Democracy Only Happens Every 4 Years

March 14, 2011

What’s the right wing’s beef with democracy?

They win an election and think debate and opposition ends there. Witness the assault on parliamentary practice by the Conservatives in Ottawa since 2006. A dubious use of prorogation or two, an utterly absurd denigration of the concept of a coalition in a minority situation, all under the tight rein of a highly centralized, secretive and paranoid PMO that, if it had a human face, would be Frank Burns of M*A*S*H fame.

Here too in Toronto, right wingers newly installed into power have shown contempt for all those who dare stand, opposed. The attitude is most on exhibit if you can muster the courage to fight through one Sue-Ann Levy’s Toronto Sun screeds. (The Ford administration’s court jester and loyal stenographer screeds in person too, as I witnessed at last Wednesday night’s special city council meeting.) To Ms. Levy’s mind, such as it is, those displeased with the moves the mayor is making are “gravy train-enabling, public teat-sucking, union-loving…”, “shilling” for this or that, “leftist hangers-on and despicable leftist hypocrites”, the lot of them.

No, no. They couldn’t be principled, honorable or at all justifiably concerned in their disagreement with Mayor Ford. Merely self-interested fat cats, only in it for themselves unlike the mayor who is just looking out for the little guy. In fact, why can’t they simply be quiet and let Robbie straighten this city out? That would be the selfless thing to do. Why do we even have to waste all this time with debates? City council should be run more like a business, as Sue-Ann scribbles down the thoughts of the mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug, himself no big fan of anyone with the temerity to challenge his views. When the gallery failed to fawn over his common guy schtick at Wednesday night’s meeting, he called them ‘whiners’. “It’s a three-ring circus,” he said of the council meetings to date. “We debate five or six hours when we all know the end result.”

When we all know the end result…

It’s as if they, having won the election last October, think everyone should just roll over and go back to sleep until 2014. Resistance is now not only futile but bordering on anarchy. Maybe in this mayor’s case that kind of thinking makes perfect sense. He spent his decade as a councillor out on the political fringes. Now it’s their turn. And by ‘their’, the mayor means anyone who doesn’t fall into line behind him.

While this winner-take-all view of democracy has, much to its detriment, historical traction in a parliamentary system, city hall doesn’t work like that. The mayor is one vote of forty-five and on every issue that comes before council to be voted on, he must marshal 22 others if he wants to pass a motion. So no end result can be taken as a given. Yes of course there is a lot of backroom (and not so backroom) arm twisting that goes into securing support but debate just comes with the territory. As do the crowds in council chambers when important matters surface that stir the public’s emotions. Diminishing them or the manner in which bylaws are brought into being reveals a disturbing anti-democratic sensibility.

During the TCHC debate on Wednesday night, Councillor Ford estimated that there were about 300, 400 tenants in the gallery. To him that meant there were still nearly 160,000 tenants who supported what they wanted to do with the board. Absence equals support. At two different heated debates this year, the mayor claimed that of all the feedback he’d received, 99% were supportive. 99%, really? You see? Not only are they with us. God too must be on our side. So get with the program and stop your whining.

The more forceful the attempts at diminishing opponents with personal invective, the less likely your argument will stand up in the sunlight of reason. Quote all the questionable polls you want, Sue-Ann Levy, but let’s see some of that support with boots on the ground. Give me just a tiny show of that 99% of the city that’s behind you, Mr. Mayor. Where are all those folks, coming out to council meetings, exhorting the mayor and his followers to stay strong and persevere? And if you even reflexively were about to say, we’ve got jobs, no, what you’ve got is the rhetorical skills of a child. You might’ve just as well said, ‘No, you shut up’ which is, essentially, exactly what Mayor Ford is telling those who disagree with him. No, you shut up.

I attended the budget deputations back in January up in North York, in the thick of the Ford Nation. If memory serves, of the 48 or so folks who I witnessed get up to speak, 3 were in favour of the budget draft the mayor was floating. That’s 1 in 16 or about 6%. A far cry from the 99% Mayor Ford likes to cite as being on his side. Where are they all? Sitting at home, firing off angry letters to the editor or online comments, while watching Celebrity Apprentice? Why don’t they think they have to do anything to actively support their views aside from vote every 4 years? Are reactionaries just lazy?

Or is it because their guy’s in power now? He’s already doing their bidding, so they can just sit back, relax and spend time figuring how to spend that $60 that came in the mail for the VRT rebate? If you feel the need to go out and protest in public or advocate for a cause, it’s just proof positive that your side has already lost. That’s basic, zero sum, modern politics, buddy. Deal with it.

slothily submitted by Cityslikr


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