Hardly equipped to wade into the fallout of last night’s Alberta election except to say that both pollsters and more right wing types from the ‘Calgary School’ and on the interwebs must be feeling a little glum today.
“In Alberta yesterday, voters were given a choice between Principled Conservatism and Unprincipled Conservatism,” The Clown At Midnight wrote. “And Unprincipled Conservatism – populism — won the day. Boy, did they ever win the day…We can stop pretending that just because our views are principled, people will share them.”
The day before the election, University of Calgary economist Frank Atkins established what exactly was at stake on a segment of the CBC’s Sunday Edition. “This is the big question right now. What do Albertans want? Do they want to be true conservatives on the right or are Albertans actually drifting to the left?”
Apparently a majority of Albertans aren’t principled or true enough conservatives for some. But I’ll leave them to battle that one out.
What did jump out at me, though, from a city perspective was a glaring urban-rural/moderate-right wing divide. Once again, cities proved to be the righter wing’s Waterloo. The Wildrose Party won only two ridings in Calgary and none Edmonton. Since more than half the Albertan provincial seats are located in those two places, that’s a mountain the party’s going to have to scale at least partially if they ever want to form the government.
Which isn’t really the strong suit of the more hardcore conservative ideologues. Cities and true, principled conservatives seem to go together like oil and water, birds of different feathers or, in terms that a Wildrose supporter might understand, the Hatfields and McCoys. They don’t quite get us. They scare us.
At the federal level, Conservatives were able to pick off enough suburban ridings especially here around Toronto to form their majority government. What did we get in return? A pedestrian tunnel to our second, smaller airport. How about a national transit strategy? Yeah, no. We’re not that close.
Conservative city love (CCL) has traditionally never really been a thing. All those great unwashed huddled there, causing trouble back in the olden days. Now, joined by champagne sipping socialists demanding we scale back car use and pay $9 for free trade coffee. What’s with these people? Cities are just somewhere you go to work and get the hell out of at 5pm.
While it may be politically advantageous at this point to exploit those antiquated divisions, it’s simply becoming bad policy, and not just at the local levels, but provincially and federally as well. Senior levels of government neglect of public transit is threatening the economic well being of the region, the province and country. A ‘national tragedy’ according to Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. A little overwrought perhaps but certainly a national crisis.
“Gridlock and congestion impede our mobility and productivity on a daily basis,” claims the not unconservative Toronto Board of Trade. Red Tory John Tory and the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance are spearheading a regional transportation initiative. “Making it easier to move people, goods and services across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area is critical to our region’s economic, social and environmental prosperity.” “We have far outgrown our existing transportation infrastructure, which is not meeting the current or future needs of our growing region. This outdated system is hampering our ability to realize the rich potential of our region.”
Cities matter. Overwhelmingly, Canadians are living in cities. To ignore that fact and use outmoded electoral distribution to subvert the changing demographics is ultimately undercutting the country’s future.
It also may be self-defeating in the long run for politicians who exploit it.
In our review of Tim Falconer’s book, Drive, way back when, (an aside here: come out to the launch of his latest book next Monday. There will be drinking involved.) we excitedly noted one of the conclusions he came to after driving his way across the good ol’ U.S. of A. “People who live closer together and are less dependent on the automobile develop a different attitude toward citizenship and activism.”
If that’s so, politicians continue to ignore us, defy us, demonize us at their peril. As more and more voters get wise to city ways, it will pay fewer political dividends to cast them as the enemy within. Just ask the Wildrose Party today.
– urbanely submitted by Cityslikr
While the cat’s away, we will take about something other than municipal politics today.
Gaze averted for the past year or so from the train wreck that has become the Ford administration, I’ve been keeping myself occupied with the goings-on at other levels of government. Not that there’s a whole lot more to commend from that view either. But at least it lends one a different perspective.
Which is (Segue alert! Segue alert!) what this country is slowly, incrementally facing, a changing perspective. The Albertazation of Canada, let’s call it where the government is the problem not the solution, taxation is a dirty word and all economic problems can be solved by digging into the ground below your feed and mining the resources.
