Archive for the ‘Canadian politics’ Category

Toronto Mayoral Debate 04/09/14

September 5, 2014
Toronto Region Board of Trade and The Globe And Mail newspaper sponsored the latest Toronto mayoral candidate debate yesterday. I watched it live on-line.
A bit of context for Canadians not living  in Toronto and those outside Canada:  many of you know of our city in recent years primarily because of Mayor Rob Ford.  His misadventures are well chronicled elsewhere. For immediate purposes know this.  Ford, whose political career would have ended in disgrace months ago in many jurisdictions, remains mayor of Toronto albeit with curtailed powers. He is also a viable candidate for re-election.
As for yesterday’s debate:
John Tory, an experienced broadcaster-business person-politician, did well. It’s as if he’s suddenly on political steroids. Good to see him being energetic and (amazingly) funny.
Lamentably, Ford did well (again.) He has the corporate, right-wing populist thing down to a T-dot. He’s overtly ant-intellectual, aggressive and refers to himself in the 3rd person like a professional athlete. His approach will continue to work with significant numbers of the disaffected and angry. The good news is that he did not flat out win this debate as he had done previously (very evident to those who watched.)
Olivia Chow who gave up a seat in the Canadian parliament to seek election as mayor seems about to make herself an also ran. She thinks being nice will make her mayor. Odd because her late husband Jack Layton, NDP leader and briefly federal opposition leader before his untimely death in 2011, was, among many other things, a tough, but usually fair and rational, political street fighter of the first water. Like Layton, Chow had a previous  career in Toronto municipal politics, the milieu where the couple met and first worked together.
Entrepreneur and former city councillor David Soknacki is smart and well informed but irrelevant.  Someone should tell him acronyms are meaningless to most people.
So…unless Chow throws her support to Tory in the next few weeks, it could shape up to a tight two person race. Team Ford clearly wants and expects a duel with Tory. Who better to slander with their ‘elitist’ tag?
 A poll from earlier this week showing Tory with a substantial lead is one of a kind. If that’s a trend, good. However, most polls that I have seen show Tory leading Ford by 3-5 points – that’s almost a statistical tie.
Scariest ‘take away’ from yesterday’s debate: addiction, homophobia, serial lying and misogyny are not at issue. Only in fordlandia.
It says here Ford can still win because he can out campaign and out bully Tory from here to the finish line.
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Worth Repeating (1)

July 5, 2014

From Marcus Gee, The Globe And Mail, Toronto in regards to Rob Ford and the polity that spawned him:

“Despite everything that has happened over the past year, there have been few examples of open public outrage at the humiliation and turmoil Rob Ford has visited on the city. Where are the marches and demonstrations? Where is the outcry from leaders of the business, the universities or the arts?

A city like New York or Chicago would long ago have found a way to hustle a person such as Mr. Ford off the stage. In Toronto, we sigh and wait for someone to do something.”

Full article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/toronto-could-use-more-shirtless-jogger-brand-outrage/article19438635/

 

 

Ontario Provincial Election 2014

June 13, 2014

This election provides further proof that campaigns matter. It was lost by the New Democratic Party and Progressive Conservatives more than it was won by Premier Kathleen Wynne. Wynne’s Liberals had been been in power for 11 years. The government she inherited from former premier Dalton McGuinty was tainted by serial scandals.

Andrea Horwath of the NDP and humiliated, now outgoing PC Tim Hudak join the likes of British Columbia’s Adrian Dix and Québec’s Pauline Marois in the annals of Canadian PoliSci101 under the rubric ‘how not to wage a provincial election campaign.’

Says here that Ms. Horwath was correct to defeat the Liberals in the legislature. She then proceeded to conduct a thick-headed campaign. For example, her NDP once had some environmental credibility. Promising to reduce car insurance rates for urban drivers in the era of climate change? Good social democratic and environmental policy, Ms. Horwath!

