Marshall McLuhan and Aubrey “Drake” Graham in Toronto context

“No Canadian city has played Elsewhere as effectively or as often as Toronto. . . . If the most salient characteristic of the English-Canadian identity is its lack of identity, Toronto is the place where that lack feeds and thrives. Perhaps this is why the city has produced some of the country’s most adept generalists, chameleons, observers and shape-shifters: Harold Innis, Jim Carrey, David Cronenberg, Moses Znaimer, Robert Fulford, Wayne and Shuster, Norman Jewison, Ivan Reitman, Atom Egoyan, the Kids in the Hall, SCTV- all did hard developmental time in Hogtown, the same place from which McLuhan would scramble the world’s receivers with the publication of Understanding Media in 1964.”

Public opinion: the 905 vs. the 416

Note: This is a mini-essay derived from the report titled The 905 vs. the 416: Analysis of Portraits 2017 Regional Differences in Ontario published by the now defunct Mowat Centre. The report came out in 2017. The “905” is General Toronto Area shorthand for the immediate suburbs of Toronto proper.

It’s obvious that Toronto is very different from much of the rest of Ontario. But do Torontonians hold different beliefs compared to other Ontarians? Yes, the cliché is true, Toronto is a bubble.

It goes without saying that opinion in Toronto would differ from rural Ontario but how does Toronto compare to its vote-rich suburbs? As it turns out, quite a bit.

For one thing, residents of the 905 are much more likely to say that government has a negative impact on people’s lives at 47% of respondents with government-friendly Torontonians clocking in at a modest 33%. On a related note, the 905 is much more gung-ho about cutting taxes at 39% of respondents compared to Torontonians who ring in at a more complacent 31%.

Torontonians are inclined to rank climate change as a high priority (53%) whereas 905ers tend not to (39%). Torontonians are more likely to say the national economy is improving at 40% with the 905 registering a more pessimistic 33%. And finally, Torontonians are warmer towards accepting immigrants from conflict zones (56%) vs. the 905 (42%).

These results are all the more interesting when you consider that Toronto is divided between the wealthier areas along subway routes and the “inner suburbs” which—based various political outcomes—have at least as much in common with the 905 as with their bougie civic-fellows.

In conclusion, it seems there is a “bleeding heart” element to Toronto public opinion as compared to the 905. Toronto registers a more positive view of the role of government generally speaking. This is a predictable urban/collective vs. suburban/self-sufficient cleavage.

One last note: a major Conservative pollster and campaign operative is fond of saying that “Conservatives in Toronto are not like Conservatives in the rest of Canada.” So to some extent Toronto’s squishiness is bipartisan.

Linda McQuaig on the Canadian National Railway’s pioneering use of radio

“Starting in 1924, the CNR launched a dramatic innovation: radio on trains. At the time, radio was a relatively new technology. There were only a few stations, mostly located in the United States, whose signals could be heard in Canada, and only in the evening hours. Still, radio was an enormously exciting new form of entertainment that brought music -often live performances in studio- into homes hundreds of miles away.

Sir Henry was determined to make this exciting new technology part of the pleasure of train travel. There had been some earlier dabbling with radio technology by several U.S. rail lines, but no follow-up on those limited experiments. The CNR therefore became the first to overcome the considerable technological challenges and actually outfit railway cars so they could receive radio signals while in motion. On Janurary 5, 1924, the first radio-equipped transcontinental train, operated by CNR, left Montreal bound for Vancouver.

The concept proved popular. Passengers were delighted to be able to stroll to the train’s lounge car, put on a headset, and suddenly, almost magically, hear live music broadcast by a radio station somewhere out there in the dark. The addition of radio service quickly became known as an attractive aspect of travelling on CNR, and there was a noticeable shift of passengers from CPR to CNR on the well-traveled Montreal-Toronto run, which had long been dominated by CPR.

The enormous appeal of radio to the ear of a railway passenger in the 1920s is captured in an anonymous account from the CNR archives. The writer describes a scene in the observation car of a CNR train passing through the Prairies. The passengers are bored and waiting for lunch. Suddenly, the sound of organ music fills the car, grabbing their attention. The organ strains are followed by a sermon, Bible readings, and hymns broadcast live from a service in a Saskatoon church many miles away. When there is a pause in the church service to take up a collection, a passenger on the train rises, puts a five-dollar bill into a hat, and then passes the hat to the other passengers, who all contribute something. When the train pulls into Saskatoon later that day, thirty dollars are delivered to the church from the enthralled passengers.

media notes #10: electricity and radio in Toronto history

The following quotes from Too Good to be True by Randall White imply that radio and domestic metered electricity were taken up simultaneously during the 1920’s, at least in Toronto.

Metered electricity:

“Electricity was a crucial prerequisite for the Standard Electric Home. In 1930 Might’s Directory would review the progress of the “Toronto Hydro-Electric System.” In 1916 the system had served some 40,000 meters in the city. This had increased to more than 93,000 meters by 1922, and to more than 141,000 meters by 1924. More than 175,000 meters would be served by the end of the decade.”

Early radio in Canada:

“Canada’s first experimental radio station began broadcasting in Montreal in 1919. For a while in the 1920s Toronto newspapers carried program listings for Canadian stations as far away as Vancouver. By 1924 the recently established Canadian National Railways had begun a primitive programming service in both English and French. (Its Toronto outlet was known as CNRT.) By the late 1920s there would be five local radio stations in Toronto itself.”

The mass perception of radio at its debut:

“The June 1922 ads reflected the novelty of the new machines. A radio was not yet just something you put in your living room, to receive programs from stations on the dial; it was also a mysterious link to assorted strange noises from the cosmos.”