Or as Erna Paris wrote in a Walrus article from March of 2011, “The New Solitudes”: … an outlook more familiar to Americans than to Canadians, at least since the Reagan revolution of the 1980s. Its organizing principles are a powerful commitment to individualism, and to maximum freedom in every sector. Governments should be small, their powers limited, their taxing capacity curtailed. The market must be free and unfettered. Individuals are uniquely responsible for their failures, as well as their successes, and they cannot expect assistance from the ‘nanny state.’
A twist on an old theme, the two solitudes revisited. No longer English and French with its healthy dose of disregard for those here before any European set foot on these shores. But a new division, grounded in western alienation that may be less geographic than it is philosophical. It’s not that Alberta ever wanted in. They wanted the rest of Canada to be more like them.
Or maybe it’s nothing more than sour grapes written from the heart of what was once the economic engine of the nation. The tables have turned. Power has shifted. Money talks, baby, and these days it’s the west with the deep pockets, Canada’s sugar daddies. The new payer of the piper gets a different tune played. If you want to keep dancing, you better learn the new steps.
Not so fast there, bucko. There’s nothing radical going on here. It’s simply business as usual. What we’re witnessing from this long feared stable Conservative majority government is little more than a slightly bluer tinged Chrétienism.
Take last week’s federal budget for example. Nothing out of the ordinary, no draconian hidden agenda. The new normal. Nothing to see here, folks. Everybody back to work.
You see what just happened there?
It is now taken as a simple matter of fact, plain as the nose on your face that government deficits and debt are due to excessive spending. On bailouts and stimulus spending during the global economic crisis. On pensions and other outrageous luxuries afforded to those not willing to do an honest day’s work in the private sector. We are all now true believers in the Rob Ford maxim that governments have a spending not a revenue problem despite all evidence to the contrary here in Toronto.
Buying into that mantra, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government in Ontario instructs Don Drummond not to even consider new taxes as a way of helping to alleviate the provincial deficit. This is a spending problem, remember? Tell us how to spend less not how to generate more revenue.
The flip side of this leap of faith, this embrace of the Alberta way, is that low taxes, cutting taxes creates a robust economy. It’s that simple, people. Although the Ontario government in its recent budget put off further corporate tax cuts, it was seen as a concession, a sop to keep the NDP happy rather than an admission that having slashed the rate over the last few years has generated little economic benefits to anyone but those businesses now paying less tax.
Lower personal income tax rates and the reduction of the GST at the federal level have also proven to deliver somewhat illusory economic benefits. Yet there’s nary a mention of that in much of the budget coverage. Little analysis to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy blowing in from the prairies. Taxes are bad, evil even to some minds. End stop.
No, the only way to turn this ship around, to build a sustainable economy, is to dig our way out. Addition by extraction. Ontario? Quebec? Stop expecting handouts from the rest of the country and get mining. There’s gold (of something else valuable) in them thar hills. Drill, baby, drill!
You see, according to the Alberta way, green may be good in theory but terrible in practice. Where’s the money to be made in wind, solar? Ontario’s very tentative baby steps in that direction have proven to be a bust to those inclined to view alternative energy with scepticism. Nothing more than a vain hope in the eyes of the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson.
Never mind what’s been going on over there in Germany, say. That country propping up the European economy at the moment. Its embrace of solar and wind power has helped turn around moribund manufacturing areas in the former east bloc parts of the country. In just 12 years, green energy went from contributing 6.3% of the country’s energy output to now over 20%, creating over 300,000 jobs in the process.
Hmmm, revive a flagging manufacturing base. Reduce dependence on unsustainable fossil fuel sources. Seems like a win-win strategy to those not wedded to the Alberta way.
Unfortunately, there’s little boldness in leadership in that direction currently. Politicians of all stripes have accepted the handcuffs of fiscal restraint to dampen expectations of new ideas and nip any discussion of charting a new course in the bud. Hewers of wood and drawers of water we once were. Hewers of wood and drawers of water we shall continue to be.
