One of the least discussed aspects of politics in Canada is the inherent tribalism. It exists, it impacts societal norms, it influences our politicians and how we vote. The smart politician uses our tribalism against us.
The major example of tribalism in Canada is the politics of Quebec. Some think of the stand-off between English and French speakers in the province as racism but as both English speakers and French speakers are of the same racial mixture as Europeans, the language divide can only be described as tribalism.
The other tribalism is in our cities where some immigrant ethnic groups tend to cloister. Growing up in Toronto, I thought most of our immigrants were Italian. I found out later that we were living in an area favoured by new Canadians from Italy. As I grew up, my exploration of the city grew from walking range to bicycle range. This enabled me to see the drift north from the old Jewish community. And then there was the later growth of the Chinese away from the downtown Chinatown into the north-east and the growing concentration of gay establishments and housing centred on Church and Wellesley Streets.
What I realized as a young man was that within the city, you could see the world. It might have been a smaller version of New York City but it rivalled it in many ways. It was Ed Mirvish from Honest Eds’ who created the theatre district. It was Johnny Lombardi’s grocery store that said this was Little Italy. I don’t know who turned the old used-car Danforth Greek but we all benefitted.
But the ethnic concentrations also created political problems. While I spend time researching and advising the liberal party on the communications needs within the many communities, I was less than pleased with the politicians who thought they could use the various communities to ensure their election. And the most serious problem was the candidates who thought using their own ethnic group to get elected was the right way to go.
I remember standing one day at the front of a large high school auditorium with my candidate for a riding nomination, looking at the audience, and saying: “Where in hell did all those Armenians come from?” Years of good relations with Toronto’s Armenian community went down the tubes when the guy who ran the Armenian Centre decided he wanted to become a politician.
Copyright 2022 © Peter Lowry
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