The Campaign Story So Far

September 29, 2010

Like any piece of stolid fiction, our municipal election campaign began with a very simple premise: anger. It then proceeded along a fairly predictable narrative trajectory, tossing out the odd red herring twist like a sex scandal followed by a drug scandal. Some characters’ fortunes rose, only to fall again. (Like Scarlett O’Hara, will they live to fight another day?) Others remained purely one-dimensional comic foils. As the story lumbers to its cliff-hanger conclusion, it ham-fistedly pushes any shading and complexity that inadvertently surfaced back under the radar in order to re-embrace an easy-to-follow, paint-by-numbers, nursery school storybook simplicity. A stark choice to be made between two alternative; one, of darkness and the other of… well, less darkness.

This tale’s inciting incident? Toronto’s civic employee union strike in the summer of `09. Apparently, we as a society can no longer endure inconvenience. At least not due to our public employees. For 6 whole weeks, residents had to contend with their own refuse. Parks were filled with garbage! The city teetered on the verge of near exasperation. Somebody was going to have to pay.

So the fury rained down on the mayor who, by all accounts, caved into the unions. How do we know this? Because the unions said so, which they never do at the conclusion of strike action unless they actually win. Unions are stand-up when it comes to stuff like that. They are incapable of spin.

The strike and fallout from it was simply the tip of the incompetence and spendthrift iceberg that had torn through City Hall. Toronto had lost its bearings. We were drifting towards the dangerous rapids of insolvency, rack and ruin. All had been well and good before we dropped the ball and allowed David Miller to man the helm. It was quite obvious he had to go.

And he went, chased from the scene in a hail of ridicule and derision owed to a man clearly out of touch with the citizens he’d been twice elected to lead. He and his corrupt co-conspirators had done their damage and threatened the future well-being of this city in the process. We needed a hero with the intestinal fortitude necessary to turn this ship around.

And they came. Out of the woodwork and backrooms, taking city hall (the very place they were endeavouring to ultimately lead) to task for a litany of shortcomings and missteps, helping to paint in the dystopian picture that was already out there on display. Spending was out of control. Traffic congestion was out of control. Public transit was a mess. Everything and everyone involved with city governance was dysfunctional, and without the tough love these candidates were offering, our collective future was bleak, bleak, bleak.

Never mind that much of this story owed its traction to mere hyperbole. Yes, the city was facing problems. Indeed, some quite worrisome but in an objective weighing of the situation, it was nothing short of fantasy to conclude that things were as bad as we were being told by our media and candidates out on the hustings. Rational voices, both inside and outside, were pushing back slightly, advising us that there was no reason for unfounded panic.

On top of which, none of the leading candidates were putting forth viable solutions to the problems (real and imagined) the city was (or wasn’t) facing. In rejecting anything that had to do with the administration they were seeking to replace, they were forced more and more into promoting staggeringly half-cocked platforms that arrived still born in their impracticality and unlikelihood of solving any our problems. None more so than the man who shockingly took control of the bitch fest that the campaign had disintegrated into.

He was rewarded for delivering a simple message of outrage and never veering from it. That’s how a successful candidate campaigns, we were told. That’s how a successful candidate ‘resonates’ with a wide public. Keep it simple. I’m Angry! You’re Angry! We’re All Angry! Elect Me And I Will Be Your Anger At City Hall!

With their Anger Train hijacked, the others hopped a-board, attempting to be the angriest, meanest son of a bitch who had what it takes to clean up our municipal mess that they helped create in the minds of voters.

Problem is, anger cannot last indefinitely. Especially if large portions of it are manufactured out of fear and insecurity. And simple is oftentimes revealed to be nothing more than simple-minded given enough time. After over a year of unofficial and official campaigning and with just a month left to go, a realization dawned that we’ve been sold a bill of perishable goods whose best before date is October 26th.

But instead of looking around to see what else is on offer out there, we’re being told to whittle our choices down to two. It’ll be easier that way. Sure, neither option has done a single thing to warrant further consideration. They’ve both only served to poison the community well. And now, like the very best of snake oil salesmen, promise us that only one of them possesses the antidote to make the water potable again.

It is an ending completely unearned. That book you know you should’ve put down early on when the inklings of doubt about its worthiness first surfaced. But you soldiered on, assuming that the story’d get better and the payoff would be worth your effort. You were wrong. Trashy’s fun for awhile but when you realize that you’re simply being taken for a ride and treated like an imbecile, it’s time to turn close the book and move on to more challenging content.

prosily submitted by Urban Sophisticat