This may be the Happy New Year when city folk finally stop being discriminated against on the basis of where they live. A little late perhaps, since the changeover to a majority urban population first became official with the census of 1921. But for the past 80-odd years, until Paul Martin launched a cities agenda and appointed the energetic and progressive John Godfrey as parliamentary secretary for the city beat, Canada has been governed as if most of us lived with the back forty as our back yard.
The denial of this change has had the same impact as if a major group of residents, such as men who don't own property or women or Asians, were not allowed to vote.
Once upon a time, when Canada was a largely rural country, those groups were excluded from the suffrage. And the devaluing of cities has functioned to minimize the democratic impact of universal suffrage. Instead of denying people a political say on the basis of their sex, race or class, they're denied clout on the basis of where they call home.
The exclusion of cities results in more inequality than most people are aware of or dare identify.
Spend some time in Canada's capital cities: Victoria; cutesy Fredericton and Quebec City; Ottawa, until recently the most boring city in the country; London, which almost became Ontario's capital before it was officially recognized as a mall. (And Niagara-on-the-Lake actually was the capital for a moment prior to being designated a theme park.)
These sleepy towns were all chosen as places where political decisions should be made because they were far from the action, far from the madding crowd. Big, turbulent, exciting cities were home to what were known as the "dangerous classes."
Do the math on how the people of Prince Edward Island (population 135,294 in the 2001 census) get four MPs, an almost automatic member of federal cabinet and a multi-billion-dollar bridge linking them to a Wal-Mart in New Brunswick. Now that's potato-head power.
Check out the colour code of a federal cabinet or task force or advisory group and see how well it matches the skin colours seen every day in Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto.
Take a look at the seating plan of high-level meetings where the future of medicare and social and educational policy are decided. There's a place at the table for the prime minister and for premiers, at least six of whom represent a smaller population than Toronto's (roughly 2.5 million), but there's no seat to speak to urban aspects of the issues. And when people at these tables argue about how to divide the spoils and power, they never talk about letting the cities have a say.
Figure out where the lion's share of federal patronage goes, where the steady paying jobs building or staffing prisons, military bases, national parks and the like go.
The obsolete privilege of rural Canada is also (some may say mainly) about the obsolete privileging of one faction of the business elite, our good old boys, the people who made Canada's colonial economy.
These resource exploiters - not the creative class of entrepreneurs, knowledge workers and innovators who come to the fore in cities - get to set the rules of politics and subsidies so they stay in charge because they're big fish in rural ponds.
Do the arithmetic and figure it out.
Jack Mintz, now head of the C.D. Howe Institute, did a study for then finance minister Paul Martin back in the mid-1990s that tallied up what government subsidies went to what polluting industries. The more environmental destruction associated with an industry, the more tax breaks, forgivable government loans, direct and indirect subsidies they got, Mintz showed in his two-volume report.
The less environmental destruction, the fewer party favours, the report also noted. The industries dominated by the creative class are frozen out, and all the welfare money goes to groups that show they're truly "resourceful."
This trend plays out in big ways as well as small.
It explains why we have ministers of agriculture and rural affairs instead of ministers of food, a flip that would give some power to the city people who eat rather than the people who export raw agricultural commodities.
It explains why we have all manner of farm programs to encourage commodity exports, but none to support farmers near cities who might save their farms by growing bok choy for city people instead of canola or cattle feed.
It explains why pesticides are the most favoured class of chemicals in Canada. Manufacturers are even allowed to keep formulations secret from workplace health and safety audits, a right not accorded with respect to any other potential toxins. It explains why municipalities have led the battle against pesticide use, despite the industry effort to have the Supreme Court rule that Ottawa must decide all pesticide issues. It explains why Health Canada doesn't enforce its own pesticide act, a fact recently exposed by federal Commissioner of the Environment Johanne Gélinas - to dead silence. People in cities don't need to know what gets put on their food back in the countryside, where no one is looking.
The bias against cities explains why we give billions in subsidies to boonie-based fossil fuel companies but virtually nothing to city slickers who want to try energy conservation in their homes or improve public transit on their streets.
When most government departments are organized around producers rather than users - of course, this bias is only more blatant around food, energy, forestry, mining and transportation than health or housing - it becomes clear why backwoods control is key to actual government operations, as distinct from the effluvia that's covered by the media.
Since most users live in cities, and since the use of these resources profoundly affects the financing and environment of cities, the opening of even one door to city recognition is bound to have an impact on the conduct of Canadian politics. Have a happy civic new year.