Two ladies’ choices .. Janice Kennedy and Margaret Wente on hard truths about Canada today

Janice Kennedy retired from full-time journalism at The Ottawa Citizen in January 2008, but still writes columns. A native Montrealer, she moved to Ottawa in 1990. In an earlier incarnation she taught high school English for 18 years.

Like other boomer generation men (close enough for jazz at any rate), I sometimes think it has become a women’s world nowadays. And I’m not entirely certain that’s an altogether good thing.

Two different newspaper columns by two Central Canadian women, published yesterday and today (tomorrow of course must for the time being remain unknown), have nonetheless captured certain key feelings of mine about what I still seriously enough think of as My Country Right or Left — with apologies to George Orwell from another country across the sea.

Author and columnist Margaret Wente with husband Ian McCleod (left) and Nobel Prize winner John Polanyi with wife, artist Brenda Bury (right), at a Rosedale garden party book launch in Toronto, September 2007.

First is Margaret Wente, yesterday, in a piece called “Five years later, Harper has found the sweet spot,” in the Globe and Mail: “Mr. Harper’s critics like to froth about his contempt for process. Others froth about his lack of vision. But the vast majority of Canadians don’t care. What they really care about is whether their jobs and savings and property values are reasonably secure and whether their kids will be able to find work. As the traumatized countries of the West grapple with their biggest scare in decades, what they really want is for an adult to be in charge. Canadians are acutely aware that unlike the Americans, the British, the Irish, the Spanish, the Greeks, the Portuguese and God knows who else, we’ve gotten off lightly. We want a guy at the top who we are pretty sure can keep it that way. We don’t have to like him. We can even loathe him. But we’ll keep on putting up with him, so long as he doesn’t screw it up.”

In another earlier incarnation Rahim Jaffer was a Conservative MP for Edmonton-Stratchcona in Alberta.

Then there is Janice Kennedy today, on “Holding the line on any whiff of progress,” in the Ottawa Citizen: “Harper’s outlook for Canada — it can hardly be called a ‘vision’ — is the perfect summation of what is wrong with this plodding country as it trudges into the second decade of the new millennium. Canada will remain nice, safe and comfortable — an unremarkable nation where we remove the irritants of previous governments (long-gun registry, anyone?), turn tax reduction into a sacred ideal and refuse to contemplate any change that might spark national debate, always scary for vote-seeking politicians … Boldness built this nation, but boldness has become a foreign concept. The language of vision has faded into the past tense … Consider Canada’s ongoing monarchy debate, in which poll after poll suggests a solid majority of Canadians would consider abolition — and even a majority favours reopening the constitutional debate required to do so. What does this do? Spooks our leaders into stasis.”

If I have to choose between these two ladies’ choices (or perhaps even especially if I don’t), I have no doubt at all that I am on the side of Ms. Kennedy. My own instinct too is that Ms. Wente may be right about the majority of Canadians she meets at the Toronto social events she frequents. But the majority of Canadians from coast to coast to coast, I think it’s at least just as plausible to guess, also have some raw, intuitive sympathy with Ms. Kennedy.

Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre, Hedy Fry (front row, third from right), with a group of University of Toronto Liberals, September 2009.

Anyway, who knows? It just may be that the next Canadian federal election, whenever it happens, will have something to do with the choices these two ladies are posing, as it were.  Consider, eg, two more recent pieces from Central Canadian pundits writing in English: Lawrence Martin on “Five years later, Harper has made Canada more conservative,” and Chantal Hébert: “Next election will definitely not be business as usual.”  (And then, what if — as also seems quite plausible to me — some among the Canadian people who originally supported Stephen Harper, especially in the rising nirvana of the West, did so because they thought he had a few raw sympathies with Janice Kennedy’s bolder views too?)

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