Uncouth viewpoints of Morris minority belong to the past, not the future
April 8, 2013 2 Comments
“April is the cruelest month,” goes an old saying. It is certainly turning out that way in Morris, Manitoba, whose rise to national prominence in recent days has been painfully embarrassing.
“They should get the hell out of here . . . I don’t really like them, the service and who they are,” Morris area resident Aaron Kleinsasser said to a reporter about the two gay co-owners of a local restaurant.
The two are closing their restaurant, called Pots N Hands, and presumably leaving Morris, having grown tired of what they describe as small-minded and intolerant attitudes on the part of a minority of the local population.
If Kleinsasser’s comments were not enough, a member of Morris’s business community only made things worse with his comments to the Winnipeg Free Press:
George Ifandis, who runs George’s Burgers & Subs in town, said he has nothing against the eatery’s owners, but understands some customers might be uncomfortable with the men’s sexuality.
“A lot of people don’t like it,” said Ifandis. “You don’t know what they’re doing in the kitchen.”
What the two owners of the soon-to-close Pots N Hands restaurant in Morris might have been doing in the kitchen was left to the public’s imagination.
The reaction was fast and furious.
“I’m pretty sure I know what the gay chefs get up to in the kitchen,” wrote Pete Evans in response to Ifandis’s question. “Cooking your #$%^ing food.”
This blog’s opinion, as expressed on Twitter after Ifandis’s and Kleinsasser’s remarks were republished in the Montreal Gazette, Maclean’s and the National Post, is that their comments were uncouth and a stain on the province’s reputation.
Premier Greg Selinger, to his credit, did not appear to share some townfolk’s concern for what might be going on in the kitchen, quickly promising to visit Pots N Hands in person for lunch in the coming days.
Provincial opposition leader Brian Pallister, Morris mayor Gavin van der Linde and the town council and the local chamber of commerce have also publicly stated their support for the restaurant, and rejected the attitudes prompting the restaurant’s closure and Ifandis’s and Kleinsasser’s inflammatory comments.
It is currently unknown if either Ifandis or Kleinsasser have apologized or sought to retract their statements.
Meanwhile, a game of tit-for-tat unfolded on the Town of Morris’s Wikipedia page as unflattering discussion of the Pots N Hands incident was added, then deleted, then repeatedly re-added and re-deleted.
The Morris incident happened at about the same time as a Winnipeg man’s house was defaced by slurs spray-painted on to the outside walls, and a heated debate over whether a provincial government initiative to reduce sexual orientation-based bullying should apply to religious schools.
With both the town of Morris and the province of Manitoba trying to fight the perception of being laggards in terms of social tolerance, a troubling question needs to be asked: What if the perception is based on reality?
The following graph is based on a question that was asked on the 2011 Canadian Election Survey, a survey commissioned by academics to take the political pulse of the country during and just after every federal election campaign. To measure changing public attitudes on matters related to sexual orientation, they included a question asking respondents to describe how they feel about gays and lesbians. Respondents were asked to use a 0-to-100 scale, where a “0” meant really dislike and a “100” meant really like.
Two clusters seemed to emerge here: fairly relaxed attitudes on the coasts, with average scores of between 78 and 80 in Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and British Columbia, and slightly cooler attitudes in the 68-to-72 range in the rest of the country, particularly in the prairie provinces — with Manitoba finishing at the very bottom, tenth out of 10.
Why might Manitoba be lagging in this area? One strong possibility is the province’s low educational attainment rates, which in most years are either “the worst” or “among the worst” in Canada. As shown below, attitudes toward gays and lesbians — such as the owners of Pots N Hands — strongly correlate with educational attainment.
Prevailing attitudes also tend to vary by:
- Religiosity: Canadians who said religion was “very important” in their lives had markedly more traditional attitudes; while attitudes were roughly the same between those who were moderately religious and those who were decidedly secular.
- Age: Canadians born since 1970 are the most accepting in this regard; those born before 1940 the least accepting. This is a hopeful sign for future improvements.
- Voting behaviour: More liberal social atittudes were found among those who voted Green, NDP or, to a lesser extent, Liberal in the 2011 federal election. Bloc Quebecois and Conservative voters tended to be a bit more conservative on average.
- Gender: Women tended to be more accepting than men were.
The negativity the owners of Pots N Hands were exposed to here is, quite frankly, embarrassing for Manitoba.
People throughout Canada and around the world judge us by how tolerant or intolerant we appear to be. They judge us as a place to live, a place to visit and as a place to do business.
Think about the places around the world that people dream of living in someday, the societies people vote for with their feet and even risk their lives to get to, and on the opposite end, the places the young dream of leaving. You will see that the more accepting societies have always had an advantage in attracting the talented people that make their societies better places to live.
What the nation and the world have already read, seen or heard about Manitoba already coloured their perceptions of us in a matter of seconds. If they happen to have come to the unfortunate conclusion that we have a tolerance problem in Manitoba — regardless of whether that is a justified conclusion or not — it is a perception that will take years to reverse.
It is encouraging to see the premier and the Morris town administration take quick action to show the world Manitoba’s decent and gracious side, the same side that continues to welcome newcomers from around the world with an ease that contrasts with the angst over immigration found in many other countries.
Now, the most important thing to do to improve the perception of Manitoba as a fair-minded place where people can get along despite their differences is to work very hard on improving our relatively abysmal educational outcomes, as it is education that changes hearts, souls and minds for the better.