Those of us demanding something different are now another solitude, looking forward rather than backward. With a majority federal government intent on reshaping the country and its institutions bit by bit into a decentralized, corporate-minded, neoconservative plaything, we may have to take the prime minister up on his offer to seize more regional autonomy and assume control of our future. A future divergent with the Alberta way. That, to borrow Erna Paris’s title, is our new solitude.
– sneakily submitted by Urban Sophisticat
I have been given a mandate by the people.
Those are the words inevitably spoken by a politician just freshly elected (or re-elected) to office. The battle has been won. The prize awarded. Absolute rule.
That’s our first past the post voting system for you. Unless held in check by a minority situation in a parliamentary setup, those winning an election govern relatively unhindered by opposition for their entire term. This, regardless of how many voters actually voted for them. Look at Ottawa currently. The newly installed Conservative majority government has almost 54% of the seats in the House of Commons having only secured 39.6% of the popular vote. Absolute rule with fewer than 4 in 10 voters voting for them.
That’s a mandate.
And it’s not at all unusual. In fact, it’s commonplace. The unexception that proves the rule. The last time more than half of Canadians voted for a federal government was 1984 at exactly 50%. Before that, 1958. In Ontario, 1937! That’s right. For all those who remember the vaunted Big Blue Machine that ruled the roost in this province from 1943 until 1985, never once did it secure an absolute majority of voters. Not once.
The lack of true democratic representation is as equally skewed at the municipal level. Last October, Rob Ford was elected mayor of Toronto with just over 47% of the popular vote. Declaring a mandate, he single-handedly scrapped and established transit plan. Just like that. No vote. Just a so-called mandate from less than half the voters who cast ballots.
Even more disturbing, of our 44 councillors nearly half of them, 20 to be exact, were swept into office with less than 50% of the popular vote. Five of those tallied less than 40%. Four less than 30%. One under 20%.
Think about that for a second. A city councillor makes decisions on behalf of his constituents after 4 out of 5 didn’t vote for him. Again, think about that. Line up every voter in that ward and start throwing rocks at them. For every 5 rocks you throw, less than one will hit a voter who voted for their current councillor.
And that’s not all, folks.
Of those 20 councillors elected with less than 50% of the popular vote, 10 were incumbents. That means that even after having been in office, garnering the kind of publicity that brings –at the municipal level, name recognition counts a lot — they could not convince more than half of voters in their ward to vote for them. They didn’t need to. It doesn’t work that way.
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, Team Ford’s self-proclaimed QB, he of the famous thumb, was returned to city hall by 43.8% of Ward 7 voters. He’s been a councillor since 1995 and was an MPP for five years before that. Before deciding to seek re-election, Councillor Mammoliti ran a very high profile campaign for mayor of the city. With all this, he still couldn’t convince more than half of the voters in his ward to vote for him. But there he now sits beside the mayor, casting votes along with him 100% of the time.
How about John Parker, councillor for Ward 26, in no way a Rob Ford stronghold in last year’s election. Another former MPP and one term incumbent failed to muster even 1 out of 3 votes last fall. Yet, now he’s deputy speaker at council and bona fide member of Team Ford. How could that be considered fair and equal representation?
Now, this is not a partisan issue. The skewed electoral situation breaks almost evenly on both sides of the electoral spectrum although, I should point out that of the Team Ford members who have voted with the mayor more than 2/3s of the time, eleven of those councillors came to office with less than 50% of the popular vote. It suggests to me that the views, opinions and attitudes of the citizens of Toronto are not truly reflected in the direction of how the city’s headed right now.
So it’s little wonder so many of us are ultimately disengaged with the political process. Of all the numbers being bandied about here, the one that is truly the most dispiriting is this one: 53.2%. Barely half of eligible voters even bothered to vote last year and that was a significant jump from previous elections that had dipped under 40%.
We have tuned out and this very well may be one of the reasons. Our votes simply don’t add up. Too many of us cast ballots that ultimately are meaningless. A majority of voters never end up voting for those who govern us. So, of course there’s a disconnect. Why bother voting when chances are very likely that it won’t end up mattering because the other candidate will end up winning.
