Denzil the Dismal

In these days of relentless bad and worse news, I think it’s important to take the opportunity to hail the infrequent good tidings of comfort and joy that come our way, celebrate a little Christmas in July, regardless of how small or local these moments of brightness may be.

Like last week’s announcement from Denzil Minnan-Wong, city councillor for 28 years, dating back to pre-amalgamation North York and John Tory’s deputy mayor primo for the past 8, that he would not be seeking re-election this fall. Huzzah! Cheers all round! Release the confetti and balloons!

Denzil the Dismal.

A self-proclaimed ‘fiscal conservative’ who, like every other fiscal conservative when the books are tallied, ultimately prove to be more wasteful in the long run. Between tearing up bike lanes, privatizing residential waste collection and championing destined to be white elephants like the Gardiner East rebuild and falling into line on the Scarborough subway, Councillor Minnan-Wong dedicated his public service to sweating the small stuff, working diligently to undermine any attempts at inclusive and community-oriented city building. Low taxes above all else. Blah, blah, blahhing the ‘finding efficiencies’ mantra well-past the point of meaninglessness, he found fault in anything that couldn’t be accessed by car or might possibly cast a shadow on his well-manicured suburban lawn.

As Christopher Hume wrote of the councillor back in the summer 2014 when he was in the midst of tight-wad show-boating over the design of Sugar Beach: “The problem is Minnan-Wong’s Toronto is dull, sterile and cheap.”

Councillor Minnan-Wong’s conservative ideology was also petty and spiteful. There was little his former colleague Kristyn Wong-Tam could bring to council chambers that he wouldn’t attempt to undermine because who knows why. He conducted himself with a tiresome smugness that revealed a deep vacuity in his approach to governance. To his credit, and unlike the man who made him deputy mayor, Denzil Minnan-Wong never pretended he was anything other than what he was. Incurious. Reactionary. Narrow-minded. Proudly parochial.

During his exit interview on Metro Morning last week, he also proved to be none too ungrateful and not above a little double-crossing duplicity. When asked by the show’s host, Jill Dempsey, if on closing this chapter in his life, he had any regrets, the councillor laughed. I joined in on the laughter because I’m convinced people like Denzil Minnan-Wong lack the human capacity to regret their actions, any of their actions. Surprise, surprise, though, he did say he regretted having voted in favour of allowing Uber to operate in the city. That was the mayor’s deal, the councillor informed Dempsey, and as the deputy mayor he felt he had to go along with it. Reluctantly duty-bound, he now claimed.

The timing here of Minnan-Wong’s admission of a regretful decision made 6 years ago is interesting. With the Guardian release of the Uber Files and the disagreeable waft of at least the impression of impropriety making its stinky way into Mayor Tory’s office, the hours and hours and hours of lobbying, the cross-pollination of mayoral staffers and pollsters working for Uber, it was almost as if the outgoing deputy mayor was attempting to throw Mayor Tory under the bus although that may be a bit of stretch since Denzil Minnan-Wong’s never been much of a fan of public transit. Maybe just a case of backing the wheels of his Subaru Forester over the toes of a political benefactor.

If the mayor were the type to admit making a mistake which I believe is an instinct scrubbed from the thought processes of the landed gentry, appointing a self-serving, disloyal cad (I think that word’s still bandied about in John Tory’s circles) like Denzil Minnan-Wong as his deputy mayor might be a misstep he’d admit to. In an attempt to shore up his conservative bona fides, Mayor Tory damaged any progressive credibility he might’ve possessed by making such an antediluvian hack like Denzil Minnan-Wong his ceremonial right-hand man. And this is the thanks he gets?

But if the mayor expected anything different from his deputy mayor, he didn’t know the councillor very well. That’s been his modus operandi, the ultimate political troll, for as long as I’ve been following Toronto politics. Undermine. Undercut. Under-perform. Nothing constructive. Blind and obstinate clear-cutting. ‘Dull, sterile and cheap’.

A fitting legacy for a politician whose only remarkable attribute was his ability to hang around as long as he did, catering to nothing more the ‘home proud’, privileged constituents of his ward who reciprocated by sending him back to City Hall term after term after term.

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