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Zach Paikin

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What the CFL Has to do With Canadian Politics

Posted: 11/28/2012 5:09 pm

What I find particularly interesting about the Canadian Football League -- our league -- is that it often reflects Canada's political, economic and ideational condition.

For instance, when Hamilton was actually a steel town in decades past, the Ticats were tough and known for their stingy defense. Today, not so much. The Black and Gold's defense gave up 43 points to the Argonauts' fourth string offense in a meaningless regular season game for Toronto earlier this year that was a must-win for the Tabbies.

Decades ago, even Pierre Trudeau -- the quintessential federalist -- asserted that Canadian football was not the sport of Quebec's francophones. Now that Quebec is more confident of its place in Canada than it has been in decades, it is not uncommon to find former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe attending a Montreal Alouettes game. (He even sat a few rows behind me at Molson Stadium once.)

As Canada completes its celebration of the 100th Grey Cup, it is a particularly timely moment to examine "Canada-Toronto relations." After all, both the victor and the host of the historic game this past weekend were the Toronto Argonauts. (Disclosure: I am a lifelong Argos fan.)

In the wake of the game this past weekend, the Toronto Star's Damien Cox made a fascinating assertion in Monday's paper. According to Cox, part of the reason why Toronto sports teams have struggled in recent years is that they have lost touch with what matters to the rest of Canada (i.e., the CFL).

He might have a point. Since the arrival on the local scene of the Blue Jays, the Raptors and widespread televised NFL games, many big-town Hogtowners have thought themselves to be better than the eight-team Canadian Football League. But that trend, too, is starting to reverse itself. And, perhaps not coincidentally, this is taking place simultaneously with a political phenomenon.

Last year, the Globe and Mail's John Ibbitson interestingly put forward the notion that Ontario was becoming a "Pacific province," aligning its interests and values more so with the West than with its historical partner in government, Quebec. This was highlighted by Harper's majority victory, which burst right into the 905 and the 416.

As is well known, one of the last Liberal fortresses in the country -- the Toronto area -- collapsed last election. Suburbanites in the Toronto area -- both inside and outside the 416 -- embraced more strongly than ever a political appeal based on low taxes, balanced budgets and more trade. This took place merely months after Rob Ford took Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough in a rout in the city's mayoral election.

In other words, a large number of Torontonians stopped resisting something upon which much of the West and Ontario had already agreed.

Westerners also love their Canadian football. Do Torontonians? Before the rise of the Jays and televised American football, certainly. But perhaps now once again.

Half of all Toronto area residents tuned in to watch the Grey Cup this past Sunday. Some 50,000 people filled the streets the following Tuesday to celebrate the Argos' big victory. The crowd at SkyDome on Sunday night was huge and deafening, making more noise for the Double Blue's defense than I have ever seen in my lifetime.

Our game of football -- something distinctly Canadian -- acts as an interesting barometer vis-à-vis the state of our country. Our federation today is further from being broken up than in years past, more resourceful than ever, and more confident in its identity since a successful free trade deal with the United States.

And the Canadian Football League -- which nearly went bankrupt around the same time Quebec almost voted to leave Confederation in the 1990s -- is stronger today than it has been in decades.

Even in Toronto.

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  • Toronto Argonauts linebacker Brandon Isaac, from left, linebacker Marcus Ball and defensive tackle Akeel Lendor celebrate with David Cass after defeating the Calgary Stampderes in the CFL Grey Cup championship football game on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

  • Adriano Belli

    Toronto Argonauts defensive tackle Adriano Belli drinks from the Grey Cup after defeating Calgary Stampeders in the CFL Grey Cup championship football game on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Rick Ray, Chad Owens

    Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray (15) celebrates with teammate Chad Owens after winning the CFL Grey Cup football game over the Calgary Stampeders Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. The Argonauts defeated the Stampeders 35-22. (AP Photo/THe Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Toronto Argonauts center Jeff Keeping holds the Grey Cup after defeating Calgary Stampeders in the CFL Grey Cup championship football game on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

  • Toronto Argonauts kicker Swayze Waters holds the Grey Cup after defeating Calgary Stampeders in the CFL Grey Cup championship football game on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

  • Toronto Argonauts defensive end David Lee holds the Grey Cup after defeating Calgary Stampeders in the CFL Grey Cup championship football game on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

  • Toronto Argonauts players celebrate with the Grey Cup after defeating Calgary Stampeders in the CFL Grey Cup championship football game on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

  • Toronto Argonauts players celebrate with the Grey Cup after defeating Calgary Stampeders in the CFL Grey Cup championship football game on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Chad Kackert

    Toronto Argonauts running back Chad Kackert waves after being named the MVP in the the CFL Grey Cup championship football game against the Calgary Stampeders, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

  • Calgary Stampeders' Edwin Harrison, from left, Jon Gott and Obby Khan react after losing the CFL Grey Cup championship football game against the Toronto Argonauts, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

  • Calgary Stampeders receiver Marquay McDaniel, right, reacts as Toronto Argonauts linebacker Brandon Isaac walks past during the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

