On elites and hard-working families

What does the term ‘elite’ mean in contemporary Canadian politics? Can someone such as Kellie Leitch, a physician and former Cabinet minister, stand in opposition to elites, given that she seems to be one?

Although this is not my area of study, it’s something that I think about a lot in my spare time. I’m not sure why, but I find it fascinating.

In so doing, I’ve come across a number of articles that make a key point: the word elite no longer refers to those possessing wealth or power. Elites can possess wealth and power, of course, but that’s not what the word necessarily implies anymore. This also helps explain why a number of people who have wealth and power use the term to great effect. In our contemporary political debates, elites refers to a set of characteristic, habits, traits, and performances that stand in contrast to the characteristics, habits, traits, and performances of ‘regular people’, or more commonly in Canada’s political thesaurus, ‘hard-working families’.

Now, it’s important to realize that ‘elites’ and ‘hard-working families’ are ideal types. Nobody fits perfectly into either category. Most of us can locate ourselves in both groups, depending on which subsets define us. As well, it’s possible to move in and out of the categories.

Based on my own, admittedly casual observations of how these terms are used, here’s a short, and somewhat sarcastic, list of what I think people mean when they speak about ‘elites’ and ‘ regular people / hard-working families’:

Elites

  • You work in a sector that depends on public funds (bureaucracy, university, NGOs, the arts), but you don’t wear a uniform (military, police, firefighter, nurse, paramedic) and you aren’t middle management or below (administrative assistant).
  • If forced to choose, you’d rather walk to work than have a bigger house.
  • You have a degree in social science or the humanities (economics and political/military history are exceptions.)
  • You own a hybrid or electric car, or think you should one day; alternatively, you cycle most everywhere.
  • You enjoy travelling overseas, but get annoyed when there are too many North American tourists.
  • You understand the following concepts and could easily incorporate them into a conversation or a piece of writing: privilege; cis; practice (yoga, writing, meditation, etc); neoliberalism.
  • You live near the downtown core of one of the following cities: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, and/or you live fairly close to a university.
  • You are bilingual or aspire to be (and not because you need to be for work.)
  • Your computer is a Mac and your phone is an iPhone.
  • In sum, you really do like a surprising number of the things listed on the site Stuff White People Like

And with respect to Canadian politics in particular:

  • You have attended, or one day hope to attend, the Banff Forum or a Canada 2020 conference
  • You were not a fan of the Harper government
  • When you think of the Canadian Constitution, you think of the Charter
  • You think multiculturalism strengthens Canada and is a core value
  • You watch CBC and read the Star and/or the Globe

Regular People / Hard Working Families

  • You work in the private sector or wear a uniform.
  • You don’t mind commuting if it allows you to live in a more comfortable house and neighbourhood.
  • If you went to university, you have a degree in business, law, engineering, science, or related fields.
  • You own an SUV or a pick-up truck.
  • You enjoy bumping into fellow North Americans when you travel overseas.
  • You understand the following concepts and could easily incorporate them into a conversation or a piece of writing: common sense; taxpayer; serious country; personal responsibility.
  • You live in a suburb or a rural area.
  • You are unilingual or learned French for professional reasons alone.
  • Your computer is a PC and your phone is a Samsung.
  • In sum, you don’t really identify with the things listed on Stuff White People Like.

And with respect to Canadian politics in particular:

  • What’s the Banff Forum?
  • You think the Harper government was fine overall
  • When you think of the Canadian Constitution, you think of the division of powers
  • You think multiculturalism has to be balanced against protecting core Canadian values
  • You watch CTV and read Postmedia and/or the Sun chain
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