Thursday, March 6, 2014

A City Divided

In my previous blog I talked about the problems in Thailand, and how they were representative of a divided society. Events are really still unfolding over there, and it will be some time before Thai society approaches something that we could call normality. But the problem of a divided society is not exclusive to Thailand  - in fact, I would argue that it is becoming more and more prevalent around the world, and even in seemingly peaceful places people are being convinced to fight among themselves rather than working together in solidarity.

Of course, we have seen other obvious examples over the past two months in places like Ukraine, where there has been a clear division over whether to move closer to the European Union or to Russia. But we can see the same thing on a less dramatic scale even in a cosmopolitan, global city like Toronto. Toronto is usually famous for nothing more than the CN Tower and that most people think it's the capital of Canada. But over the last six months, Toronto has become notorious for its Mayor Rob Ford.

Ford is now famous for his use of crack cocaine and his admission that he is often found in 'drunken stupors'. But while that's hardly behaviour you'd expect from a mayor, it's his policies which bother me more. Ford was elected after a campaign in which he constructed an interesting worldview which essentially set the people of Toronto at war against each other. He regularly positions every citizen of Toronto as being in one of two groups – motorists versus cyclists and pedestrians; people who enjoy the Lake Ontario waterfront versus people who want to see it developed for jobs; people who go to the famous Canadian company Tim Horton's for their morning coffee versus people who stop off at an independent coffee shop; and, most regularly, people who live downtown versus people who live in the suburbs, where the majority of his voters come from.

Ford continually plays off an idea of cultural difference. He tells his supporters: the people who live downtown are different from you, they want different things, they live different lives, and they want to take money away from you and use it for themselves. This is, of course, ridiculous – the people who live in the suburbs use the downtown area for their jobs, their transport, their entertainment options, and so on. Essentially, everyone in Toronto uses the downtown area in some way, and should see that the diversity of people who live and work there is its great strength. But unfortunately, while Ford's claims are incorrect, they are popular – even now, after all the cocaine scandals, Ford has a popularity rating of 40% and may win re-election from the people he has convinced.

In reality, the people of Toronto, just like those of Thailand, need to realize that they have more in common than they have in difference, and more that brings them together than tears them apart. The people of Toronto all want the same things that the rest of us want – safety, clean air, good schools, a good health care system – and they need to work together as one to make that happen, rather than buying into divisive myths. The same goes for the rest of us, wherever we are – rather than focusing on the people around us who we perceive as different, we should begin to work together to build a better life for all of us – regardless of what the elite politicians are telling us.

Truly yours,
Ana Shell

[ Thai society, CN Tower, Mayor Rob Ford, Tim Horton, cultural difference, Ana Shell, crack cocaine, European Union ]

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