Canadians Are Not Ashamed to be Elite

Tony Clement

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It would appear that a lot of Canadians disagree with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue parliament, effectively shutting down government until after the 2010 Olympics. In spite of Conservative supporters claiming that nobody cares about parliament and Harper could abuse the system with impunity, the Conservatives’ numbers have slipped, with some polls suggesting that the party may now be in a tie with the opposition Liberals. There has also been a storm of protest online, with over 200,000 Canadians joining the Facebook Group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament.

It may be as Rick Mercer says: perhaps we Canadians are an apathetic people, but when someone tries to use that apathy against us, we lose that apathy pretty quick. Anger at the Harper government has increased in spite of media pundits claiming that this issue wouldn’t engage Canadians. These same pundits and some Conservative supporters don’t seem to know what to make of this. And if they can’t understand it, the easy response for some is to attack it. Some, like Tory minister Tony Clement, have tried to dismiss criticism by denigrating the critics thus:

“I know it’s a big issue with the Ottawa media elite and some of the elites in our country, but I got to tell you if reaction in my constituency is any indication, I’ve had maybe three dozen emails… …It may not be what the chattering classes want, but we’re not here to govern on behalf of the chattering classes,”


You got that, right? Tony Clement does not believe that he governs for ‘the chattering classes’.

I find that interesting. I find it interesting that there are people in Canada Tony Clement feels aren’t worthy of his attention as a member of the government. Maybe I’m naive, but I always believed that the government was supposed to govern on behalf of allCanadians, chattering or otherwise.

But note Clement’s disdainful use of the word ‘elite’, and you’ll see that Clement is using a trope that has afflicted American politics for the past few decades: if you are opposed to something that people support, dismiss your opponents as ‘elite’ — something other than what ordinary Canadians are — something ‘unCanadian’ in fact. Not a real political opinion. Indeed, an opinion that can be ignored without reasoned debate. Thus Canadians who criticize our government’s handling of Afghanistan are impugned as being ‘against the troops’ and ‘for the terrorists’, and those who care about the political process are dismissed as ‘elites’. Essentially un-persons, unworthy of being served by this government.

Which is a shame, because I think Tony Clement and Conservatives like him sell Canadians short. The last time I checked, ‘elite’ was defined as ’ A group or class of persons or a member of such a group or class, enjoying superior intellectual, social, or economic status,’ or ’ The best or most skilled members of a group.’ And I happen to think that this definition aptly defines this nation, and all the people within.

Most people that I see in this country, whether they put in a days work at a factory or at a university, whether they drink coffee from Starbucks or Tim Hortons (note: I do both) are, in my opinion, elite. Think of the country we live in. Think of the types of jobs we have. Think of the quality of care we receive from our hospitals. Think of the fact that we don’t have to pay for most of that care from our pockets. Think of the Blackberry. Think of Christie Digital, and their exponential sales growth as they serve the burgeoning market of digital movie screens. Think of the ZENN electric car. Think of who invented insulin. Think of the railroads we built across this country. Think of those who have trained half their lives away for a chance to compete against the world’s best in Vancouver. Finally, think of the fact that hundreds of our men and women have volunteered their time, comfort, and security to try and bring peace and democracy to Afghanistan. If this doesn’t define ‘elite’, I don’t know what does.

And yet, if these individuals criticize government policy, Tony Clement thinks that their opinions aren’t worth considering. He thinks they can be dismissed as ‘elitist’.

Well, I’m not ashamed to count Canadians as among the world’s elite. I have no trouble believing that the over 200,000 individuals who registered their displeasure at the Harper government this past month are among those elite as well.

My only question is what Mr. Clement has against these Canadians? What has he against striving to be elite.

Why does he feel that being in such elite company is something to be ashamed of?

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