Dialing Down the Culture Wars

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Canadians, especially young Canadians, would do well to read the editorial in Friday's Globe and Mail. The thesis of the piece is that "Canada has peace and prosperity to spare" and thus that the out-sized "nastiness and intensity" of our culture wars is out of all proportion to the scale of our problems as a country. "Blessed by any standard, with a steady economy and an inch-wide political spectrum, we can afford to squabble about quirky professors and the names of buildings," the Globe reminds us.

The editorial is not exactly a mea culpa, but it's about as close to one as any Canadian should expect to hear from a national media outlet. The piece alludes, for example, to the furors over Professor Jordan Peterson and Sir John A. Macdonald, noting only that "this paper has weighed in." That is an understatement. It is true that the Globe has tried to grapple with the legacy of Canada's founding prime minister. But it has also stoked the Peterson firestorm by publishing, among other items, one of the most egregious hatchet jobs on a Canadian intellectual in decades. Over the past year Globe editors have not been reticent to allow veteran Canadian taste-makers to fire up the culture wars, nor to provide a platform for non-Canadians staking out equally tendentious positions. On a bad day, the Globe's opinion page is every bit as strident as the Toronto Star's.

As John Stackhouse reminds us in his recent memoir about his tenure at the Globe, however, newspapers cannot be expected to speak with one editorial voice—particularly those aspiring to national omniscience in a country as diverse as Canada. Nor would Canadians wish them to. But there is a deep truth in Friday's editorial about the relative gravity of our most acrimonious public debates and their capacity to divert us from the "real challenges" that ought to animate our national political conversations.

The Globe's call for decorum and proportion certainly comes at a good time for students, teachers and the educational institutions to which they are this week returning. Last year the culture wars tore through Canadian campuses like a tsunami, with all of the attendant institutional wreckage that metaphor implies. There is already evidence that this academic year will bring more of the same.

Let us hope that the Globe and Mail will take its own advice and not fall into the familiar trap of honouring its highest editorial ideals mainly in the breach.