Further, like the governing Grits and the diminished Tories, Horwath’s NDP stands for a separate, publicly funded, Catholic school system in Ontario. For the NDP, a self-described social democratic movement aimed at equitable use of taxpayers’ money, this is an aching policy contradiction. In Ontario politics, the silence around this issue, resolved long ago in some Canadian jurisdictions, is deafening. Former provincial PC leader John Tory (now a Toronto mayoral candidate) once proposed an ill-conceived, but much fairer arrangement. It cost him an election. No ‘major party’ leader has gone near the matter since. In this election, among significant parties only the Greens stood for a secular school system.

Other ‘takeaways’:

1. slightly more than 50% of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot. That’s grim news. As an educator, I observed scant awareness and interest in the election among the college and university students I teach. Troubling.

2. I agree with those who are suggesting that Ontarians deserves a pat on the back for not making Premier Wynne’s sexual orientation an issue. Kudos.

3. As a bilingual Ontarian, I suggest that the lack of French in the campaign, in a province with a sizeable Francophone population, was lamentable. Neither Horwath nor Hudak bothered to say a word en français as they bowed out last night. Wynne’s efforts to use French, even though she speaks it poorly, are commendable. Keep it up, Ms. Wynne. One day you might speak it as well as Stephen Harper!

4. Speaking of Prime Minister Harper. Last night’s result could be good news for him. Like neighbouring Québécois, Ontarians often choose balance in provincial – federal power. As Ontario’s debt and de-industrializing realities continue to take hold in the next year or so, Wynne’s government could well make some unpopular choices. That might just provide an opportunity for Harper’s Tories in the 2015 federal election.

Best of 2013

December 30, 2013

Presenting a somewhat random and certainly subjective list of stuff that moved and impressed me most in the past year:

Best rock ‘n roll moment – Patti Smith spits on the Massey Hall stage, Toronto

Best concert – Brian Wilson + Jeff Beck, Sony Centre, Toronto

Runner up – The Master Musicians of Jajouka, Villa Medici, Roma

Best performance – Wilco + Feist + Richard Thompson doing Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”, Molson Ampitheatre, Toronto

Best fiction films – Blue Jasmine; Gravity; Philomena; Prisoners; Unforgiven (Japanese version)

Best actors – Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis); Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners); Ken Watanabe (Unforgiven)

Best actresses – Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine); Judy Dench (Philomena), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

Best nonfiction film – El Alcalde http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2248996/

Best Canadian JournalismThe Toronto Star for its coverage of Rob Ford

Best Canadian social sciences peer reviewed article – Ian Mosby, “Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942–1952” Histoire sociale/Social history, Volume 46, Number 91, Mai-May 2013

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2014!

Thinking of Rob Ford

November 28, 2013

As Rob Ford careers along his disastrous course, people the world over ask themselves, ‘What the heck is going on in Toronto?’ How could a city touted as a global model of good sense, safe streets and multiculturalism elect an unsavory buffoon like Ford as mayor? As a citizen of Toronto for most of my life, I shall attempt to respond.

First an etymological note: a few days after the events of November 18th, by which time Ford’s powers and budget had been seriously contained by city council, I dare say the coast is clearing somewhat. BRAVO, city council! Consequently, I have personally chosen to restore to the city its proper name , Toronto. ‘otnorot’ – which I’ve employed for the last year or so as the Ford catastrophe gathered momentum was chosen to suggest the backward state of our politics. I hereby set it aside. Hopefully, for good.

A wee summary of events for international readers. Ford, a long-serving city councilperson, was elected mayor in 2010. He replaced the outgoing mayor by campaigning on a tax cutting, pro-automobile campaign. His rule has been controversial all the while due to his strong views and belligerence. He withstood a conflict of interest civil suit. In May 2013, a video was shown to some members of the media that seemed to show Ford smoking crack cocaine. He denied the allegation. In recent weeks, Toronto police acknowledged the video’s existence and revealed they had been investigating Ford’s ties to criminals. Within days, Ford admitted to smoking the crack and drunk driving. He instantly became an international news phenomenon. He refuses to resign, but Toronto city council has severely limited his authority.

