Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ed Broadbent and Me

1984 was, in addition to the year of George Orwell's famous dystopian classic, the year that we Canadians finally (decisively) decided to get our own form of Thatchereaganomics, in the form of Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative Party.

It was also the year my grade four teacher deciced to seriously overstretch her bounds by asking a classroom full of nine-year-olds for a straw poll who they would vote for if they were, you know, twice their age. I can still remember it. I can remember her asking us to raise our hands. First who supported the Progressive Conservatives (a fair portion of the class). Then who supported the Liberals (a fair portion of the class). Noting that not everyone had raised their hand, she scrunched her face and hesitantly inquired, with something approaching shock, 'NDP?' I know I was not alone in putting up my hand, but there could not have been more than three. And I was alone in being really upset at her attitude.

Upset in the way that, at nine years old, I had already learnt to be: I had classist politics down at nine. It had to do with the fact that I was from the 'poor part of town' and bussed to the 'rich part of town'.

But here's the weird thing: there are many, many parts of Ontario where her reaction might have made sense: places that were for all intents and purposes PC-Lib two-way races with the NDP barely above a fringe. But Oshawa was not one of them. The federal riding of Oshawa went NDP in every election between 1968 and the 'game-changer' of 1993. Although it hasn't been NDP since then, the formation of the CPC has returned Oshawa to a two-way Conservative-NDP race again. Excepting the 1990s, the Liberals have never really been in it in Oshawa.

Here's the thing about Oshawa, though: being simultaneously a suburban outpost of Toronto and its own urban core, it's rather bleakly divided between working-class socialists and bedroom-community capitalist. Actually, with its eastern frontier serving as the frontier for the whole Golden Horseshoe, it's also got small-town Conservatives too. The excellent site Pundit's Guide wasn't around back in the 1980s (since, you know, there was no internet and all), but look at this amazing picture it shows of the district-by-district results of Oshawa from the 2008 election:

Could anything be more stark than that? There's a smattering of exceptions, by largely you can draw a single line bisecting Oshawa into NDP-land and CPC-land. And note the more amazing fact: not a single neighbourhood in the whole riding went Liberal. So my teacher's reaction was a bit strange.

So, come to think of it, was the class demographics. Even in the rich part of town (actually some students were bused in from Whitby too). One of the several reasons Oshawa was so reliably an NDP town in the 1980s was because our local candidate was the party leader.

I think one reason I've gone through life a pretty dedicated socialist is that Ed Broadbent was my hero from pretty much as far back as I can remember. Not Wayne Gretzky, not Batman... Ed Broadbent. A bit geeky, perhaps, but there you have it. A 'local boy done good'. Before I even really knew what politics was, I knew that this guy, who came from the same place I did, was actually out there trying to change the whole country for the better. That seemed hugely noble to me.

So I guess that's got a lot to do with the person I am today, with the politics I have. Being Oshawan made me a socialist. Having not lived in Oshawa for decades now has done nothing to change that. It's all Ed Broadbent's fault.
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