When I was a boy, old-stock Loyalists read Professor George Grant and groused that US corporate capitalism had so corrupted Canada’s politics that future rhetoric about an independent Canada would be just that. The first point of entry was, allegedly, post-war Toronto: once London’s, then Montreal’s, and, finally, the Big Apple’s dull, deferential middleman.
The deadly seduction Grant lamented was off by 50 years, which isn’t that long for a theologian. But with a twist: Instead of making their widgets Torontonians today, make music with Americans, shout out their street beats and grievances, and compete with them at their games.
You’d think, at first glance, that Toronto today is actually Canada’s un-American nation-builder. Didn’t the city market and elect my-way-or-elect Cité Libre’s Pierre Trudeau? Didn’t it resist all pro-American copycats from Alberta—and become Canada’s anti-American commentary and arts capital? And, just last fall, didn’t it manage and elect Justin Trudeau, an untiring promoter of values we celebrate as Canadian originals?
It’s apparent now that Toronto (a) dominates Canada’s politics and (b) has become less not American in its thinking than Grant could have imaged.
First, never has so much power in Canada accrued to such an unassuming, jumpy place as the political ecosystem centered in Toronto.
Thanks to the last decade of massive immigration and rep-by-pop electoral reform, there are enough pensioners, workers, postsecondary students, teachers, homemakers, fans, performers and professionals of every kind residing within an hour’s drive of the CN Tower to elect 72 Members of Parliament. That’s nearly half of an absolute majority in Canada’s all-powerful House of Commons. That’s Harper’s Big Shift, certainly his most portentous and unruly legacy.
Just think of this region’s relative numerical weight: 72 votes is double the wattage of the entire Atlantic Region, just short of Quebec’s 78 and, together, British Columbia’s and Alberta’s 76. Further, except for Vancouver, they swing— and there’s no natural majority alliance that can exclude or count on them.
Second, their flag-wavers are not Canadian like others. They can be won and as quickly lost, according to a plethora of trends and styles in the United State’s most powerful cosmopolitan centers.
Justin Trudeau expressed beautifully their city’s clean, postmodern, cerebral marketing brand when he boasted in Davos, Switzerland, that Canada’s “resourcefulness” not its “resources” drives its future. The anxiety and insecurity of commodity regions is so old Canada, and so not Toronto.
Toronto’s almost inexplicable, yet unrelenting success has been rewarded, cynics might argue, by a false consciousness: a talent-driven, endlessly adaptable, slightly more civil North American giant.
Toronto doesn’t add to, or account for, any of the mess in Washington. It counts, however, as one of the continent’s biggest sports and entertainment capitals, alongside New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago. As good friend and writer Norman Snider notes: "Torontonians don’t know or care to know the names of the city’s big bank CEOs or who exactly is Canada’s ceremonial head of state. But they know the names and compensation arrangements of a dozen Toronto international sports and music stars, from Chris Bosh, Andrew Wiggins to Drake."
Furthermore, immigrants have not been pulling Toronto away from that famously ugly American neighbor, as we might have supposed. In many respects, they come here to be as close to the US and its culture as is safe; and, as well for living in a global hub for quick flights home and back.
They’re transient globalists as much as mobile Canadians. They brought iPhones and designer jeans with them and shop in Buffalo, if the price is right.
As important, they came here to get away from extremes; they take their politics lite. Essentially, they’re living that materialistic American Dream that Grant so loathed and that Americans fear they’re losing.
Toronto’s sheer numbers dominate, not any local idea.
There are things Americans won’t do—feel free to call mandatory public health insurance a Canadian value, if you must. However, there’re no longer any better ways than American ways to win elections in Toronto.
Our quite old national border is anti-American and now anti-Toronto as well. "American" is the way we relax and talk to each other, and excel in the world.