Don Cherry’s recent Archie Bunker-inspired tirade revealed an alienating view of new and, by implication, racialized Canadians. Cherry inflamed the Canadian culture wars revealing deep ruptures in Canada’s social landscape we can’t seem to bridge.
The work of Harvard University professor Robert Putnam can help us understand the implications of what the Cherry fiasco unveiled. Putnam argued that Americans are less civic minded and socially connected compared to generations past.
He highlights a myriad of reasons for this such as generational differences, demographic shifts, the rise of individualized media, suburbanization and urban sprawl, which have resulted in longer commutes, growing time constraints, and greater class and racial neighbourhood segregation. He also says economic decline and restructuring have left people with less money for social activities.
These phenomena have led to social divisions and a general decline in socializing, especially with people and communities beyond the boundaries of our usual social milieus.
Putnam used the term social capital to refer to the social ties and bonds of trust that are essential to human existence. He contrasted two types. There is bridging capital when we connect with people outside our social circles. The other is called bonding capital: those connections we make within our communities.
Bonding social capital often encompasses an “us-versus-them” outlook. Ideally that attitude is mitigated by bridging capital. Putnam said that “bonding social capital constitutes a kind of sociological superglue, whereas bridging social capital provides a sociological WD-40.”
Putnam laments the historical erosion of bridging social capital in the U.S., which he argues has, for many Americans, resulted in a lack of connectedness to the wider society and a depletion of overall reservoirs of social trust. Broad-based social capital, asserts Putnam, expands our opportunities, helps to broaden our perspectives, and, in general, “makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer and better able to govern a just and stable democracy.”
The Don Cherry fallout illustrates that Putnam’s thesis is equally applicable to Canada.
Canada’s Archie Bunker
When Cherry, 85, used his venerable “Coach’s Corner” segment on a November Hockey Night in Canada telecast to demand, in the most offensive of ways and with the nuanced subtly of a Dustin Byfuglien body check, that everyone wear poppies, he may have been promoting his version of bridging social capital. By encouraging everyone to wear a poppy and admonishing those, particularly new Canadians, who don’t, Cherry’s aim may have been to bring Canadians of all ethnoracial backgrounds together using collective support for veterans as a rallying point.
This, at least, would be the most generous interpretation of his tirade. But he situated immigrants as a digression from a normative Canadian whiteness (“you people”) who pillage the nation’s treasure chest (they “enjoy our milk and honey”) while offering little or nothing in return — of course, an absurd notion given the vast economic benefits immigrants bring to a nation with a declining birthrate and aging population.
While some have debated Cherry’s intent, unbridled racism and xenophobia was what many inferred. His perspective at best was ethnocentric and condescendingly assimilationist. If this was an attempt on Cherry’s part to foster bridging capital, that bridge quickly collapsed.
The swift public reaction vividly brought to light escalating divisions in Canada.
Fervent and polarized debates on the merits and detriments of free speech and cancel culture took centre stage. Accusations of “snowflake,” “toxic masculinity” and “fascist” were flung. In a nation increasingly divided by intersections of race, class and regional differences, the turbulent reaction to Cherry’s comments and cancelled TV segment illuminated the widening rupture between urban progressivism and “old stock” (read: older, white and conservative) small-town Canadians to whom Cherry has long appealed.
In short, the Cherry debacle revealed that while there is a fair degree of intra-tribal bonding Canadians aren’t doing a lot of bridging. The 2019 “CanTrustIndex” revealed a sharp and alarming decline in overall levels of trust among Canadians. We’re losing trust in our leaders, dominant institutions, information sources and each other. Research shows that a lack of trust in those who govern us reflects a shortage of bridging social capital.
Persisting inequalities and injustices have spurred the proliferation of identity politics over the past few decades. Such activist pursuits may also provide individuals with a sense of belonging when wider social ties have broken down. Progressive identity-based movements like Black Lives Matter have promoted awareness of prevailing inequities and combated social biases of the sort reflected in Cherry’s remarks. Those social biases punctuate daily the lives of Canadians who aren’t white, heterosexual, middle-class, cis-males.
But, as events like Cherry’s downfall remind us, inevitable right-wing political backlash and resultant polarization and divisions will seemingly forever frustrate efforts to nurture bridging social capital. This is unfortunate, as mutually created bridging capital allows for inter-communal trust, collaboration and healthy dialogue.
Bridging social chasms would enable us to collectively and rationally decide how to equitably and inclusively welcome newcomers into the Canadian social fabric, and how to treat fairly those who run afoul of present day values intended to promote equity and inclusivity.
Without implying that Cherry is necessarily deserving of a second chance given his cumulative track record, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if bridged differences and enhanced social trust resulted in a more forgiving society that defaults to redemption over cancellation.
That beats yelling at each other across divides and fuelling a perpetual impasse.
In the introduction of his book, Putnam suggests that Americans “need to reconnect with each other.” We Canadians need to do the same. In terms of making that happen, the fallout from Don Cherry’s latest antics shows we have a lot of work to do.
How Canadian churches are helping their communities cope with the wildfires
As wildfires burn across Canada, churches are finding ways to support their members and the broader community directly impacted by the crisis.