Blair Neatby on “Bible Bill” Aberhart’s talent for radio and Alberta exceptionalism

“The most significant step, however, came when Aberhart was persuaded to broadcast his Sunday afternoon sermons over a pioneer radio station in Calgary. Aberhart proved to be a phenomenally successful broadcaster. He had a clear, sonorous voice, a pleasant voice which he used almost instrumentally, with a wide range of volume and mood to convey his message.

The message was biblical prophecy. Aberhart was a fundamentalist, preaching the revealed word of God. Like other religious sects, Aberhart and his adherents used the Bible to protest against the evils of the modern, materialists world: the evils of sophisticated academics and their biblical criticism, the cold formality of middle-class congregations, the vices of dancing and movies and drink. The old-fashioned, traditional Christian rejected these evils, rejected the material world with its pride and its temptations, and gave himself completely and enthusiastically to God. Basically it was a simple and appealing message: the world is sinful but Jesus saves.

In the 1920s Aberhart was only one of many fundamentalist preachers in Alberta. Indeed, one sociologist describes the province as being unique in Canada for its bewildering mixture of non-conformist religions. Alberta has its pockets of old-world sects, such as Mennonites and Hutterites. Immigrants from the United States brought with them or later imported an astonishing variety of Apostolic and Pentecostal sects. Aberhart with his Prophetic Bible Institute was only one of thirty or forty sects, with each congregation upholding variations of the same fundamentalist faith, and each prospering or declining according to the effectiveness or popularity of its leader.

Radio was a new and significant instrument in enlarging the congregation of an evangelist. By the end of the 1920s the isolation of most farm homes had been pierced by crystal radio sets. There were no networks but in Alberta local stations could reach most of the province and were spared competition from British Columbia stations because of the Rockies and from eastern Canadian stations because of distance. Aberhart was a talented preacher and Alberta was fertile soil for his message. Radio provided the ideal medium to cultivate a provincial congregation.”

Harold Innis on “continentalism”

“The jackals of communication systems are constantly on the alert to destroy every vestige of sentiment toward Great Britain holding it of no advantage if it threatens the omnipotence of American commercialism. This is to strike at the heart of cultural life in Canada. The pride taken in improving our status in the British Commonwealth of Nations has made it difficult for us to realize that our status on the North American continent is on the verge of disappearing. Continentalism assisted in the achievement of autonomy and has consequently become more dangerous. We can only survive by taking persistent action at strategic points against American imperialism in all its attractive guises.”

Canadian history and politics #6: Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them by Susan Delacourt – 2013

Shopping for Votes traces the history that led to the current state of “political marketing”. “Floating”, uninformed and shallow voters without party loyalty are the election clinching prize for campaign strategists who endlessly segment the public at large.

It seems clear the 80’s and 90’s were the key decades in this process. Greater cynicism about politics and politicians, reduced belief in the efficacy of the public sector and a paradigm shift in marketing and branding combined with a right-turn in popular ideology to create a new atmosphere of futility.

In the 2000’s (says Delacourt) the logic of political marketing reached an unprecedented low: a brave new world where the Harper Conservatives began targeting just 100,000 people across the entire country during federal elections, shunning national polling.

This book combines pop-theory wokeness (Gramsci, Baudrillard and even Adam Curtis are cited) and well meaning small-d democratic idealism into a critique of the trends in question. The author seems to desire a categorical change in party politics, neglecting matters of degree and the brutal reality of quotidian incentives and pressures.

Canadian history and politics #5: The Big Shift: The Seismic Change In Canadian Politics, Business, And Culture And What It Means For Our Future by Darell Bricker and John Ibbitson – 2013

The Big Shift is both an excellent and OK book. As a branded product you would create to get lots of people reading about Canadian politics, its excellent. As a source of genuine insight, with the benefit of seven years hindsight, it’s just OK.

The authors say the “Laurentian Elite” of Ontario and Quebec (think professors and journalists) is being supplanted by striving immigrants in the suburbs of Toronto, the key swing seats in federal elections. These immigrants (most of them Asian) are portrayed as austere, rule abiding and culturally conservative.

That overwrought description certainly fits those New Canadians with heavy bias to the Conservatives. But as 2015 showed, Justin Trudeau’s message of economic redistribution was a tempting vehicle for those unafflicted with P.C. loyalty. It turns out when you’re striving and fear falling you’ll step out of line and take whatever you can get.

The authors largely elide the two most unforgiving divides in Canada and in particular the GTA; your place in the job market and whether or not you own prestige real estate. But then the book wouldn’t be so digestible, so I honestly understand.

Canadian history and politics #4: Slumming It at the Rodeo: The Cultural Roots of Canada’s Right-Wing Revolution by Gordon Laird – 1998

Slumming it at the Rodeo is a scathing work of social and cultural criticism. It portrays Canada’s 90’s wave of right-wing populists (Mike Harris, Preston Manning and Ralph Klein) as thriving in an era marked by insecurity, fear and even “revenge” and “retribution.”

Free market populism is set alongside 90’s cultural trends like New Country (remember Garth Brooks?) and the rise in fast food franchising opportunities as well as the whole canon of modern Western film. In common according to the author: ready made, homogenized, nostalgic and inauthentic consumer experiences.

This book clarifies Canadian politics. Populism is actually quite normal for Canada and it rose to a backwards peak in the 90’s, eventually culminating in Stephen Harper being prime minister. This seems to put Canada on a different timeline as compared to other more coherent (less regional and more solidly nationalistic) Western democracies.

If there’s a problem with the book, it’s the premising of idealism and liberal nicety as an adequate response to right-wing cowboys. Whatever else can be said about them, tax cuts and franchising opportunities are material responses to insecurity. An eloquent response would have to address the material as well.