Democracy? M’eh.

March 7, 2012

The modern conservative species (genus: WTF?!) has often been a subject of consideration for us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. Our overriding impression is one of a political philosophy that has, ironically, strayed far from its traditional path. In short, theirs is not their grandfathers’ conservatism.

There remains a strain of belief, however, that has survived the centuries relatively intact. It’s that unease with the messy aspects of democracy we can trace back to, arguably, one of the movement’s founding voices, Edmund Burke, although it does him a great, great disservice to lump him in with today’s crowd even on that score. His reaction to the excesses of the French Revolution is what I’m referring to on this point. One, I’m sure, our friend Sol Chrom will take the time to straighten me out on.

Conservatives tolerate democracy, I’m saying. Barely. They boil it down to the basic element of elections. The governance that goes on in between is little more than a nuisance, the vagaries inherent in a system that endeavours to accommodate more than one voice, one point of view is vilified, discounted and suppressed.

For example, the pre-stable majority Conservatives in Ottawa. Twice as a minority government they were faced with parliamentary non-confidence, they sought extraordinary measures to wiggle free from out under it and shut down democracy. Any notion of a coalition replacing them as the governing party was couched in terms of being illegitimate, anti-democratic, a nefarious coup d’etat.

As the Robocalls outrage shows, even their successful bid to form a majority is tinted with an anti-democratic impulse. Rather than endeavour to expand their appeal by persuasive arguments and reaching out for a broader consensus, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives sought to misinform voters and to disenfranchise them. Dirty tricks instead of bright ideas. It’s all in the game, yo.

Here in Toronto, conservative supporters are aghast at a mayor losing control of city council, utilizing similar terminology to their federal counterparts. A coup. Illigetimacy. Back stabbing. Treacherous betrayal.

In recent days there has been some very fine pieces written about the current entanglement at City Hall. Open File’s John McGrath got it started last weekend with his post, Rob Ford, the TTC, and the crisis of legitimacy at Toronto City Hall. Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler responded with a spirited rebuttal, An Informed Dissent on City Hall. After the TTC debate and vote on Monday, the Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan weighed in beautifully, City Council is Supreme. The Grid’s Edward Keenan added his voice on the topic, So who’s running this city, anyway?, earlier today.

It is not my purpose to jump into that particular fray now aside from saying I don’t believe we’re witnessing any sort of crisis of legitimacy more than a crisis of leadership. Yes, there are probably some adjustments that could be considered to reduce the fractiousness that arises between the single so-called mayoral mandate and those of 44 councillors. Electing more citywide representatives might be a step in that direction but that’s for another post.

No, my concern here is the reaction of conservative voices to Mayor Ford’s diminishing position on council. The inchoate screeds from the Toronto Sun’s Sue Ann Levy are to be expected. Any reversal of fortune the mayor encounters will always be the devious, underhanded work of pampered left wing, kooky socialists to her mind, such as it is. It only begs for schoolyard nicknames.

But such baseless outpouring of drivel from Marcus Gee of the Globe and Mail is far more troubling. Messy political infighting plunges City Hall into chaos screams the headline of his article on Tuesday. ‘Low rent borgias’, ‘a power-drunk left-wing opposition’, he labelled those who took control of the TTC from the mayor on Monday. He states: The mayor is badly hobbled, but who runs the show in his place? before concluding As fascinating as it is to watch all this ad hocery, it leaves Toronto with a drifting, leaderless government at a time when it needs firm direction more than ever.

I’ve never met Mr. Gee but, from a distance, he seems like an amiable enough chap. While I think it safe to call him conservative leaning, he hardly comes across in his writing as some sort promoter of authoritarianism. Yet, here he is predicating the successful, smooth running of a city with the powerful leadership of one person, the mayor. Without that, well, we’re plunging into the darkness of chaos. Oh my god, the PTA is disbanding!

Such a sentiment is not only highly anti-democratic but it also suggests a very blinkered view of the workings of our municipal government. And to promote the notion that the 29 councillors voting to assume control of the TTC from the mayor who has badly fumbled the transit file are driven by nothing more than left-wing ideology is, well, pure fabrication. Since when did Councillor Karen Stintz become left wing? Or councillors Gary, Crawford, Peter Milczyn, Cesar Palacio, John Parker, James Pasternak, Jaye Robinson, Gloria Lindsay Luby, Chin Lee, Josh Colle? By making such a claim, Mr. Gee is simply propagating the left-right storyline that the mayor regularly spouts.

Aside from the increasingly potent opposition to Mayor Ford not being ideologically cohesive, it spans the entirety of the city, further exploding the divisive urban-suburban myth the mayor so heavily relies on. There is not a former pre-amalgamation municipality not represented in the 29 councillors who stood up against the mayor on the TTC vote. Right of centre Etobicoke councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby joined forces with leftie Scarborough councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker as part of the team with North York centrist Councillor Jaye Robinson and champagne sipping, downtown socialist Councillor Gord Perks.

We should be celebrating this move toward a city wide conciliation instead of shrieking about the collapse of local democracy. Why do we think that one person steamrolling over 22 others to fulfill a mandate or agenda is how a city best runs? While it might fit nicely into a lazy narrative, it is profoundly autocratic loving. Sadly, it also passes as rigid conservative orthodoxy these days.

happily submitted by Cityslikr


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