According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, as of June 13, there are 462 active fires across Canada – and 236 of them classified as out of control fires.
Whether it’s through phone calls or donations to community members, here’s how a few churches across Canada are handling active wildfires and the aftermath in their regions.
Westwood Hills, N.S.: St. Nicholas Anglican Church
In Nova Scotia, St. Nicholas Anglican Church and other churches in the area are collecting money for grocery cards to give to families impacted by the Tantallon wildfire.
The fire is now considered contained, but Tanya Moxley, the treasurer at St. Nicholas is organizing efforts to get grocery gift cards into the hands of impacted families.
As of June 12, four churches in the area – St. Nicholas, Parish of French Village, St Margaret of Scotland and St John the Evangelist – raised nearly $3,500. The money will be split for families’ groceries between five schools in the area impacted by the wildfire.
Moxley said she felt driven to raise this money after she heard the principal of her child’s school was using his own money to buy groceries for impacted families in their area.
“[For] most of those people who were evacuated, the power was off in their subdivision for three, four or five days,” she said. “Even though they went home and their house was still standing, the power was off and they lost all their groceries.”
Moxley said many people in the area are still “reeling” from the fires. She said the church has an important role to help community members during this time.
“We’re called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless and all that stuff, right? So this is it. This is like where the rubber hits the road.”
Is it ever OK to steal from a grocery store?
Mythologized in the legend of Robin Hood and lyricized in Les Misérables, it’s a debate as old as time: is it ever permissible to steal food? And if so, under what conditions? Now, amid Canada’s affordability crisis, the dilemma has extended beyond theatrical debate and into grocery stores.
Although the idea that theft is wrong is both a legally enshrined and socially accepted norm, the price of groceries can also feel criminally high to some — industry data shows that grocery stores can lose between $2,000 and $5,000 a week on average from theft. According to Statistics Canada, most grocery item price increases surged by double digits between 2021 and 2022. To no one’s surprise, grocery store theft is reportedly on the rise as a result. And if recent coverage of the issue rings true, some Canadians don’t feel bad about shoplifting. But should they?
Kieran Oberman, an associate professor of philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom, coined the term “re-distributive theft” in his 2012 paper “Is Theft Wrong?” In simplest terms, redistributive theft is based on the idea that people with too little could ethically take from those who have too much.
“Everybody, when they think about it, accepts that theft is sometimes permissible if you make the case extreme enough,” Oberman tells me over Zoom. “The question is, when exactly is it permissible?”
Almost no one, Oberman argues, believes the current distribution of wealth across the world is just. We have an inkling that theft is bad, but that inequality is too. As more and more Canadians feel the pinch of inflation, grocery store heirs accumulate riches — Loblaw chair and president Galen Weston, for instance, received a 55 percent boost in compensation in 2022, taking in around $8.4 million for the year. Should someone struggling with rising prices feel guilty when they, say, “forget” to scan a bundle of zucchini?
The homeless refugee crisis in Toronto illustrates Canada’s broken promises
Canadians live in a time of threadbare morality. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Toronto’s entertainment district, where partygoers delight in spending disposable income while skirting refugees sleeping on sidewalks. The growing pile of luggage at the downtown corner of Peter and Richmond streets resembles the lost baggage section at Pearson airport but is the broken-hearted terminus at the centre of a cruel city.
At the crux of a refugee funding war between the municipal and federal governments are those who have fled persecution for the promise of Canada’s protection. Until June 1, asylum seekers used to arrive at the airport and be sent to Toronto’s Streets to Homes Referral Assessment Centre at 129 Peter St. in search of shelter beds. Now, Toronto’s overcrowded shelter system is closed to these newcomers, so they sleep on the street.
New mayor Olivia Chow pushed the federal government Wednesday for at least $160 million to cope with the surge of refugees in the shelter system. She rightly highlights that refugees are a federal responsibility. In response, the department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada points to hundreds of millions in dollars already allocated to cities across Canada through the Interim Housing Assistance Program, while Ontario says it has given nearly $100 million to organizations that support refugees. But these efforts are simply not enough to deliver on Canada’s benevolent promise to the world’s most vulnerable.
The lack of federal generosity and finger-pointing by the city has orchestrated a moral crisis. It’s reminiscent of the crisis south of the border, where Texas governor Greg Abbott keeps bussing migrants to cities located in northern Democratic states. Without the necessary resources, information, and sometimes the language skills needed to navigate the bureaucratic mazes, those who fled turbulent homelands for Canada have become political pawns.
But Torontonians haven’t always been this callous.
In Ireland Park, at Lake Ontario’s edge, five statues of gaunt and grateful refugees gaze at their new home: Toronto circa 1847. These statues honour a time when Toronto, with a population of only 20,000 people, welcomed 38,500 famine-stricken migrants from Ireland. It paralleled the “Come From Away” event of 9/11 in Gander, N.L., where the population doubled overnight, and the people discovered there was indeed more than enough for all. It was a time when the city lived up to its moniker as “Toronto, The Good.”
Now, as a wealthy city of three million people, the city’s residents are tasked with supporting far fewer newcomers. Can we not recognize the absurdity in claiming scarcity?
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