COLUMN

Why the country is breaking

Allan Fotheringham July 17 1989
COLUMN

Why the country is breaking

Allan Fotheringham July 17 1989

Why the country is breaking

COLUMN

ALLAN FOTHERINGHAM

The most surprising things surprise newspapermen, supposedly the most worldly types of all. The most amazing things (i.e., the most mundane things) make huge headlines. The newspaper before me, the Victoria Times-Colonist, is the oldest paper on North America’s Pacific Coast, older than anything in California or elsewhere. You’d think the chaps would have developed some maturity by now. But there it is, a story spread right across the top of page 1—revealing the astounding news that 45 per cent of Canadians are unable to locate Ottawa on a map.

So? So what else is new? The Gallup pollsters deliver this large scoop to us, as if we should be shocked, or concerned, or worried. In a geography test, they drew an outline map of Canada, with provincial boundaries marked. Numbers were placed on the locations of 23 towns and cities across the country. The 1,029 Canadians polled were asked to locate and identify a list of 12 cities. The results indicated almost half the citizens of this fair land couldn’t find Ottawa.

I don’t know where the dumb people at Gallup have been. Anyone else could have told them. Ottawa doesn’t exist. It is strictly a state of mind. Taxpayers don’t think of it as an actual place—like Kamloops or Chicoutimi or Medicine Hat. It is simply a black hole, situated somewhere, where the swivel servants live so as to milk the rest of the country. It’s, well, somewhere, but its exact location is immaterial, since it is unconnected by its mind-set to any place where real five people reside and breathe and get on with life.

The Gallup result proves what we have maintained all along. Everyone knows where London is, or Paris or Rome and even Washington. Ottawa? Does it matter? You can’t get there from anywhere and you can’t get from there to anywhere. So it doesn’t really matter that, for 45 per cent of Canadians, it rattles around somewhere off in the void, growing ever more forgettable now that Eugene Whelan and Jack Horner have left.

The Gallup types found that one per cent of

Canadians questioned thought that the nation’s capital was in northern Manitoba. I suggest they misinterpreted the survey. I think the respondents meant that it should be in northern Manitoba. Just outside Thompson would be about right. The polar bears drifting into town in winter would be the first actual contact the snivel servants would have with red-blooded inhabitants of this dominion since Queen Victoria plunked it up there wherever it is that the 1,029 taxpayers couldn’t find.

Another one per cent thought Ottawa was in Labrador. Canada, if you must know, would be better governed if Ottawa were in Labrador. As it now is, wherever that is, it is a recessionproof enclave, with the highest family income in the country, a bottomless sump hole for our money. In Labrador, we would get some action, some movement, as the bureaucrats and the politicians raced through legislation so as to get to their Caribbean vacations.

I should not be too hard on the Gallup actually, since their meticulous informationcollectors have come up with an even more revealing statistic. It seems 53 per cent of Canadians couldn’t find the location of Toronto on the map. Four per cent thought it was somewhere in Western Canada, which would puzzle anyone who went through the Depression, not to mention those living in Tofino, Gimli, and Climax, Sask.

The reason I suspect this survey is accurate, after all, is that 29 per cent of Toronto residents couldn’t locate their own city on the map. This figures. On any given day, if you walk down any downtown Toronto street, or enter any Toronto office building, there are some 29 per cent of the faces you encounter that are oblivious as to where they are. They are in pursuit of The Buck. You can detect it on their visages, their nostrils palpitating in lust for a deal, a contract they can pull off over lunch that will ensure a $600,000 bungalow that is only a 90-minute drive in the morning from the slurbs.

They could be in Cleveland or Dallas or Pittsburgh or Atlanta. It wouldn’t make any difference. They couldn’t be in San Francisco or Montreal or Vancouver or Positano—but that’s another subject for another day. The location of their own city, in the context of Canada, doesn’t matter.

It’s why the country is breaking up, Toronto concerned only with its baseball rivalry with Boston and the Yankees while Swift Current and Truro and Grand Forks are trying to figure out how to pay taxes to a black hole on the map that, in reality, doesn’t exist.

Quebec (sadly) is going its own way as sure as God made little green apples—the survey showing the most dismal response from Quebecers, 67 per cent from that province locating fewer than half of the cities. They can be forgiven, in a way, because of their indifference, but Ottawa cannot escape being the main culprit. A capital that is unable to establish itself in the minds of Canadians as an actual location must, perforce, disappear in a Gallup poll.

To be noticed, one must have a personality. It applies to cities as well as individuals. The town that fun forgot ain’t got any personality, since the people who live there are essentially selfish, revelling in their recession-proof, highest-family-income insularity, and so Canadians when asked where Ottawa is actually located come up with a blank and their eyes glaze over and they answer honestly to the pollster at the door.