The gong show that provided fodder to comics and, found its way to international newscasts and late night American talk shows has abated for now. However, the positive developments of the past week do not mean that Ford is gone. I’m somewhat disturbed that the mayor’s antics provided comic relief. There’s nothing funny about Ford’s record on public transportation and affordable housing. The fact appears to be that his core supporters are sticking with him even though city council, including the majority of his principal allies, have deserted him. He adamantly refuses to step aside, even temporarily. It would appear that unless he is charged with a criminal offence or his health fails, he will be running for re-election in October 2014. More disturbingly, polls released in recent days suggest that he retains significant popular approval. Huh? Yes, you read correctly. Rob Ford, now exposed as a serial liar, having admitted to smoking crack cocaine and driving a car under the influence of alcohol while in office, retains an approval rating of just over 40 per cent.

How do we make sense of this? Jerôme Lussier with l’actualité, a French language Canadian magazine, has argued that Ford presents a particular sort of political attraction. (http://bit.ly/1e95Doo) Rather than offering voters a vision of something bigger and better than themselves, Ford’s very appeal is based in his loutish, inarticulate, ill-disciplined, taunting, uncivil manner. His political essence perhaps encourages voters to subconsciously feel that their own weaknesses and their own anger at shadowy elites are OK. His banality appeals.

Ford taps a resentment of elites even though he personally is privileged. People don’t want to believe that strong man politics works, but obviously it can. In his bumptious way, Ford exhibits some of the bullying, resilient characteristics of right-wing populism that produces a Berlusconi or even Mussolini during his rise to power. Such politicians can muster enormous support and devotion among their followers. Ford is a Toronto mutation of the theme. In his 2010 campaign, Ford made false claims about the level of immigration in Toronto. He was caught in lies about previous problems with alcohol and marijuana and about a public confrontation at a professional hockey game. He won the election.

The mystery of his appeal may also lie in some other unpleasant truths about Toronto. Ford reflects powerful sentiments of anti-environmentalism. While teaching at the University of Toronto, the great cultural theorist and scholar Northrop Frye wrote about ‘a garrison mentality’ at work in the collective Canadian psyche. I suspect that the impulse remains operational in Toronto and can provide for political success. In that 2010 election, Ford campaigned overtly against the expansion of effective public transportation and improving conditions for bicyclists.

In fact, Ford’s overt campaign against above-ground public transportation is one reason for the support he continues to enjoy. Toronto is a city of car addicts. The use of public transportation is a marker of class distinction in a way it no longer is in London, Paris or New York. Even avowed environmentalists routinely use cars in the downtown area. Ford and his ilk stoke the perception that public transportation is for the poor. The message is simple: if you’re a winner, you drive a fossil fuel burning car. In this respect, Ford’s signature shiny black Cadillac Escalade sports utility vehicle means he’s not so much an exception as an exemplar of deeply held civic mores and economic ambitions.

Unlike Copenhagen or Montréal, Toronto is distinctly unfriendly to the bicyclist despite enjoying favourable weather for about eight months of the year. There is precisely one street in the downtown core with a safe dedicated bike lane. Like the solitary wind turbine just west of downtown, that lonely bike lane bears testimony to a city where environmentalism is often more marketing tool and political rhetoric than a lived experience. In that light, it’s not surprising that Rob Ford found fertile ground for his mayoral ambitions.

