I put myself in the middle of a circular conversation a couple days ago with someone who took exception to my incomprehension at the notion of Liberals, big L liberals, throwing their support behind John Tory in his bid to become mayor of Toronto.
You see, I am of a vintage that was still in swaddling clothes during the Lester B. Pearson era. I came of age under Pierre Trudeau. I’ve always lived with a national medicare system, brought in from coast to coast to coast by Louis St. Laurent.
This is how I remember Liberals.
I sometimes forget that time has moved on. The current crop was forged in the face of the Mulroney years and the rise to prominence of the Reform movement. Late career Jean Chretien and his arch-nemesis Paul Martin. Bitter rivals but deficit hawks and downloaders both. The Common Sense Revolution wrought a Liberal automaton, series 2.0 Dalton McGuinty.
These are Liberals seemingly more at home with my misty-eyed nostalgic memories of red tory hued Progressive Conservatives like Robert Stanfield, Bill Davis, Peter Lougheed, Joe Clarke, David Crombie.
There you go. Blue Liberals for red Tory John Tory. Makes perfect sense. Remember, he was once the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. A perfectly reasonable confederacy in the face of a possible purple and yellow wave forming over on the left.
But here’s my thing.
As much as the centre of the Liberal party has shifted, so too has it with conservatives. The bland greyness has been wiped clean. We no longer have moderate patrician types with a sense of noblesse oblige as our right of centre party. Federally, they’ve even dumped the pretense of progressive. Here in Ontario, the word might as well be in quotes.
Mike Harris. Jim Flaherty. John Baird. Tony Clement. Stephen Harper. Tim Hudak. The Ford brothers.
Snarling, thuggish, mendacious, regressive, government hating and private sector worshipping neo-conservatives in the American Tea Party mold are these men. Noblesse oblige, you say? Is that French for Ayn Rand?
In that light, John Tory doesn’t look so bad. He’s almost none of that. A throwback to an earlier time when Liberals and Progressive Conservatives could sit down to dinner together over a nice bottle of wine. During this 2014 municipal race, he offers the appearance of a safe harbour for disaffected, candidate-less Liberals who could never bring themselves to mingle with the NDP horde.
Looks, as they say, can be deceiving.
Avert your eyes from the image being presented and listen to the words being spoken instead.
At his official campaign launch on Wednesday, he derided tax-and-spending politicians who were eyeing the wallets of the beloved taxpayers. He vowed to keep taxes low while promising to invest in the city’s infrastructure including a new subway line. How would he pay for that? Finding savings and efficiencies. Plenty of waste still to be found, he assured the crowd (despite opinion to the contrary).
Doesn’t that sound a bit familiar to you, almost word for word? City Hall doesn’t have a revenue problem. City Hall has a spending problem. Subways, subways, subways! It won’t cost you a dime because it’s time to Stop the Gravy Train.
John Tory is simply a pretty face, a soothing voice, the almost featureless presence fronting what sounds like the very same destructive policies that will be the true legacy of the Rob Ford administration. A Trojan horse for an army already inside the compound. He wants to be mayor of this city only in order to change the name on the door and the trashy newspaper headlines.
Liberals getting in under that big tent with him need to stop pretending that anything’s going to change other than the din of discord and the reality show antics now occupying space at City Hall. The tone may become more civil but if the discourse remains the same – and that’s what I’m hearing so far from the Tory campaign – low taxes and cutting waste as the primary source of revenue, programs and services will still be under threat, growth based investment a pipe dream. That’s what you’re signing up for.
Which may be a-ok with many Liberals. They just need to stop pretending there’s anything progressive about it.
— warningly submitted by Cityslikr