Lawrence Martin's recent Globe and Mail column talked about the change of the Canadian brand under the Conservative government, labelling it a voter-approved changed "from a country of Ken Dryden values to one closer to those of Don Cherry."
I'll grant him his basic premise: the Canadian brand is changing. The Pan-Canadian consensus—that set of values the media brands as mainstream—is declining. Arguably, we used to see our identity in multiculturalism, our preference for international peacekeeping rather than taking sides, the Charter of Rights, and government social programs as expressions of our kindness and tolerance. While Mr. Martin blames Mr. Harper for this change, we publicly argued at the time of Stephen Harper's election in 2006 that this decline had already been a decade or two in the making. In other words, Mr. Harper isn't changing Canadian values. Canadian values changed in the eighties and nineties, and the election of a Conservative government was a consequence of that change. It is taking others a bit longer to adjust to the changes that have already taken place.
That Mr. Harper is skillfully leading the charge to change the symbols of Canada (to reflect these changing values) is an accurate observation. We keep hearing more emphasis on the north, highlighting our entrepreneurial, surviving and risk-taking spirit; our history and military tradition, preparing us to stand up for what is right and "punch above our weight", even at times when we are the "little guy" in the fight; and our down-to-earth "Tim Horton's" values, indeed the focus of a conscious rebranding strategy. But brands only work when they reflect deeply-held convictions, and the success of the Conservative rebranding confirms the extent to which these changes have already occurred.
It is when Mr. Martin tries to critique this using a hockey metaphor that the flaw in his approach becomes most obvious. He writes:
We wouldn't want to call the Conservatives the Don Cherry Party; they're not as pre-Cambrian as that. But a good deal of their appeal lies in their proximity to character traits exhibited by the bombastic hockey icon. The Cherry brandm sells. The Dryden spirit—tolerance, inclusiveness, modesty, quiet striving for excellence—are values less heard.
Talking about Mr. Cherry's brand as the negative counterparts to Mr. Dryden's virtues reveals Mr. Martin's failure to understand the alternative frame. This is a common approach taken by those who object to the Conservatives' program. Rather than try to understand the alternative values Mr. Harper is appealing to, they dismiss the approach as an unbelievable denial of the things they hold dear. In part, this is why he is so despised by his critics.
One does not have to agree with Mr. Cherry's advocacy of pre-Cambrian ways (a defence of fighting in hockey, for those who don't follow the sport closely) to understand that the underlying values have some substance. Don Cherry's appeal comes because he talks about loyalty to one's teammates, living consistently with a justice code which isn't always written down but rather is a sense of right and wrong that we know inside of us, working hard, and valuing the little things rather than the flashy things. It's about standing up for what you think is right, even when that isn't the most popular.
I don't think the Cherry/Dryden metaphor translates well in explaining our political change. But if you are going to use it, at least get it right. Perhaps one of the lessons is that when writing about this stuff, hockey and politics don't mix!