In addition to dismissing bicyclists as losers, Ford also made political hay in opposing a fully funded proposal for light rail transit (LRT) to Scarborough, an eastern suburb of Toronto, in favour of a subway. The plan that Ford quashed would have seen that LRT already under construction with a proposed completion date of 2015. The new subway plan that he championed will not be completed until at least 2023, at a much greater cost and requiring a municipal tax hike. Yet, Ford is lauded by himself and his supporters a champion of the taxpayer’s best interest. Tellingly, Ford did not act alone in this subway fiasco. Council helped him reverse earlier plans. The same Liberal provincial government that now has taken its distance from Ford over his personal misbehaviour cynically supported his subway plan in order to win a by-election in the area. In 2013 in Toronto politics, that kind of thinking that says that  ‘roads are for cars and trucks’ is a winning strategy – with or without Ford.

First time visitors to the city who are  flying in from abroad are often surprised to learn there is no rail link between the airport and the city. As they enter the downtown area via limousine or taxi along a crumbling elevated expressway, they will pass by, to these eyes,  a rapidly expanding, hideous array of steel and glass condos and office towers that crowd the shore of Lake Ontario cutting the lake from sight of average Toronto citizens. Such developments are precisely the visible signs of supposed economic progress that fuel the politics of a Rob Ford. Garrison mentality indeed.

There is much to like about Toronto. We enjoy relative multicultural harmony. The arts scene is exciting. Our streets are extraordinarily safe and peaceful by global standards. Unlike some American cities, Toronto has many fine, diverse neighbourhoods in the downtown area. This was true before Ford’s 2010 election and remains so. What has been lost due to Ford? Meaningful progress on public transportation has been severely curtailed. A tone of civility and intelligence has been tarnished as a bullying, antagonistic style of leadership found a path to political success.

There’s no question that Ford is weakened…at least for now. Even the governing federal Canadian Tories have cut bait. Employment Minister Jason Kenney, one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s most trusted colleagues and an architect of the Conservatives’ successful wooing of voters in immigrant communities in the Toronto suburbs, asked Ford to resign. In his remarks en français, Kenney called the Ford situation “bordélique” which means extremely slovenly and inappropriate, but translates literally as ‘like a bordello’. A few days earlier, Harper had released a statement that called the Ford matter “troubling”.

Ford recently told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that he had experienced a ‘Jesus moment’ and that voters would be presented with a new man in time for his 2014 campaign for re-election. The potential redemption of Rob Ford will focus the challenge of the true meaning and real appeal of his politics. From my vantage point, the outcome is very uncertain.

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This article was originally published in The Journal of Wild Culture http://www.wildculture.com/article/understanding-rob-ford-political-animal/1332

 

Walter Lewis Robbins, 1926-2012 Long may he run!

July 23, 2012

Walter Lewis Robbins died on Wednesday, July 18 2012 in a Kingston, Ontario hospice. He was lovingly surrounded by his family.

Walter was my father-in-law. I admire him hugely. Walter was an unrepentant social democrat, a wondrous fiddler, an environmentalist, husband, father and grandfather.

Walt and the family moved to Canada from Washington D.C. after the election of Richard Nixon. He had served as a civil servant in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. In Winnipeg, he first put his War on Poverty experience to work for the NDP government of Ed Schreyer. Walter Robbins was among those gifted, left-leaning Americans of conscience who came to Canada during the Nixon and Vietnam war eras. He made a significant contribution to Canada where he lived for 40 years.

He was a wonderful father-in-law to me. Thank-you, Walter. Peace and love.

An Open Letter to Loaf Fans

April 6, 2012

Item:  Toronto Maple Loafs fail to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 7th consecutive year.

Memo to Loaf fans in the so-called ‘Loaf Nation’: it is SERIOUSLY time to get a life. Believe this: the team will not win a Stanley Cup in your lifetimes; heck, it might not even make the playoffs. A proposed cure – anytime you want to root for the Loafs think of 300 pound+ Toronto Mayor Rob Ford naked. Then move on.

PS If you are a self confessed member of Loaf Nation and you voted for Ford, there is probably no hope for your recovery.