Not only that but our first past the post electoral system (Is that from a horse racing term? Odd because in horseracing, those betting on the second and third place finishers are rewarded too. Win, place and show.) warps campaigns into also suppressing voter turnout. Negative, nasty races are the norm as cutting your opponents down to size works to your benefit. Less votes for them can work out for you. Assholish behaviour prevails but democracy is dirtied and diminished.
There is a better way to do this.
And I have been anointed by the powers that be here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke to tell you how. Over the next few months, I will be posting pieces on how we can change this. Don’t let anyone tell you we’ve been throw this before and it’s all too complicated. It isn’t. Do not give in to the ease of our status quo bias. There is a better way.
Better, fairer, more representative elections are possible. They are coming. Stay tuned.
– goadingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat
If I were the God fearing type, I just might have to conclude that the Man upstairs is displeased with us progressives. Maybe it’s because we’ve turned our backs on the teachings of His one and only Son who He sacrificed to atone for our sins or whatever that was all about. Or maybe He is actually that Old Testament God, Yahweh let’s call him, who makes side bets with Satan to test our faith mettle. “Who are you to question Me?” Yahweh thunders from the whirlwind in response to Job’s seemingly fair question of what was up with all the pain and suffering and pestilence brought down upon him. “Have you ever created an earth, Mr. Too Big For Your Britches?”
Whatever the reasons, supernatural or not, it’s been a rough ride recently for those of us perched left of centre. The latest blow came with the death of Jack Layton on Monday. Just months after the NDP’s historic (if qualified) breakthrough on the national scene, and freshly installed as Leader of the Oppostion, Mr. Layton was gone. A party full of new faces is now leaderless, as is the 3rd place Liberals, leaving the field wide open for the Conservative majority government to conduct its business with even less parliamentary oversight.
It is the latest in a string of blows to the progressive cause, municipally, federally and internationally that leaves one wondering what other misfortunes are lurking. How bad can this get? Radical right wing ideology has seized the agenda, its adherents control city halls, state and provincial houses and national parliaments world wide, their thoughts and words propel shocking outbursts of hatred and division. The narrative has been recalibrated to one of backward rather than forward looking. Reason is suspect. Compromise is derided as little more than a sign of weakness.
And now we have lost someone who had dedicated his life to contesting that pre-Enlightenment push of anti-modernity. The ascendancy of the Old Testament mindset over its more humane companion book, jettisoning forgiveness for retribution, inclusiveness for tribalism, compassion for anger. What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding? Well, for starters, it all sounds so 1960s (where everything went so horribly wrong to the conservative mind). Hopelessly naïve. You want to teach the world to sing too while you’re at it? In perfect harmony?
It’s enough to make you throw up your hands, declare no mas, and walk away to a more quiet life of personal introspection and disregard for the world around you. We failed to beat back the tide. Sorry about that, folks. Having benefitted greatly from post-war advances, we can sit back and tell our kids and grandkids that it’s just not in the cards for them. You’re on your own now. We got ours… Jack.
My thoughts immediately turn to The Clash, the only band that matters. For many of us fortunate to come of age in the late-70s, we found ourselves surprisingly politicized with our healthy does of The Clash. Somehow it seems fitting that the last time I reacted so viscerally to the death of a public figure as I have with the news of Jack Layton was back in 2002 when I heard Joe Strummer died, similarly gone far too early.
The words that come to mind:
We gonna march, a long way/Fight, a long time/We got to travel, over mountains/Got to travel, over seas/We gonna fight, your brother/We gonna fight, ’til you loose/We gonna raise, trouble/We gonna raise, hell.
My sincerest condolences to the Layton family.
Let’s honour them by not retreating on the political fights that Jack Layton dedicated his entire public service in fighting and allow his death to have been in vain. He kept the progressive torch burning even in the darkest of times. It’s up to us now to not let it go out.
– submitted by Cityslikr