Along-standing complaint against Canada’s national media is that so many newsrooms are based in Toronto. And, for years, accusations of “Toronto centrism” against publications like The Walrus have been all too richly earned. The fact is a huge number of the country’s journalists live and work in the country’s biggest city. But a couple of major shifts have started to turn that story around. One is the normalization of remote and hybrid work. Over the past couple of years, for example, we were able to deepen our coverage of Manitoba, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada simply because we finally have editorial staff based in those places; as many people now work across the country as in Ontario.
My own life has taken me more regularly to Ottawa, a city I’d previously known mainly as a tourist or from work trips that exposed me only to its more glamorous venues, like the National Arts Centre or Rideau Hall. That’s the face the city promotes to the world. Now, conversations with neighbours and new friends have revealed to me one of the daily realities of what it’s like to actually live and work there: the city’s astonishingly dysfunctional transit system.
“It takes you how long to get to work?”
“Your new trains weren’t even tested in snow?”
“The government is putting buses (those gas guzzlers) back on the road?”
Ordinarily, the failure of a regional transit system would be tough to cast as a major feature for a national media outlet. But, as more of the details behind the failure of Ottawa’s fledgling LRT came out, the more I could sell my colleagues on this Greek tragedy of Canadian transit theatre.
Another long-overdue shift in media is the increasing awareness that communities are best covered by journalists who aren’t outsiders. Historically, it has been common for a big-city reporter to be parachuted in to cover sensitive issues in a region they don’t know, often with only a few days to get up to speed. Thanks to the efforts of advocates, media organizations, and the expectations of readers themselves, it’s becoming better understood that subject matter expertise and connections to a community are the basis for informed reporting. At The Walrus, we try to assign a local journalist first, and if that’s not possible, we seek out someone with a good understanding of—and connections to—a community or issue.
We were thrilled when Carleton University journalism professor and Ottawa resident Brett Popplewell stepped forward to apply the reporting skills he brings to investigative features to the transit system in his hometown. His deadpan account of the story behind this eleven-year, over $6 billion saga, “Off the Rails,” is more than a detailed retelling of the project’s ups and downs. It leaves us asking: If Ottawa, the nation’s capital, cannot pull off a world-class transit system along environmentally conscious lines, what hope is there for anywhere else?
A number of stories in this issue benefit from the perspectives of insiders. In “Ground Rules,” Nupqu ʔa·kǂam’ / Troy Sebastian reports on the efforts of his Ktunaxa Nation as well as the Nuchatlaht in issuing legal challenges to resource extraction and development in the province of BC on the basis of territorial rights. And, in our cover story, “Bad Faith,” Rachel Browne draws on her personal experience with the Meeting House, an evangelical church, to characterize how so many members were taken in by its charismatic leaders whose abuse of their power and privilege has recently come to light.
Community—and what makes someone an insider—can be defined in different ways. In “The Deep End,” novelist Elisabeth de Mariaffi reviews a posthumous collection of short stories by Steven Heighton, a novelist, poet, and contributor to this magazine, who died in 2022. Her incisive, inquisitive evaluation of Heighton’s last work is a testament to the impact of this gentle giant of Canadian letters and a tribute to his significance to the Canadian literary community.
There are many kinds of communities in Canada, geography forming only the most obvious. And, as we enter this twentieth year in The Walrus’s history, we hope to cover the country and its people more broadly, inclusively, and insightfully than ever before.