Recently, Linda Diebel of the Toronto Star travelled across Canada, coast to coast, and returned with shocking news: the rest of the country hates Toronto. They think we are, she sums up, “rude, snobbish, smug, boastful, pretentious, obnoxious, arrogant, hoity-toity, brash, crass, uptight, workaholic, lazy, self-absorbed, self-centred, self-obsessed, self-satisfied, spiritless, cold, out of shape, unfeeling, unsmiling and unfriendly.” Thusly chastised, our response is to ask, what rest of the country? You mean, like, Mississauga?

Seriously, though, it’s hardly news that Saskatoon and Peggy’s Cove and Kenora are full of Hogtown haters. It has ever been thus, and perhaps it’s natural: who doesn’t hate the smartest, richest, most fashionable, most popular kid in the class?

What’s puzzling is the degree to which Torontonians tend to internalize this hatred. We are forever obsessing about the diverse and far-reaching communities that make up the rest of Canada, and being particularly careful to give equal time to our countryfolk.

Take the case of the two daily newspapers that claim to be national, The Globe and Mail and the National Post. Both, sensibly, are headquartered in Toronto. But neither exploits or emphasizes their hometown. Their on-again, off-again Toronto sections are anemic and distributed only in Toronto, as if Toronto’s politics and culture were irrelevant to the rest of the country.

The news teams at our two big national neworks — CBC and CTV — go through similar contortions, ignoring as much as possible the hard news of Canada’s great metropolis and pretending that a choir performance in Moose Jaw has every bit as much significance as a theatre production in Toronto. (CanWest Global, a regional broadcaster with its newsroom in Vancouver, is excused.)

Conversely, the Toronto Star, the largest newspaper in the country, focuses heavily on Toronto but has almost no distribution outside of Ontario.

All this may play well to the sensitivities and self-esteem of the far-flung townsfolk in the rest of the country. But at the risk of being Toronto-centric, we’d like to point out that it is ridiculous. What’s news in Toronto is and should be news in the rest of the country, and hate us though they might, residents of Prince Albert have a real stake in what goes on here, and would be well advised to pay attention.

Toronto is the biggest, most important city in Canada. We are the economic engine of the country, home to all the big banks, the largest and most significant stock market and 40 per cent of the largest companies. We pay some $9 billion more to provincial and federal governments than we get back in services.

Moreover, as the federal government’s heritage department recently (and sort of needlessly) recognized, we are the cultural capital of the country, home to half its immigrants, its largest theatre community, its film and television industry, its book and music businesses.

All of which is to say, we are Canada.

The funny thing about this countrywide hatred of Toronto that we so tenderly take to heart is that ours is a city populated by people from elsewhere. Survey a room full of Torontonians and you’ll find a few people who are recent immigrants to Canada, a few people from Newfoundland, some Anglo transplants from Montreal, a few who came from the Prairies looking to make it big and one or two Vancouverites who can’t shut up about how much they miss the BC bud. In business and the arts, the best and brightest from all corners of the country come here to meet up and make their mark (excepting perhaps, francophone Quebecers, who migrate to Montreal). In all endeavours except politics, Toronto is the capital of Canada.

We should accept this role and stop apologizing for it. The US has New York, the UK has London, France has Paris — every country needs an urban centre, and every country resents its own, to some extent. But nowhere else are the residents of the capitals so neurotic and sensitive about their role. The American paper of record is the New York Times, which carries dozens of pages of local news every day and doesn’t pretend that Des Moines is anywhere near as relevant as Manhattan. In Europe, The Times and Le Monde make no distinction at all between the cities they’re based in and the countries they serve. Our cultural heavyweights should follow their example.

And if the rest of the country doesn’t like it, they can examine the tallest freestanding middle finger in the world on our skyline and simmer down. We have the luxury of being able to ignore them. They cannot say the same about us.

Originally published as an unsigned editorial in Eye Weekly February 24, 2005. 

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