Putting The Surma In The Squirm-a

For those in Toronto subjected over the past baker’s dozen years to the Ford family bludgeoning, egregious mendacity flung around with graceless, inept obfuscation in the pursuit of 100%, unadulterated bone-headed policy proposals became par for the course (minus a 4 year hiatus when Rob sickened and eventually shuffled from the stage and brother Doug got chased into the political wilderness, good riddance, we all thought, only to watch in horror as he grasped onto a bigger, seemingly unassailable position of power as provincial premier in 2018). Accustomed to terrible outcomes and even worse lies of justification, we are. The collective bullshit meter long since broken and diminished expectations always constantly exceeded in a dire direction.

And yet, still… still…

Yesterday, Kinga Surma, the Ford government’s Minister of Infrastructure, on CBC’s Metro Morning, dropped nothing short of a diarrhetic deuce in defense of her boss’s Tuesday announcement confirming his intention to demolish the Ontario Science Centre and build a replacement for it down on the already crowded Toronto waterfront, bulging with another pet project of the premier’s in current development, a private spa, his longtime dream of an expansive lakeside theme park for the city coming into focus, only missing so far the ferris wheel he proposed during his one term on city council. There’s still time. Shh! Don’t remind him.

By standards established so low from a government built on a heaping mound of mis/disinformation and p.r. molded fabrication, Minister Surma’s performance was breathtaking in its incompetence. It sounded as if the minister came into the interview expecting zero pushback from the show’s host, Jill Dempsey. Which, to be fair, might not be an unreasonable assumption. Metro Morning has not really had much of a politically spirited voice at the helm since Matt Galloway departed with the exception of Jason D’Souza’s time in the host’s chair. Last month, I criticized Ms. Dempsey’s performance for not holding the city’s budget chief’s feet to the fire during an interview.

Unfortunately for Kinga Surma, she didn’t receive the similar kids’-gloves treatment.

First, let’s address the gender issue on this.

We are conditioned, I believe, to bestow authority on substandard, mediocre male comportment on the political stage, if not in most aspects of life. Business as usual. How else to explain the success of the Fords, John Tory, almost the entire coterie of the men in the race trying to replace him as mayor of Toronto? Etc. & etc. The bluster. The indignant peevishness at being so much as fairly and moderately questioned or challenged. The implacable inability to alter course or adapt strongly held beliefs in the face of new information for fear of looking weak.

We have names for female public figures who similarly conduct themselves. Few of them flattering. An equally low number politically advantageous. Unless your name was Margaret Thatcher or the slew of prominent women politicians serving on the vanguard of far-right politics these days. That’s another topic for another time.

Just listen to the interview that followed Minister Shurma’s segment yesterday, the city councillor for the ward that the Science Centre currently sits in, Jon Burnside. A lightweight himself, as well as conservative leaning in his politics, he attempts to thread the needle on the government’s announcement, not in outright favour because a community needs a place to work and play as well as live, blah, blah, he said over and over, but still, he had to applaud the provincial government for wanting to ‘revitalize’ a place that’s been allowed to fall into a certain state of disrepair. And as we’ve experienced in the recent past, Burnside continues, “once they [the Ford government] make the decision, it seems to be pretty much a done deal…”

What are you gonna do, the local representative says, hands in the air, a shrug of the shoulders, like, pushback? Nope. Time to turn the page.

By any other measure, Councillor Burnside’s interview, his white flag waving and I want a Dougie bellyrub capitulation, would’ve been the talk of the morning. But not on Wednesday. Not by the Kinga Surma measure.

She cited facts and figures about the waterfront and Ontario Place that made her sound as if she’s never set foot anywhere near it, informing us instead that she drives by it all the time, a particular sore point because the government’s current plan is to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to build a multilevel, 2000+ car underwater parking garage for the proposed private spa facility. Twice she said it before correcting herself the second time to say she walks past the place all the time.

The cost of the demolition and rebuild of the Science Centre she wouldn’t/couldn’t divulge because, apparently, they’re triple-checking although that didn’t stop the government from announcing the plans as a done deal a day earlier. The impression being, they don’t know, they don’t care, and this is just another example of shady dealings by a government that’s only modus operandi is shoveling as much money as it possibly can into the pockets and bank accounts of their biggest, friendliest political donors. That’s it. There’s nothing else to it. The Minister of Infrastructure just pulled the curtain back further.

By all rights, Kinga Surma should still be cleaning the egg off her face today. Even as nothing more than an elected flack whose one job in the interview was to put lipstick on her government’s real intentions with the Science Centre, she failed miserably. Never mind that as an actual minister overseeing a big-spending portfolio, we heard from somebody ill-informed, out of their depth and over-matched by the mercenary malignancy at the heart of these monumental, generational decisions.

A performance so atrocious that in a just world, demotion would immediately follow. That’s not the world a Doug Ford government exists in. Kinga Surma is simply another striving hack politician in a government full of such individuals. A government, in fact, led by that very type of politician. She should at least be chastened for not being able to better hide that reality.


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