On strike in Toronto, CanWest photo
Earlier this week, I was attending a meeting across from Toronto City Hall. I stopped briefly to chat with a few CUPE members who were picketing the municipal parking garage (the cavern beneath Nathan Phillips Square) requiring each driver to wait for a few minutes before passing.
A short line of about five cars extended out onto Queen Street. Most of the drivers were civil, but one jackass, bluetooth scarab beetle in ear, idling in his GM Climate-Changer, was madly honking his horn. Not the staccato beeping you hear around Toronto whenever Italy wins the World Cup, but a long, furious, sustained blare.
I peered in to see this man, a wide-eyed loon, gripped with rage. He then opened his door, summoned up the phlegm he had been angrily storing in his gullet, and spat at our feet. The CUPE workers I was speaking with were women. I wondered if he noticed that I was standing near his horking ground zero.
Our eyes met. “What the f--- is wrong with you?” I asked. He hurriedly shut his door. Was dropping the f-bomb wise? Should I have left it alone and walked away? Why did I let myself give in to the same base emotions I am now criticizing this fellow for exercising? At times I have a volatile temper. Learning to turn down the heat is one of my self-improvement projects.
So I could understand why Mr. Horn Blaster in the SUV was frustrated, but what’s happened, for both he and I, to our sense of civility?
Although hardly a scientific sampling of public opinion, news message boards are brimming with hate-filled, loathsome comments regarding the Toronto strike. Utterances that I don’t think many would have the courage (or manners) to say to another’s face.
I listen to streeters on CBC’s Here and Now and I hear my fellow Torontonians using words like “tragedy,” “I don’t how I’m going to handle this,” and “outrage” to describe their feelings about the strike. While I think some of these people need to get a better sense of perspective, who am I to judge how another wants to express their feelings?
In a just-released Toronto Star/Angus Reid poll of 500 Torontonians, 76% of those polled aren’t pleased with the unions (Locals 79 and 416). And Mayor Miller, whose approval rating was at an okay 41% on the second day of the strike, has now dropped to 33% on the strike’s 19th day. Having said this, I don’t have access to the poll’s methodology or what questions were asked (although given the sample size, the poll’s margin of error is +/- 4.4%, 19 times out of 20), so I make the above citation with a modicum of caution.
With about three-quarters of Torontonians irked with the unions, what does this mean and could we see more incivility in our streets?
I think it’s more than inconvenience that has many feeling “outraged” or at least a little pissed. It’s also the way this strike is being characterized in the media. While conservatives complain that there is a liberal bias to the media and liberals complain of the opposite, with both typically founding their complaints on some degree of confirmation bias, a brief literature search of peer-reviewed studies of media biases in Canada didn’t yield much (if anyone knows of a good, evidence-based study, please share it with me).
However, individual publications have right and left slants. The National Post is a right-wing newspaper. So are many of the Sun-chain papers. The Toronto Star might be centre-left. The Globe and Mail is occasionally centrist but with new editor John Stackhouse, might be seen to be making a rightward tilt.
But these newspapers are influential and one must ask whether they are having any effect on opinions regarding the strike. What’s also worth asking is whether there is an age division of opinion. Younger people seem to be more skeptical of MSM and get their info from a variety of on-line sources. Older people still like print and perhaps don’t have as much interest in web-based news or alternative sources of reporting (studies seem to indicate that age has a positive effect on newspaper readership).
Check out these two very different viewpoints on the Toronto strike. One is written by James Laxer, a left-wing intellectual and founder of The Waffle. The other is by Marcus Gee, the new Globe Toronto columnist (he replaced John Barber) who usually writes right-wing op-eds. Laxer’s column appears in the non-mainstream rabble.ca. It has a relatively small audience, particularly compared to the Globe.
Both pieces are worth reading. Then ponder. Are you “outraged,” do you fall within the 76% of Torontonians who disapprove of unions’ actions or do you side with Laxer?