How much do your politics influence where you want to live? As it turns out, more than we realize.
For the longest time I was a conservative living in Communist Central, otherwise known as downtown Ottawa. It’s a riding that only elects leftists. Or occasionally, somewhat centre-left folks. Some elections there’s not even a conservative candidate. I mean, there’s a name on the ballot next to “Conservative”, but I suspect the name is not attached to any actual human being because who would want to be a sore blue thumb in a sea of self-satisfied orange-red?
Besides, you never see conservative politicians in the middle of that city. They’re rarer than coyote sightings. And the neighbourhood is happier for it.
Years ago, while working at a conservative TV station, I got into a friendly email argument with a producer who would go on to work fairly closely with Justin Trudeau. Yes, yes. We had interlopers at that station, much to the chagrin of senior executives who expected across-the-board ideological purity. (Got me in trouble more than once, that…) I don’t remember how the argument started, but his main point — or rather, question — was this: How come, if conservatism is so much better for society than bleeding-heart liberalism, as we kept preaching on that station 24/7 in-between cringe-worthy ads for orthotics, are all the pleasant cities in the western world bastions of liberal contentment?
Would I, he asked, wish to live in a heavily conservative area?
I was fortunate enough to have pressing matters to attend to at the time. The news business is a fantastic excuse to avoid unpleasant workplace arguments, because it forces you to focus immediately on six different things. I said I’d get back to him. I was sure I could find a suitable answer. That was over five years ago and, well, I haven’t found it yet.
Or rather, I have found an answer that my 2013 self would bite my head off for.
I recently had the job of looking for a place to live after splitting from my husband and leaving him the house along with the kids. I briefly considered moving to the country, to get some peace, some quiet, some nature, and affordable housing. But only briefly, because I don’t want to be more than a short drive away from the kids, who are staying in Communist Central. But also because I have come to realize a very important thing about country living: As pretty as it is to be near nature and everything, the place is populated by unhealthy, unhappy-looking, disenfranchised, overwhelmingly white and grouchy voters.
Nothing against white voters. I’m one myself. It’s just that areas that aren’t diverse aren’t as fun to be in than areas that are. Also? I like to think of myself as fit, happy-looking, and not particularly alienated. Also not particularly conservative anymore.
I don’t say this to be judgmental, but take a drive through any small rural village in Ontario (don’t walk; nobody does that out there, not even to the post office) and you’ll see nothing but pale, slightly haggard souls with weight issues that occur naturally on a diet of cheap carbs and worse beer.
You won’t see anyone jogging or biking, unless they’re some impossibly thin racer on a long loop around his affluent suburb on a $2,000 bike. Locals who bike past the age of 16 are too poor to drive even a beater the likes of which you still see parked haphazardly on or near a few decidedly unmanicured front “lawns”.
There’s a lot of resentment in the country against city folks. No matter what your intentions when you visit, especially if it’s to acquire a marked-down piece of desirable real-estate property, you get a massive collective cold shoulder. They can tell you’re not one of them, you’re just passing through — even if you do wind up buying that property. You have options. You’re not stuck there.
They are. Or at least they think they are, which is probably worse. But one thing is clear: both groups distrust each other. Effete liberals from the city think rural folks are obtuse and backwards and possibly a bit racist, too. Whereas rural folks think city dwellers haven’t got a sweet clue about real life. You could hardly find a wider chasm between groups of the same species sharing an otherwise peaceful and prosperous country.
Urban density forces people to get along better, the same way a large family living in a small house learns to find ways to accommodate each other. Having lots of space for people of similar backgrounds and outlooks (to say nothing of political opinions) is not conducive to the same open-mindedness and tolerance of differences. A skill rarely practiced doesn’t develop very much. Like soldiering, or being pleasant to weirdos who are weird in ways we ain’t accustomed to.
In the end, my liberal producer buddy would, I think, be pleased with my answer. Not that everything is rosy in Communist Central. But the people here look happier, healthier, and are genuinely more pleasant than what you find elsewhere.