was once a beacon for our two largest political parties: the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives.

But progressivism has proven to be a 20th century concept, one that bled out of the sweatshops and mass immigration of our industrial revolution but died with Y2K.

Canadian progressivism has now been sullied in the political arena, married to the electorate's fear of elitism, and exploited by class dynamics where a progressive identity is no longer essential to our Canadian sense of self.

As the demise of progressivism continues, so rises Canada's emerging culture war.

The powder keg erupted rather unobtrusively in 2009, when then Minister Dianna Ablonczy was reprimanded for dolling out almost $400,000 to Pride Toronto as part of the Marquee Tourism Events stimulus program; the event was not stimulating enough for some (socially) Conservative MPs.

Soon members of our national media would join in on the government's fun. Take SunTV's Krista Erickson, whose June 2011 interview with Canadian interpretive dancer Margie Gillis proved to be more of a witch hunt then anything factual. At one point, while flapping her hands in an attempt to mimic Margie's dance moves, Krista asks: "why does this (hand waving) cost $1.2 million over 13 years?" (She is referring to grants Gillis's Foundation had received from the government.)

John Doyle in the Globe and Mail probably has the best rebuttal of Erickson's interview, where, he notes that the Canadian taxpayer pays for a lot of stuff that we may not know about or agree with including subsidies of $327,160 to Sun TV's parent company, Quebecor, to help publish its magazine 7 Jours.

While Gillis' "hand waving" is the type of artsy-fartsy production presumably only appreciated by the upper class, Erickson's interview is classless (in both senses of the word). As Gillis talks about compassion towards the end of the interview Krista bangs the war drums, wondering how she could dare compare her work to the death of 150 Canadians in Afghanistan.

And that crazy analogy is Canada's class war veering off into the abyss of a culture war as we question the very basis of how our national culture relates to our nascent military state.

And a culture war has reared its head in local politics where Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford decided to skip the city's aforementioned Pride Parade to spend time with his family in Muskoka.

But fear not heathens, city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti decided to put on his best Gossip Girl outfit so he could film the city's Dyke March, only to demand that the city revoke future funding due to the political nature of the march. Note that even the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy, which has over the past year struggled with its relationship to Pride and Pride's relationship with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, doesn't seem to want anything to do with Mammoliti's obsessive fascination with all things gay.

As fall out, Mammoliti and Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday want the city to create a policy that will prevent public dollars from being spent on events that contain political messages. Such a policy would potentially mimic the apparent reasons why federal funding was revoked for SummerWorks, a Toronto theatre festival. While official reasons surrounding its funding refusal are sketchy, the festival is infamous for its decision to produce a play that the Harper government felt was sympathetic to the Toronto18 Terrorists.

In my mind, all of this boils down to the emergence of our very own culture war. The apparent class war over cultural funding is now moot; Ablonczy wasn't reprimanded for funding the Calgary Stampede nor is SunTV advocating for the removal of federal magazine subsidies. Instead an emerging culture war is defining just what it means to be Canadian in the post-progressive era.

On one side we have those who would argue that patriotism should be defined by our military allegiance and inoffensive cultural pursuits while on the other side of we have...

Sadly progressivism is dead -- we just haven't found what to replace it with.

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