Black Out Speak Out

June 4, 2012


C Is For ‘Conservative Country Mouse’

April 24, 2012

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.”

We become more liberal, shall we say?

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


Going Our Way?

April 5, 2012

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


Our Election Issue

November 17, 2011

Mandate.

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.

Lesson # 1: RaBIT, Better Ballots, Fair Vote. Check them out, brush up a little. We’ll talk.

Better, fairer, more representative elections are possible. They are coming. Stay tuned.

goadingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Jack

August 23, 2011

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.

Hmmm.

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


Our Profligate Mayor (No, Not That One. The New Guy)

May 6, 2011

Hey. All you hard-ass, union haters out there. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the indignation? Yoo-hoo! Why so silent?

The city just rolled over and gave the Toronto Police Services an 11.5% wage increase over the next 4 years. My math is a little fuzzy but that doesn’t exactly work out to the 5% cut the mayor has demanded from all city departments, does it? “The police will give us concessions elsewhere,” Councillor Doug Ford said. Specifics to come, of course, but the TPS isn’t really known for its concessionary tactics.

“Of the thousands and thousands of doors I’ve knocked on,” the brother-councillor went on to tell the Globe, “there was not one complaint of how the police were paid.”

So instead of demanding across the board budget cuts we’re now selectively determining who deserves increases and who doesn’t, based on Councillor Ford’s informal door-to-door polling? The mayor and his team have been rigid in their insistence that any budgetary increase must be balanced with a corresponding cut. If the police services don’t provide such an offset to compensate for these new wage hikes, it’s got to come from somewhere else according to the mayor’s math. Does Doug then go out canvassing neighbourhoods asking folks who they think are overpaid by the city?

Ford scoffed at suggestions by Councillor Adam Vaughan (Councillor Ford regularly scoffs at anything Councillor Vaughan says) that the mayor had caved on the deal. “I find it ironic that the only people [on council] complaining about this deal are the ones responsible for a previous police contract that included a far larger increase than this one,” Mr. Ford said.

If memory serves, the expiring contract was a 3 year deal with a 10% wage increase. ‘A far larger increase’, Councillor Ford? That’s about a .4% difference. You guys are supposed to be the belt tighteners, aren’t you? An increase is an increase.

More to the point, anybody remember the outside workers’ strike in the summer of 2009? The one where Mayor Miller handed the keys to the city vault to the greedy unions and greased the rails for his exit? Yeah, I though you might. The wage settlement went like this: 1.75% in 2009, 2% in 2010 and 2.25% in 2011. That would be 6% over 3 years, nearly half of what Mayor Ford just conceded to the TPS.

So I ask again. Where’s all the chatter and clucking (aside from Councillor Vaughan) about the mayor caving into greedy union demands and breaking the bank? Where’s Budget Chief Mike “There. Is. No. More. Money.” Del Grande yelling and harrumphing about a lack of fiscal discipline? It seems in a Mayor Rob Ford’s Toronto, widows and orphans can get stuffed but the police? How much would you like, guys?

Do these imposters really deserve the dignified name of ‘fiscal conservatives’? Really, it’s more like fiscal ideologues. They are perfectly willing to spend money hand over fist with no regard for the bottom line when it suits their fancy. Just like their federal brethren that the mayor worked so hard to get elected to a majority government on Monday. Last year’s G20. Prisons. Engineless F-35s. Money is no object if it means conservative values are being upheld. Anything else is deemed special interest gravy.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr


Unreason To Believe

May 5, 2011

We’re trying a new approach here in an attempt to fall in line with a wider swath of our fellow electorate. Clearly we are out of step. So very, very out of step.

Our goal is to stop over-analyzing things. Maybe stop analyzing everything altogether. It only leads to despondency and heavy drinking. Let’s just start pretending to take what our politicians tell us at face value. We know they’re all lying to us, so let’s go with the lies we find most agreeable and beneficial to us. That way, when they fail to deliver, it justifies our anger and disillusionment with the entire system. The politicians are the problem not us.

Cut taxes without cutting services? We like it. Stability and non-accountability above compromise and cooperation? Hells yeah! Putting a majority government in place enables us not to have to think about federal politics again for another 4 years or so. That’s what politics is all about, isn’t it? Divesting ourselves of any and all responsibility.

We’ll also try our best to pay attention to what politicians who pander to our worst instincts have to say about their opponents and we’ll poo-poo what these duly smeared politicians say about any sort of ‘hidden agenda’. That’s just conspiracy minded, we’ll tell them. Besides, what do you know? You once lived outside of the country, didn’t you? Let’s set aside policy and platforms for personality. I’m only going to vote for someone I’d like to have a beer with. It’s a whole lot easier that way.

So we’re going to begin by sharing the joy our mayor and his brother have expressed with the outcome of Monday’s federal election. Finally. After nearly 25 years in exile, we have Conservatives MPs in 416 Toronto. The Liberal Fortress GTA has been breached and this can only mean good things for the city and region.

After years of being neglected and taken for granted by successive Liberal governments in Ottawa, left to our own devices to build transit, affordable housing and upgrade infrastructure, we have elected a party that will listen to our needs and set those things right. It’s true. Technically speaking, the Conservatives have been in power for 5 years now and haven’t really ever talked about any of that except for stimulus spending that the dreaded near-coalition forced them into when the world’s economy was heading off the cliff in 2008.

But you see, their hands were tied in a minority situation. Now freed from those merciless bonds, not with a little help from Toronto and the GTA, they can finally be themselves which, I think, if you didn’t look too closely at how they’ve operated as a government, could be seen as magnanimous. Caring, accommodating, law-abiding and magnanimous.

And since our mayor and his brain trust helped push them over the top, we should expect a little payback in return. Only Liberals ignore those who vote for them. While Conservatives focus mostly on their enemies, they do know who their friends are and reward them accordingly.

What from the mayor’s wish list should we look to be granted first? And by ‘wish list’, I mean not an actual list of priorities that Mayor Ford set down early on in the campaign for the federal politicians to agree or disagree with. That would be getting involved, politically speaking. The mayor didn’t want to get involved. At least, until he publicly endorsed the Conservatives and started sending out robo-calls to voters in various 416 ridings. But now that he’s rolled the dice and come up 7s, what would he wish for if he had any wishes?

There’s money for subways through P3s. So the mayor can finally administer the death blow to Transit City. Check that one off the list. Then there’s… there’s…

For this to work, we’re going to have to ignore the fact that all throughout last year’s municipal campaign, then candidate Rob Ford told us that the city didn’t have a revenue problem. It was all about over-spending and profligate waste. So it makes it a little awkward to go to the federal government now, cap in hand as the mayor referred to it when someone else was doing it, and ask for money that the mayor claims we don’t need.

The difference is, we’re coming at this from a position of strength now. Not only did we help give the Conservatives a majority government, so they owe us, but we don’t really need the money in the first place. If we did, the mayor and his people at City Hall wouldn’t have cut and frozen taxes. So let’s look at it more as a Demand rather than Wish List. We are in the driver’s seat. All it took was electing government MPs. Conservative government MPs. Conservative majority government MPs.

Who knew life could be this simple and easy? Aside from the 40% of voters who cast Conservative ballots on Monday. They’re clearly on to something. Set aside reason and logic and things become very clear, very straight-forward. It’s what we’re all looking for in the long run, isn’t it?

new me-ly submitted by Cityslikr