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What the CFL Has to do With Canadian Politics

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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.

PHOTOS: 100th Grey Cup
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