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Shal Marriott: The Stanley Cup shows the beauty of 60 minutes free of politics

Commentary

How do we know the Montreal Canadiens have made it into the Stanley Cup finals? Suddenly, all of our neighbours are Habs fans.

Cars flying Canadiens flags are parked in seemingly every driveway. Windows have curtains with that familiar red, white, and blue logo. Kids are running around the park in Habs t-shirts. Even the McDonalds cashier is in a jersey.

For Lightning neighbourhoods, the effect is the same. Hockey logos are everywhere. As the Stanley Cup finals reaches its conclusion, these symbols become even more important for those who wear them. The stakes are high.

Now this isn’t an essay defending the Canadiens or the Lightning. Although unafraid to take positions on policy and governance questions, taking a stance on a hockey team is a bit too controversial for The Hub.

But we should defend our flag-flying and jersey wearing neighbours. Regardless of the team they support, they serve as a valuable reminder that we should all look for something to believe in outside of day-to-day political battles and zero-sum culture wars.

Sports fandom is just one symptom of a deeper yearning inside all of us. Although it’s rarely thought about this way, sports are a powerful form of civil society that provides for a true sense of belonging and community.

As sports fans, we are surrounded by people who share a common sense of identity and purpose in one aspect of life. They know and understand why we feel as strongly as we do. Most importantly, they share the hope we have for our favourite team and that enables community bonds to form around that mutual understanding even if we are otherwise marked by individual differences such as class, ethnicity, religion, and so forth.

In a world increasingly defined by intense polarization, sports can be a powerful source of unity that transcends these other divides. Nobody watching a hockey game in a bar asks the person next to him or her how they voted in the last federal election campaign or what they think about tax rates or how they come down on complex moral questions. Cheering on our your favourite team is a bridge across these divides precisely because it permits us a short period of time – sometimes as little as 60 minutes – to be free from politics.

Celebrating a win is easier than mourning a loss but it’s the losses that bring us together. Philosopher and economist Adam Smith wrote in The Theory of Moral Sentiments about the importance of shared experience and mutual sympathy and believed that “the sweetness of… sympathy more than compensates the bitterness of that sorrow.”

That will provide limited solace to Habs fans as their team takes on the gargantuan task of digging themselves out of a 3-0 series deficit tonight against the Lightning. But the underdog story has always been compelling.

It is the plot line of pretty much every sports film. The underdog team fights its way up to the top. A player who never stood a chance becomes a champion. They believed in themselves, and their fans believed in them. The odds were against them, and yet they won. These fictional (and sometimes non-fiction) stories are always about believing that success can achieved out of the impossible.

Not every sports team or player is an underdog. There are great teams and great players who prove their excellence year after year. They are far from perfect, though. Even the greatest athletes have a bad day or a bad season, and it is up to the fans to support them through it. People who do not stand by these hardships are scorned for their lack of loyalty and viewed as unworthy of joining in later victories. To abandon them and be unwilling to suffer along with them is seen as betrayal.

These are features of virtually every community on Earth.

There is a reason why we still talk about belief in sports even though we have heard it all before. When fictional football coach Ted Lasso walked into the locker room of a hopeless team, he wrote the word “believe” on a piece of paper and taped it to the wall. Everyone rolled their eyes. Even those watching the show. It turns out that Ted Lasso was right. What the team needed was to believe in themselves.

This past year and a half has been tough, and we deserve 60 minutes spread over three periods where we just hope for a win. Even if our team is not there this year, and even if we don’t care for hockey and are only watching to see what happens. This is a rare moment when we can set politics and world affairs and vaccinations aside and we get to believe in something bigger than the moment and bigger than ourselves.

The Stanley Cup finals is about so much more than who takes home that shining silver cup. For every player whose name is engraved on the trophy, there were thousands of fans who supported them. Watching the Stanley Cup finals serves to remind us of how connected we are to other people. Every person watching the game is right there with us. Even if we are cheering for different sides.

Wear that Habs jersey or Lightning hat. Cheer loudly and enjoy this moment. Believe that when the buzzer rings it will be a time to celebrate. Know that even if you suffer a loss, it will be a loss felt by thousands of other people.

Win or lose, watching the Stanley Cup finals makes you a part of the team. And there will always be next year to take the title home.

Opinion: It’s a bad sign when elites are adopting Chinese Communist Party rhetoric

Commentary

Here we go again.

Lately, there have been some in the commentator class who seem to have forgotten the hard lessons about dealing with China that we have slowly, painfully, and collectively learned over the past two-and-a-half years.

Ever since the lawful arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Canada, and the retaliatory hostage-taking of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor by China, we have experienced firsthand the true nature of the Chinese Communist Party.

