Winnipeg’s cultural tug-of-war

The term “culture war” has been bandied about a lot in the last several years. As the global wave of far-right populism, cronyism and corruption that gave rise to the likes of former US president Donald Trump, Hungary’s János Áder and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro has woven its way from the halls of power to the world’s cultural fabrics, the scope of what constitutes a “culture war” has broadened dramatically.

Basic things that would have been considered simple moral consensus 10 or 20 years ago have suddenly become perfectly defensible in the eyes of the global right. Police brutality, anti-democratic policies and mob violence shouldn’t be things we need to debate. All are objectively wrong. But as the rope lengthens in the tug-of-war between movements for equality and democracy and movements for a violent reinforcement of the status quo, new forms of bad behaviour become acceptable for the latter camp.

One only has to look around Winnipeg this week to see the effects. The most obvious example, of course, is the Pallister government’s introduction of 19 secret bills into the Legislature, the text of which remains a mystery to all but his party. Pallister has tried to shift the blame to the opposition, but his crocodile tears aren’t fooling anyone. His contempt for the working poor, environmentalists, Indigenous land defenders and virtually everyone elsewhere on the political spectrum has been evident for years. But this move makes his contempt for democracy, and his preference for rule by decree, undeniable.

Similarly, attitudes toward Winnipeg’s notoriously violent police force are also wrapped up in the culture war. On March 2, a meeting of the Louis Riel School Division’s board led to the hiring of an external researcher to review the division’s participation in the controversial school resource officer program, which places police in its schools.

The idea of reviewing this program shouldn’t be controversial. But according to the Free Press, the idea of even examining the relationship between cops and schoolchildren was met with open hostility from many. Trustee Tom Parker claimed it “created a ‘divide’ between the board like nothing has before.”

It can sometimes seem like the “culture war” is really just a bunch of Fox News hosts whining about Dr. Seuss and “cancel culture.” But backwards attitudes have real negative consequences, here and elsewhere.

Published in Volume 75, Number 20 of The Uniter (March 4, 2021)

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