Sure, there’s a pandemic brewing in Asia, Brexit is tearing Europe asunder, and our neighbours to the south are descending into autocracy and social disintegration, but up here in Ontario things remain pretty much normal; I’m relieved to report that the controversy du jour, overwhelming in its implications if the volume of media coverage is any indication, involves licence plates. You know, licence plates – the tags that attach to the fronts and rears of automobiles. The Provincial government, always keen to make trivial trouble and display its incompetent ham-handedness in matters of limited import that were well enough left alone, has decided to change not only the colour of the plates, but the admittedly banal slogan that’s printed below the number/letter field.
The current Ontario licence plate looks like this:
Boring? OK. Unimaginative? Granted. None of us cared all that much, though, and it seemed to do the job in an uncontroversial Upper Canadian sort of fashion, even though as a provincial mission statement “Yours to Discover” can’t stir the blood in quite the same way as, say, “Live Free or Die”. Still, if it didn’t fire anybody up, it wasn’t about to put anybody’s nose out of joint either. Anyway, there’s a certain logic to it, I guess. It’s a big province, and we live here, right? In that sense it’s ours, all of it ours to discover if we choose, including the bits of it we may never have been to, big as it is. A good Ontarian could maybe take a first-time trip to Sudbury, see the Great Smokestack and the Big Nickel, or navigate the Moose River towards Hudson’s Bay and pop in on Moose Factory, which probably doesn’t boast the sort of manufacturing facility its name implies, though I’ve always wanted to check it out just to make sure. There’s other stuff too, like a canal that goes through Welland, maybe not as grand as the Erie Canal on the US side, but still, worth a visit some day, no doubt. You get the idea.
To Doug Ford, though, it must all have seemed so, well, liberal, so wishy-washy and middle-of-the-road. First off, the colour – white? How blah. How rote. Much better if it was a nice, solid, Tory blue. And the slogan – ho-hum. Anybody’s province is theirs to discover, isn’t it? If you’re in P.E.I. you could go discover Cavendish, and an Albertan could discover Calgary, or the tar sands, maybe, so what’s so Ontarian about discovery? What was needed, thought Doug, was something that implied Central Canadian big shoulders, prosperity, economic power, that sort of thing, and thus:
There! Ha! A Place To Grow. Things grow here, get it? The population grows! The economy grows! Businesses grow! So come live in Ontario and grow, why don’t you? You don’t want to hang around in the sucky Maritimes, or Quebec, for God’s sake, things frigging shrink around those parts. Also, as all red-blooded Ontarians will know by heart, the new slogan replicates a sentiment from the old, beloved provincial song, an inspirational tour de force written in 1967 that went, in part:
A place to stand!
A place to grow!
I’m inspired! You are too, I’ll bet. There’s just one little glitch, unfortunately, one nasty little fly in the ointment, which members of various Ontario police departments, keen to exploit the intended functionality of licence plates as a means of identifying individual cars, have been spoilsports enough to point out:
See, the selected colour scheme makes them almost impossible to make out at any distance, especially at night. Reports are that this isn’t just bad for cops, it’s bad for the photo radars that ding vehicle owners for driving on toll roads.
On top of that, Douggie is having second thoughts about the inspiring slogan. “Growth” is fine and all that, but it’s sort of generic and apolitical too, isn’t it, I mean plants grow, kittens and puppies grow, even crystals grow, and none of that has anything to do with cutting regulations, slashing corporate taxes, and putting out the “welcome” mat for enterprising capitalists. A better catch phrase, Douggie thinks, would be “Open for Business”. Apparently there’s been some internal party debate about this, so it’s going to be an option, and drivers can choose whether to promote business (best choice), or just growth (sub-optimal, but OK), when they slap on their next new set of plates. Either way, though, it’s optimistic, way more uplifting than just going around and discovering things, and that’s progress of a sort the hated Liberals could never bring themselves to achieve. Meaningful accomplishments like this are indeed just the sort of runs the Ford government was elected to put on the board, by gum. Just read the press release:
Now, those of a certain age will recall that “open for business” was also a slogan of the federal government under Brian Mulroney, who turned out to be a bit of a slime-wad, and whose general pro-American, pro-capitalist posture prompted lefty malcontent artists like Bruce Cockburn to quip that the nation was now “open for business like a cheap bordello”, but there’s a nice, Conservative ring to it nonetheless, which goes well with the Tory blue. Why should that be controversial? Why should that be a big deal? Doug won the election, and he figures that means he gets to put one of his campaign zingers on the licence plate. So what? The media, though, insists on making a whole hoo-ha out of it:
Pish, posh. Says Doug: I can tell you that people across this province want change. They voted for change, and they’re getting change.
Hear, hear. Given what’s going on every damned day next door in Trumpistan, this is just my speed. This is just the sort of disruptive ideologically-inspired change I can deal with.
And listen, as long as we’re at it, I’m on board for changing licence plates all over the place, ruffled feathers be damned. My beloved home province, Nova Scotia, supplies a good candidate, with its plate sporting this instead of something more memorably punchy:
Ocean playground? What is this, a second rate theme park? How about something a little more visceral? I’m suggesting Where Fisherfolk Venture to Die. Or Rocks and Moss and Gloom All Around. Or maybe Where the Capital Blew Up. Wait, I’ve got it – Canada’s Sea–Ravaged Fog Mansion.
And how about Nunavut?
The polar bear shape is fun, but with a name like Nunavut we can do a lot better than simply exhort people to go ahead and take a look around, just like Ontario did for all those years. A lot better. Imagine it! Nunavut Matters. Nunavut Happens Here. Nunavut’s Yours. Nunavut Helps. Nunavut’s Worth Visiting. Nunavut Bears Thinking About. It practically writes itself! Plus, think of the delightful political shitstorm!
Lord above, how wonderful to live in a place that can still work itself into a lather over licence plates. You go, Douggie. You brave the slings and arrows and declare Ontario open for business, and if that loses you the next election, better still.