Toronto Centre MP Chrystia Freeland explains Canada to Americans
In an essay for Politico, a U.S. publication whose attentions don’t normally stray this far north, former journalist and current Liberal MP for Toronto Centre Chrystia Freeland enters the now-infamous snark-versus-smarm debate (originally sparked by a Gawker essay), and comes down on the side of smarm. What’s more, she claims the rest of Canada is right there with her, fighting the good fight for civility and goodwill.
“Who wants to be Thumper, Bambi’s ever-optimistic bunny pal and the mascot of the smarmers, when you could be Gawker’s cool creator, Nick Denton or, if your tastes skew a little more Beltway and feminine, Maureen Dowd? This is particularly true if you have ever been a writer, wanted to be one or even enjoyed great writing,” she writes. “I plead guilty on all three counts, but I am also a native of Canada, a country inhabited—at least in the American imagination and before the apotheosis of our boorish, crack-smoking Toronto Mayor Rob Ford—entirely by Thumpers.”
This characterization of Canada as a land of relative earnestness brings to mind one of the great origin myths in modern Toronto media. The website Torontoist, now owned by St. Joseph Media (which also happens to own Toronto Life), was started in 2004 as an offshoot of Gothamist, a New York–based company. The story—at least as told four years later by one of the site’s founding editors, Joshua Errett—is that the site tried, at first, to emulate Gawker‘s snarky tone, but was forced to change course when it became obvious that all the mean, clever articles were too much for sensitive Torontonians. Readers weren’t laughing, and they weren’t interested in debate; they were just indignant. “After sniping at someone we considered an underwhelming Raptors player,” Errett wrote, “his mother messaged us about how upset she was.”
Freeland’s point seems to be that U.S.-style snark-oriented media makes it harder for good politicians to do good work. Even so, writing a feel-good piece premised on Canada’s reputation as a less-mean version of America seems a bit too easy. There are plenty of bad politicians in this country, all deserving of being called on their substantial piles of BS. And what’s more, there are plenty of snarky people here—most of whom would probably enjoy a little more company.