Hockey and politics may still be what keeps Canada alive?

May 13th, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief

Les partisans survoltés du Centre Bell ont longuement applaudi hier soir la victoire de leurs favoris. Photo : Jacques Nadeau, Le Devoir.

Les partisans survoltés du Centre Bell ont longuement applaudi hier soir la victoire de leurs favoris. Photo : Jacques Nadeau, Le Devoir.

Le Devoir may have said it best, in Canada’s other official language: “Qui l’eût cru? … Le Canadien achève les Penguins, une première demi-finale depuis 1993.”  In any event, it used to be said that hockey and politics are what keeps Canada going. And the sudden surprise of Montreal’s cinderella tail end of yet another interminable contemporary NHL season (who can remember when the Stanley Cup was over when you came back to school after the Easter holidays?*) suggests it may still be true.

Of course there is always an “on the other hand” in Canada. See, eg, the disappointing finish of the Vancouver Canucks this past Tuesday, for the second year in a row. Here the Vancouver Sun is probably the best source: “Canucks’ deja vu: Crash out of NHL playoffs again with loss to Blackhawks … Vancouver terrible on home ice, thumped on special teams, inconsistent in goal.” (The only saving grace may be that those of us who live in Toronto can testify things could be much worse. Go Canucks Go!)

Another “on the other hand,” some will say, is reflected in: “L’irruption de joie après la victoire du Canadien fait place à des affrontements.” Here we also have “Montreal looting ‘not about hockey’: Charest.” But what is it about? It may go all the way back to 17th and 18th centuries, when Montreal was the great metropolis of the transcontinental fur trade, that first spread Canada from coast to coast to coast. (Note how something called The Encyclopedia of Canada’s Peoples alludes quietly to “the commercially inspired violence that the fur trade sometimes stimulated.”  And check out the old Montreal bar scene in W.J. Eccles’s minor classic of 1968, Canadian society during the French regime.)

The case for (especially federal?) politics as something that is still keeping Canada alive, if not exactly well, may seem more uncertain in the early 21st century. Some may agree with Barbara Kay in today’s [print-edition] National Post: “Like many Canadians, I find American politics have a more compelling claim on my attention than my own country’s. The existential stakes are higher, the issues more fiercely debated, the passions more intense.”

Others will say you still have to be a bit — twisted, perhaps? — to take this view.  Ms. Kay herself sympathizes vaguely with the so-called “Birthers” in the USA today (while allowing they “are certainly somewhat deranged”). And in some respects our existential stakes in Canadian politics are much higher: at any moment our entire country could disappear.

Whatever, one of the biggest Canadian political stories germinating right now tells how at least Stephen Harper’s Conservative minority government in Ottawa could disappear, if only the Liberals and New Democrats could forge some cease-fire arrangement for the next federal election — on the model, eg, that has been proposed by Michael Byers at UBC (or perhaps even in the manner of the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in the UK today!).

Consider, eg, the latest May 13 EKOS poll on federal party standings in the true north, strong and free. Canada-wide (and in rounded whole numbers) the results are: Con=34%, L=27%, NDP=17%, Green=11%, BQ=9%, Other=2%. But when you combine the Liberal and New Democrat vote, and break the results out by region, you get something much more interesting:

Atlantic Canada — L-NDP=54%, Con=38%
Ontario — L-NDP=51%, Con=36%
BC — L-NDP=50%, Con=34%
Sask/Man — L-NDP=47%, Con=45%
Quebec — L-NDP=34%, Con=16%
Alberta — L-NDP=25%, Con=55%

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa (second from right) has a consoling word for goalie Roberto Luongo as the Canucks await the post-series handshake after losing 5-1 to the visiting Chicago Blackhawks at GM Place on Tuesday, May 11, 2010.

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa (second from right) has a consoling word for goalie Roberto Luongo as the Canucks await the post-series handshake after losing 5-1 to the visiting Chicago Blackhawks at GM Place on Tuesday, May 11, 2010.

Of course again, there are as yet absolutely no signs that either the federal Liberals or New Democrats in Canada are prepared to be quite so bold. But what a fascinating new Canadian political story it would make, etc, etc.

Meanwhile, in a spirit of authentic bipartisanship I will close by quoting minority Heritage Minister James Moore, who will apparently “be walking into Question Period today in a Habs jersey,” as a kind of penalty for earlier calling the Vancouver Canucks “Canada’s team,” and alluding to their “handsome Canadian Alliance-esque blue/green jerseys.” As yet another penance Mr. Moore “took to Twitter again last night,” and soberly tweeted: “Congratulations Habs. Bring the cup home to Canada!” (He should have done it in French, no doubt, but everything takes time.)
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* Those of us who can remember such things should probably be signing up for the funeral insurance that seems to be interminably advertised on the TV we watch these days, soon.

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