UPDATE: Toronto the Ugly

February 22, 2012

So Mayor Rob Ford got a lesson from city council about public transit that he didn’t like: it’s impossible to have anything approaching a twenty-first century system relying exclusively on subway expansion. The Mayor wants roads for cars alone.

Having been taught a lesson, Ford lashed back with a political lynching. Top public transit civil servant Gary Webster was ousted by Ford acolytes in an absolutely unseemly procedure. This after Ford deemed council’s view on transit “irrelevant”.

Toronto is now a city in which bullying and intimidation of loyal, effective civil servants is politically acceptable. That means dark days indeed for democracy .

Toronto: Year of the Bully

January 31, 2012

Rob Ford has been mayor of the city I live in for over a year now. It’s an odd experience.  You see I am convinced that Rob Ford doesn’t even like Toronto.

When he’s not insulting his opponents for being “left of Stalin”, Ford simply lets his brother pile on the dirt.  Can you think of another city in North America, in which the mayor’s henchman, in this case, his brother Doug, would gratuitously goad a leading cultural figure such as Margaret Atwood? Wouldn’t a writer of Atwood’s stature be part of the Toronto brand to any sensible mayor?

In recent days, Ford has insisted he’s restricting development of public transit to the building of subways. This in opposition to any credible analysis of Toronto gridlock and even, recently, to the dismay of some of his own followers on city council as well as the head of the Toronto Transit Commission. Some even believe the mayor overstepped his legal authority in signing a death warrant for a long negotiated transit plan that sat on his desk when he assumed power.

As he travels into work from the western edge of the city in Etobicoke in his now famous van, Ford must be blind to the prevailing situation. In his warped perception, the answer to too many cars is… more cars.

Ford knows his constituency: a  largely suburban based pocket of resentments about taxes and elites that’s an approximation of the American ‘Tea Party’. Yes, the city requires better management. It also requires a twenty-first century system of public transit. It also cries out for a political discourse based on more than posturing and bullying.

A lot can be learned about politicians by observing how they address their own. Ford uses The Toronto Sun newspaper and right-leaning talk radio to deliver the raw meat to his true believers. His self congratulatory year end interview to the Sun (Dec. 18, 2011) and the infamous Stalin comparison on AM640 in Toronto are classics of a kind.

Some commentators, like the Star’s Chris Hume, believe that the bully has had his day and that his powers will be circumscribed by council. I’m not so sure. His cringe worthy public weight loss campaign is a publicity master stroke.  And, above all, let’s not forget that this is the city that elected Mr. Ford in late October 2010.

What I do know is when Toronto’s competitors are getting in stride with a human agenda for the twenty-first century, our mayor is determined to go backwards. Ford’s election was an embarrassment to progressives in 2010. He shows no signs of changing his stripes even as he gets leaner.

Top Docs

January 6, 2012

In recent days, I had occasion to see both “Surviving Progress” and “Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie.” Both films rail against unbridled development and warn of the possibility of ecological catastrophe.

“Progress…” is based on ideas in a book and series of lectures by Ronald Wright. It’s a BIG IDEAS film which is threaded neatly with stunning visuals and provocative commentary from Wright and the likes of Margaret Atwood and the aforementioned Suzuki, among other deep thinkers.

Suzuki will be well known to Canadian readers – he’s been the leading figure in Canadian environmental and scientific broadcast journalism for decades. The film sprouts evocatively from clips from a ‘legacy’ lecture Suzuki delivered as he reached his 70s and began to scale back his public life. Like “Progress…”, this film, superbly directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, also touches on  ideas about the folly of limitless growth and the arrogance of contemporary economics.

The Suzuki film is remarkable for its intelligence, intimacy and sensitivity in revealing private aspects of a very public man. The film follows the arc of Suzuki’s life from forced removals of Japanese Canadian citizens during World War II, to the legacy of the nuclear bomb at Hiroshima, the American civil rights movement and aboriginal protests in Canada.