English Canada fell in love with Pierre Trudeau in 1968 because he angrily seated himself in the direct line of fire of bottle-throwing separatists, not with calm and decorum but in an obviously enraged response both to the separatist rioters and to the handlers who sought to whisk him off to safety. Trudeau’s healthy libido, ability to shamelessly date (and even marry) mentally unstable women less than half his age, his willingness to order the assault of protesters and roll out tanks in the streets of Montréal and his expressions of contempt, punctuated with the odd obscene gesture endeared him to crucial voting blocs in English Canada.
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In English Canada, men’s eligibility to join the elite is conditioned, in large measure, by their capacity to reflect the Victorian ideal of manliness exemplified in Upper Canadian culture. Like Hawaiians, Upper Canadians build their patriarchal culture around understated theatrical demonstrations of restraint, physical, emotional and sexual. Elite English Canadian men are not to shout; they are not to brawl; and, if they must engage in it, they keep their promiscuity invisible. Just ask the mayoral candidate who could have saved us from Rob Ford, Adam Giambrone, felled by what Torontonians called a sex scandal and what Parisians wouldn’t have called anything.
While I would never suggest that restraint and sensitivity have nothing to do with elite masculine status in Québec, I will suggest that they have much less to do with it. To non-elite men and women in English Canada, the relative freedom of powerful Québecois men from these standards is a powerful force, especially for non-elite men descended from Southern European immigrant communities that struggle to identify with the smallness and coldness of Anglo nuclear families and the disturbing bloodlessness of the surrounding culture. For Anglo chickenshits like Harper, aggression is often celebrated but when it is, it is always “serious business,” an exotic phenomenon; it takes a Chretien or Trudeau to indicate a real comfort with it by joking about violence (e.g. “I put pepper on my plate…”).
We remain a culture that is rooted in millennia of patriarchy. And generally, Canadians only hand majority governments to a party when one leader is able to embody the multiple definitions of masculinity that, together, comprise a majority, while the others are not. And, overall, the more bellicose, less restrained kind masculinity we find in French Canadian culture has resonance with more people in more places. It has resonance amongst working class Anglos in industrial towns; it has resonance on reserves; it has resonance in immigrant communities not yet domesticated to the passive-aggressive, restrained masculinity of neo-Victorian elites with its slut-shaming and excessive concern over female modesty. Really, the only place it doesn’t sell especially is Québec, where people are more used to it and, consequently, a good deal more tired.
But to us Anglos, a Trudeau, Chretien or Mulcair is a Tarzanesque figure, a creature from a world of which we know little, who has swung in on a vine to right wrongs and expose the hypocrisy, emptiness and veiled rage of the smug, little chess club patriarchs like Harper who run Anglo society. He can slam his fist on the table and threaten to break Peter van Loan’s nose if he steps an inch closer to Nathan Cullen — you know, that nice, mild-mannered House Leader, half a head taller than Mulcair and nearly a generation his junior.