Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dear Rural Canada

Dear Rural Canada,

As a so-called Toronto élitist, I feel I ought to defend myself against ad hominem attacks by the Conservative Party, a party that is hoping to further its domination of rural Canada at the expense of electibility in urban Canada. The Conservative Party has sat down with a map of Canada and figured out precisely who they can connive into voting for them and who they should give up on. Perhaps this is why they are opposed to the long-form census: they already have all the demographic info they need to suit their purposes.

But let's call their bluff, in part. The fact is that urban Canada and rural Canada have a lot of differences. Hell, our country at the moment is pretty much defined by its polarities: Anglo vs. Franco, West vs. East, male vs. female, rich vs. poor. Seems our actual opinions on the best way to manage the country amount to little more than an extension of our demographics. Or so Ottawa would have us believe. I'm not about to suggest 'in our hearts, we're the same'. The truth is that to a rather frightening degree we are not. It's no wonder our parliament has become so dysfunctional.

The only thing I really want to defend is urban intentions regarding the long-gun registry. At the moment, we're defined by our ignorance of the other side. The newspapers here in the city really make very little effort to present, rationally, the arguments underpinning rural opposition to the registry. This is either because there are no rational arguments or because the papers are too lazy or too politically motivated to bother. I don't know which. But for my part, I think I can speak on behalf of the majority of Torontonians when I say support for the registry has nothing at all to do with urban people putting rural people in their place or any sense of superiority or any such thing. The reality is that I've never held a gun in my life. In the life that I lead, there is no reason at all that I would ever even see a gun that wasn't crime-related. If guns, long or short or whatever, simply vanished off the face of the planet, I would find no reason to complain. In fact, I would sleep better at night and would have a sense that finally something good had happened to make the world a better place.

I suspect you might find that a bit precious. I suspect it might seem like urban ignorance of rural realities. You might think, 'but you're happy to eat the meat of an animal that was shot with a gun'. I can accede that. I don't know how the meat in my supermarket gets there, and the truth is I'm not overly interested in learning. But when confronted with the question of 'how much control should the government exercise over gun control', what you need to realise is that no city person starts to think of the meat in their supermarkets. Immediately they think of crime. It's extremely disingenuous to say that supporters of the long-gun registry are treating law-abiding citizens like criminals. I know of nobody who would say that hunters are criminals. But hunters aren't a part of the day-to-day reality of my life; criminals are. It's not at all surprising that we would frame gun ownership as a crime issue. Realistically how else is a city person to see it?

It's my personal belief that there is nothing to be gained by huffing and puffing about élitism and to frame this debate as city people vs. country people. Now, if you wanted to frame the debate around the extent to which city people are ignorant of country lives, I think that's valid. I think what's been lost in the debate here is a sincere tempt to both explain and to be explained to how guns are used in small-town Canada. Personally, the idea of widespread gun ownership terrifies me, and I'm keen to maintain 'extent of gun ownership' and 'views about the government's right to regulate gun ownership' as critical distinctions between life in Canada and life in the USA. But at the same time I'm willing to be taught; I'm more than willing to be exposed to a different perspective on the issue. At the same time, though, I think rural Canada needs to understand the extent to which our goals and motivations here in the city are noble. Here in the city it really isn't about rural vs. urban, and it's insulting to see it painted as such. Here in the city, we see experts in the police telling us that the registry is a good thing, and we think, "why isn't that enough?" It baffles us that a tough-on-crime party could be so passionate about dismantling something that the police tell us helps catch criminals. And it baffles us that the same party is so willing to make this issue as divisive as possible, that while claiming to have a mandate to govern Canada and represent Canada to the world, they would be so blatant in forcing an us-and-them divide, by attempting to make urban Canadians seem ghoulish for wanting the police to have tools to stop crime.

It may be clear that I have very little respect for Prime Minister Harper and for the party that he leads. But that doesn't mean I don't respect rural Canadians, or generally speaking that I don't respect the people who vote for the party and who support its policies. It's not élitist at all to believe that the Conservative Party is attempting to divide Canadians as much as possible and is attempting to introduce American-style obstructionism. It's not élitist at all to believe that such tactics are ultimately bad and even potentially dangerous for the country.

And trust me - it's not élitist at all to sincerely hope that all Canadians - rural and urban alike - will see the Conservative Party's current rabble-rousing for the cheap partisan shot it truly is and treat it with the contempt it deserves.

And then we can build an approach to weapons regulation that suits both sides' needs as much as possible.

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