The Drunken Mennonite Gets Political

Elections Ontario
image from elections.on.ca

This is it, folks. Time for the Mennonites of Ontario to flex our political clout. Just like the Amish PAC did down south in Pennsylvania.

Except not like that at all.

Ok – there are a few similarities to the 2016 US Presidential elections. Apart from the obvious comparisons between the Tory leader here and the populist leader down south, it’s looking like a tight race. One where even a few hundred Mennonite votes might make a difference.

You wouldn’t know by looking in the mainstream Mennonite press that there’s an election about to happen in the biggest province in Canada (by population not area) or that Mennonites could play a pivotal role.

The Mennonite press rarely talks politics – except to tell us to pray before voting – because it: a) doesn’t want to antagonize an audience that spans the political spectrum and; b) wouldn’t be able to get government grants if it started sounding partisan.

I, on the other hand, am under no such constraints. Because a) if I haven’t antagonized my audience yet, a little political chitchat doesn’t stand a chance of succeeding and; b) no government grants.

Unlike in the US, none of the political parties are actively courting the Mennonite vote. It is possible that the politicos here think that we can’t vote as a bloc. Which is a fair point. If we can’t even agree on the hymn number of our favorite song, how could we possibly agree on politics? We may come together once a year for quilts and apple fritters but that doesn’t mean we can come together on issues like public education and tax cuts.

Or they might think we’re too small a group to matter. At last count, there were about 59,000 Mennonites in Ontario which isn’t much in a province of 13.6 million. If we weren’t clustered in just a few key ridings and it weren’t such a tight race, we wouldn’t matter at all to the political landscape.

Some people might also think that it is a forgone conclusion that Mennonites are socially and politically conservative. This is patently false but it is true that some Mennonites do find the Tory politicians appealing. Many a Mennonite see themselves as small business people and the Tories have traditionally positioned themselves as the party of entrepreneurs. Though our Menno millionaires tend to choose more respectable fields of enterprise – traditionally making their money by running grocery store chains, nursing homes, or party venues, for example –  it’s not inconceivable that a Mennonite could feel a connection to a former drug-dealing titan of stickers and decals.

Ok – it’s not very conceivable but it’s possible. Doug Ford is not likely to ever be called “a humble entrepreneur.” Characterized more by braggadocio than humility and community-mindedness, he is anything but the quiet in the land. But there’s a folksiness to him that some Mennonites might possibly like.

I don’t think even they would like the tone he’s taken, however, in criticizing the NDP candidates – especially one whose greatest sin appears to have been a reluctance to participate in some of the manifestations of Remembrance that glorify war; one who said she wears her peace pin instead of a poppy. Under Ford’s treatment, a woman’s quiet pledge of pacifism that, according to her full blog post, recognizes the tragedy of war, became a “long history of slandering veterans.” Twitter commentators in his camp range from those wishing her dead to those equating not wearing a poppy to killing Jews in a concentration camp.

Though this particular NDP candidate is not a Mennonite, the attacks on her for a comment taken out of context have a familiar ring that resounds through our spiritual DNA. Patriotic jingoism is never the friend of the Mennonite and if there’s a chance to vote as a bloc, it should be in opposition to one who considers it an ally.

So, if we exercise our power as a Mennonite voting bloc, let us not do so in the manner alleged of the Amish PAC in Pennsylvania to bring in a Mini-Trump in Ontario.

I know that some Mennonites are wary of the NDP, fearing them for their apparent alliance with organized labour with which these same Mennonites have had an uneasy relationship. But, as Andrea Horwath said in the latest debate, this is not 1990. Not only does that mean that the economy and the issues are different now, but also that concern about powerful labour lobbies just isn’t so relevant today what with the decline of the big unions. What’s more, the NDP has surprisingly emerged as the friend of the farmer and of small business. Yeah – most of us Mennonites aren’t farmers anymore and plenty of us aren’t small business people either. But we remember our roots.

There are only a few ridings where a Mennonite voting bloc could tip the balance. I am told that Kitchener-Conestoga is on the edge, as is Markham-Stouffville and Chatham-Kent-Leamington. That’s what the pollsters think anyway but I don’t think any of their fancy models have actually considered the Menno bloc.


The Menno BlocMennoBloc

Here’s a nice refreshing cocktail to sip on voting day. A basic gin and tonic for a summer day with the added twist of rhubarb syrup and just a splash of elderflower. It’s ok without the elderflower as well.

  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz rhubarb syrup
  • 1/4 oz elderflower liqueur
  • 6 oz tonic water

Mix the gin, syrup and elderflower in the bottom of a tall glass. Add tonic and ice, stirring gently. Garnish with rhubarb stalk.

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