The Line is grateful for: Canadians getting angry (no, really — it's a good thing)
Sometimes, you should get mad. Canadians need to get mad more often.
As we start a new year, The Line asked some of its friends to write us articles about things that they loved during 2023. Consider this a small act on our part to help get 2024 off to a good start. Today: Rahim Mohamed on a hopeful sign in our politics.
By: Rahim Mohamed
As someone who’s lived in both Canada and the United States, one of the most striking differences I’ve noticed between the two countries is how much more passionate folks tend to be south of the border. While there’s very little that can get the rather subdued Canadian public riled up (save the occasional hockey game), Americans, from my experience, seem to live by the words “go big or go home.”
Simply put, Americans are an enthusiastic bunch who “get into” things with a fervour that’s alien to most Canadians, be it college sports rivalries, religion or national pride. If you ever want to put this excitability to the test, go to any random bar in the States and start chanting “USA! USA! USA!” I promise you won’t be disappointed.
This passion bleeds into American politics. Whereas, in Canada, political yard signs and billboards are virtually unseen outside of designated campaign periods, “TRUMP 2024” banners were going up in small towns across America before the 2020 election was even conceded. It’s impossible to walk across any major college campus in the South without seeing at least one frat boy clad in a “Reagan-Bush ‘84” t-shirt. (I suspect that wearing a “Mulroney-Campbell ‘84” t-shirt in my college days wouldn’t have won me too many friends.) Eavesdrop on any casual bar or airport conversation and you’re as likely to hear the name “George Santos” as “Patrick Mahomes.”
There is, of course, a dark side to this effervescence as enthusiasm can easily give way to anger. I saw this firsthand when I had a front-row seat to the turbulent summer of 2020 — a time when COVID lockdown angst, righteous anger over the brutal murder of George Floyd (among other unarmed Black people) and the unrelenting heat swirled together to create a perfect storm of social disorder.
The calmer social climate north of the 49th parallel has, historically, allowed the average Canadian to drift through their day-to-day life while remaining blissfully oblivious to the cut-and-thrust of politics, beyond showing up every once in a while to cast their ballot. This helps us avoid some of the American social and political pathologies, but it’s not all upside. “Too much of a good thing” applies even to a placid nature and calm demeanour. Sometimes, you should get mad. Canadians need to get mad more often.
The inattentiveness of everyday Canadians is a big part of why middling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has managed to stay in power for eight hum-drum years, skating by on a B-minus average and never missing a holiday. It’s a big part of why, in the provinces, our health-care systems are crumbling into wrecks, and have been for years, while no one is really held to account for these literal life-and-death failures.
But something has changed over the past 12 months. The fuse that was lit during 2022’s convoy protests sparked a full-on explosion of anger in 2023. Canadians are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!
Polling shows that Canadians hit new levels of rage this year, and it's not hard to see why. Our ongoing cost-of-living crisis has stretched both household budgets and our patience to the limit; with nearly half of all Canadians now living paycheque to paycheque. The housing market cooled somewhat in 2023 but not by nearly enough to resuscitate the middle-class dream of home ownership. Renters, meanwhile, continued to get hosed, with around one-third of them shelling out more than 30 per cent of their pre-tax income just to keep a roof over their heads. Finding a family doctor is often impossible.
One can hardly blame Canadians for not exactly feeling chipper, with financial pressures leaving us with precious little room to breathe; not to mention robbing us of countless hours of sleep.
This anger has, at times, given way to frightening scenes, like when the prime minister was swarmed by dozens of venom-spewing protestors in Belleville, Ont. over the summer. That kind of anger, and some of what we’ve been seeing in our streets and even our shopping malls since the war in the Middle East began, must be called out and rejected in the strongest possible terms.
But the anger has also lit a fire under frightened policymakers, spurring action on a number of long-dormant files. For instance, Prime Minister Trudeau went from sneering that “housing isn’t primary federal responsibility” to rolling out a credible housing plan in a matter of weeks. This about-face was undoubtedly hastened by the deteriorating public mood, not to mention the prime minister’s own sense of political vulnerability.
A year and change of seeing “FUCK TRUDEAU” flags in every town he visits seems to have finally snapped the prime minister into the reality that he’s in the fight of his political life, and that at least some of the anger out there is justified, not just whipped up right-wing disinfo or some other easy excuse. Pablum like “the budget will balance itself” and “you’ll forgive me if I don’t think about monetary policy” won’t cut it anymore. The Trudeau government has correspondingly adopted a noticeable sense of urgency over the past few months, a welcome departure from its erstwhile complacency. Hopefully the provinces will soon get as serious about tackling issues in their jurisdictions.
Canadians may have lost their cool, and that hasn’t always been pretty. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, anybody who isn’t angry about the current state of the country isn’t paying close enough attention. And sometimes, a little bit of righteous anger is what’s needed to get things moving in the right direction.
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