  • Toronto Argonauts running back Andre Durie celebrates his touchdown against the Calgary Stampeders with Chad Owens during the fourth quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Toronto Argonauts running back Andre Durie celebrates his touchdown against the Calgary Stampeders with Chad Owens during the fourth quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Toronto Argonauts running back Chad Kackert is stopped by Calgary Stampeders linebacker Malik Jackson during the third quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray looks downfield to throw against the Calgary Stampeders during the third quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Calgary Stampeders quarterback Kevin Glenn is sacked by Toronto Argonauts defensive tackle Kevin Huntley (94) and defensive end Ronald Flemons during the third quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Calgary Stampeders wide receiver Larry Taylor runs past Toronto Argonauts linebacker Walter Spencer during the third quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Toronto Argonauts running back Chad Kackert rushes the ball upfield against the Calgary Stampeders during the third quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

  • Carly Rae Jepsen

    Carly Rae Jepsen performs during the half-time show at the 100th CFL Grey Cup game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Justin Bieber

    Justin Bieber performs during the half-time show at the CFL Grey Cup championship football game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders Sunday Nov. 25, 2012 in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Gordon Lightfoot

    Gordon Lightfoot performs during the half-time show at the CFL Grey Cup championship football game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Justin Bieber

    Justin Bieber performs during the half-time show at the CFL Grey Cup championship football game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Justin Bieber performs during the half-time show at the CFL Grey Cup championship football game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders Sunday Nov. 25, 2012 in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Justin Bieber performs during the half-time show at the 100th CFL Grey Cup game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012 in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray looks downfield to throw against the Calgary Stampeders during the second quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

  • Toronto Argonauts linebackers Ejiro Kuale and Brandon Isaac celebrate a tackle against the Calgary Stampeders during the second quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Charleston Hughes; Ricky Ray

    Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray is sacked by Calgary Stampeders defensive lineman Charleston Hughes during the second quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

  • Toronto Argonauts linebacker Ejiro Kuale and defensive tackle Armond Armstead celebrate a tackle against the Calgary Stampeders during the second quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Toronto Argonauts' Chad Owens is stopped by Calgary Stampeders linebacker Juwan Simpson during the second quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

  • Dontrelle Inman

    Toronto Argonauts wide receiver Dontrelle Inman celebrates his touchdown against the Calgary Stampeders during the second quarter of their CFL Grey Cup football game, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes)

  • Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish, center, is stopped by Toronto Argonauts linebackers Robert McCune (45), Ejiro Kuale, and Marcus Ball during the second quarter of their CFL Grey Cup football game Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Brandon Smith; Dontrelle Inman

    Toronto Argonauts' Dontrelle Inman, right, falls just outside the end zone as Calgary Stampeders defensive back Brandon Smith defends during the second quarter of their CFL Grey Cup football game, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes)

  • Brandon Smith Ricky Ray

    Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray, left, is sacked by Calgary Stampeders defensive back Brandon Smith during the second quarter of the CFL Grey Cup football game, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

  • Toronto Argonauts running back Chad Kackert falls over a Calgary Stampeders defender during the second quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

  • Toronto Argonauts' Dontrelle Inman falls just outside the end zone as Calgary Stampeders defensive back Brandon Smith defends during the second quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes)

  • Pacino Horne

    Toronto Argonauts cornerback Pacino Horne celebrates his touchdown with teammates against the Clagary Stampeders during the second quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Calgary Stampeders' Quincy Butler intercepts a pass as Toronto Argonauts running back Andre Durie watches during the first quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

  • Kevin Glenn

    Calgary Stampeders quarterback Kevin Glenn looks downfield during first-quarter CFL Grey Cup championship football game action against the Toronto Argonauts in Toronto, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish rushes the ball against the Toronto Argonauts during the first quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

  • Toronto Argonauts running back Chad Kackert rushes the ball against Calgary Stampeders defensive back Keon Raymond during the first quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

  • Toronto Argonauts' Chad Owens celebrates in the end zone after scoring a touchdown against the Calgary Stampeders during the first quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

  • Ricky Ray

    Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray looks downfield during first-quarter CFL Grey Cup championship football game action against the Calgary Stampeders in Toronto, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Kevin Glenn

    Calgary Stampeders quarterback Kevin Glenn fumbles as the Toronto Argonauts recover the ball during the first quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Calgary Stampeders quarterback Kevin Glenn reacts after a fumble against the Toronto Argonauts during the first quarter of the CFL Grey Cup championship football game, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Chad Kackert

    Calgary Stampeders stop Toronto Argonauts running back Chad Kackert (44) during first-quarter CFL Grey Cup championship football game action in Toronto, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Ricky Ray

    Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray looks downfield during first-quarter CFL Grey Cup championship football game action against the Calgary Stampeders, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Liseanne Cummings, Deanna Rector, Judy Ducheneau

    From left to right, Toronto Argonauts fans Liseanne Cummings, Deanna Rector and Judy Ducheneau react before the 100th CFL Grey Cup championship football game between the Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Former CFL and NFL quarterback Doug Flutie hoists the Grey Cup in the air at the end of the fan march before the 100th CFL Grey Cup championship football game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Michelle Siu)

  • A football fan reacts before the 100th CFL Grey Cup championship football game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes)

  • Former CFL and NFL quarterback Doug Flutie signs autographs for fans as takes part in the fan march before the 100th CFL Grey Cup championship football game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Michelle Siu)

  • Former CFL and NFL quarterback Doug Flutie shows off his Grey Cup ring as he stands beside the Grey Cup at the end of the fan march before the 100th CFL Grey Cup championship football game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Michelle Siu)

 

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