While engaging in hostage diplomacy is the most obvious example, we cannot forget the PRC is still using economic coercion against our agriculture sector. Beijing is also involved in routine foreign disinformation, interference and influence operations in Canada, as well as coercing diaspora communities in Canada to serve PRC regime purposes, such as the illegal transfer of sensitive Canadian technologies to China. What’s more, Beijing engages in cyber attacks and espionage against Canada and our democratic friends around the world.

In recent years, the PRC regime has stealthily acquired considerable editorial control of most Chinese language media in Canada.

Last week’s forced closure of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily with the arrest of its founder, Jimmy Lai, and his brave journalist colleagues means the last Chinese language source of informed, unbiased commentary on China’s Communist Party’s policies, hidden agendas and political corruption has been silenced. The Apple Daily was a key rallying point for upholding true Chinese liberal democracy. The tragedy of its demise cannot be overstated. The PRC has crushed a once thriving democracy in Hong Kong.

The kidnapping of Kovrig and Spavor is symptomatic of the kind of regime that we are dealing with. It threatens neighbours with its growing military. It is quite clearly engaging in genocide against its Uyghur population. These horrendous affronts against the liberal world order are all linked as the CCP seeks to establish global dominance at the expense of Canada and our democratic allies.

Despite all this, and despite Canadians’ increasing suspicion of the regime in Beijing, we still see all sorts of painfully bad takes on China in Western media that pretend to ignore these hard lessons. Take for instance the recent Globe and Mail article by University of British Columbia professor Paul Evans and Senator Yuen Pau Woo, who have adopted the Chinese Communist Party’s rhetoric wholesale.

Just like the PRC’s own apologists, Evans and Woo claim that criticism of the domestic and international policies of the PRC regime in China is driving anti-Chinese racism in Canada. Yes, some researchers did find that discrimination against Chinese Canadians has been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Evans and Woo are wrong to twist the story by using such findings to deflect criticism of Beijing.

Evans and Woo suggest that raising concerns about the CCP’s foreign disinformation and propaganda wing, the United Front Work Department, is not only exaggerated but contributes to “racial profiling and stigmatization.” Yet they offer little detail on how this criticism, often from highly reputable sources like Western intelligence agencies and scholars and experts on national security, is exaggerated as opposed to being fair and well-reasoned.

The authors ignore the fact that many of the regime’s most passionate critics are themselves of Chinese descent.

In their flawed logic, condemning the broad scope of belligerent and deplorable actions of the regime “sensationalizes” China to the detriment of the Chinese people. In so doing, they take a tactic from the CCP’s own playbook, as accusations of “sensationalism” are often used by the Chinese government against their own critics, at home and abroad.

The same can be said about their casual dismissal of concerns about “elite capture” (influence by the regime over Canadian political and business leaders) as a modern-day equivalent of McCarthyism, or their willingness to condemn the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice for investigating and prosecuting professors and researchers of Chinese descent for espionage. In this view, the “toxic atmosphere” is not caused by China’s sharp power tactics against Canada and the U.S., but by those who point them out.

Chinese, Tibetan, Uyghur and Hong Kong critics of the Chinese regime routinely face bullying and intimidation, including threats of death or sexual violence, right here in Canada. But this does not concern the authors of the Globe article. Rather, they argue that Canada needs to show greater tolerance for views that are indistinguishable from the propaganda of the regime; otherwise, they warn, Chinese Canadians will face discrimination.

The authors ignore the fact that many of the regime’s most passionate critics are themselves of Chinese descent. They neglect to mention that the principal oppressor of the Chinese people is in fact the CCP itself. Calling this out is not racist; it is empowering to those who live in China and risk imprisonment for merely expressing opinions that the regime finds distasteful.

Worse still, this article from Evans and Woo is hardly an isolated statement from the authors; it certainly is not out of character. Most recently, Woo doubled down on repeating the rhetoric used by the wolf warriors in China’s Embassy in Ottawa, arguing that Canada cannot be critical of China’s ongoing genocide in Xinjiang due to Canada’s own deeply problematic history with residential schools.

This classic whataboutism is obviously not concerned about racial inequality or the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples, but again, defending the PRC regime against criticism for its abhorrent human rights abuses. The fact of Canada’s appalling history of gross mistreatment of indigenous peoples makes us Canadians even more sensitized to the evil of crimes against humanity being committed by autocratic racist regimes in China and elsewhere in the world. Woo has it exactly backwards.

Let’s not be fooled by the Chinese regime’s propaganda: President Xi and his Communist Party cronies are not our friends, they have no intention of treating us as equals, and they will go to great lengths to achieve ends that are fundamentally opposed to our interests and values.

Chinese people, and the Chinese diaspora in Canada and around the world, are the ones who will suffer most if we ignore these truths and choose instead the perverse path of appeasement.