Democracy Only Happens Every 4 Years

What’s the right wing’s beef with democracy?

They win an election and think debate and opposition ends there. Witness the assault on parliamentary practice by the Conservatives in Ottawa since 2006. A dubious use of prorogation or two, an utterly absurd denigration of the concept of a coalition in a minority situation, all under the tight rein of a highly centralized, secretive and paranoid PMO that, if it had a human face, would be Frank Burns of M*A*S*H fame.

Here too in Toronto, right wingers newly installed into power have shown contempt for all those who dare stand, opposed. The attitude is most on exhibit if you can muster the courage to fight through one Sue-Ann Levy’s Toronto Sun screeds. (The Ford administration’s court jester and loyal stenographer screeds in person too, as I witnessed at last Wednesday night’s special city council meeting.) To Ms. Levy’s mind, such as it is, those displeased with the moves the mayor is making are “gravy train-enabling, public teat-sucking, union-loving…”, “shilling” for this or that, “leftist hangers-on and despicable leftist hypocrites”, the lot of them.

No, no. They couldn’t be principled, honorable or at all justifiably concerned in their disagreement with Mayor Ford. Merely self-interested fat cats, only in it for themselves unlike the mayor who is just looking out for the little guy. In fact, why can’t they simply be quiet and let Robbie straighten this city out? That would be the selfless thing to do. Why do we even have to waste all this time with debates? City council should be run more like a business, as Sue-Ann scribbles down the thoughts of the mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug, himself no big fan of anyone with the temerity to challenge his views. When the gallery failed to fawn over his common guy schtick at Wednesday night’s meeting, he called them ‘whiners’. “It’s a three-ring circus,” he said of the council meetings to date. “We debate five or six hours when we all know the end result.”

When we all know the end result…

It’s as if they, having won the election last October, think everyone should just roll over and go back to sleep until 2014. Resistance is now not only futile but bordering on anarchy. Maybe in this mayor’s case that kind of thinking makes perfect sense. He spent his decade as a councillor out on the political fringes. Now it’s their turn. And by ‘their’, the mayor means anyone who doesn’t fall into line behind him.

While this winner-take-all view of democracy has, much to its detriment, historical traction in a parliamentary system, city hall doesn’t work like that. The mayor is one vote of forty-five and on every issue that comes before council to be voted on, he must marshal 22 others if he wants to pass a motion. So no end result can be taken as a given. Yes of course there is a lot of backroom (and not so backroom) arm twisting that goes into securing support but debate just comes with the territory. As do the crowds in council chambers when important matters surface that stir the public’s emotions. Diminishing them or the manner in which bylaws are brought into being reveals a disturbing anti-democratic sensibility.

During the TCHC debate on Wednesday night, Councillor Ford estimated that there were about 300, 400 tenants in the gallery. To him that meant there were still nearly 160,000 tenants who supported what they wanted to do with the board. Absence equals support. At two different heated debates this year, the mayor claimed that of all the feedback he’d received, 99% were supportive. 99%, really? You see? Not only are they with us. God too must be on our side. So get with the program and stop your whining.

The more forceful the attempts at diminishing opponents with personal invective, the less likely your argument will stand up in the sunlight of reason. Quote all the questionable polls you want, Sue-Ann Levy, but let’s see some of that support with boots on the ground. Give me just a tiny show of that 99% of the city that’s behind you, Mr. Mayor. Where are all those folks, coming out to council meetings, exhorting the mayor and his followers to stay strong and persevere? And if you even reflexively were about to say, we’ve got jobs, no, what you’ve got is the rhetorical skills of a child. You might’ve just as well said, ‘No, you shut up’ which is, essentially, exactly what Mayor Ford is telling those who disagree with him. No, you shut up.

I attended the budget deputations back in January up in North York, in the thick of the Ford Nation. If memory serves, of the 48 or so folks who I witnessed get up to speak, 3 were in favour of the budget draft the mayor was floating. That’s 1 in 16 or about 6%. A far cry from the 99% Mayor Ford likes to cite as being on his side. Where are they all? Sitting at home, firing off angry letters to the editor or online comments, while watching Celebrity Apprentice? Why don’t they think they have to do anything to actively support their views aside from vote every 4 years? Are reactionaries just lazy?

Or is it because their guy’s in power now? He’s already doing their bidding, so they can just sit back, relax and spend time figuring how to spend that $60 that came in the mail for the VRT rebate? If you feel the need to go out and protest in public or advocate for a cause, it’s just proof positive that your side has already lost. That’s basic, zero sum, modern politics, buddy. Deal with it.

slothily submitted by Cityslikr

His Honour’s Sour Grapes

So the Mayor Rob Ford era has officially begun, and for all those who picked ‘Decorously’ or ‘Graciously’ in the How Will Rob Ford Respond To Having The Chain Of Office Hung Around His Neck office pool, pay up, motherfuckers.

The mayor used the solemn occasion of his investiture to invite one of his heroes, noted Mississaugan urbanist and sartorial flamboyer, Don Cherry, to chain him and kick off the proceedings. Mr. Cherry, in turn, used his invite, as writer Jonathan Goldsbie noted, as “…mostly just an attack on the Globe’s TV critic.” John Doyle, that is, and his article in yesterday’s Globe and Mail. The mayor then followed with an utterly uninspiring speech, full of references to taxpayers and customer service, more befitting (as we have noted numerous times previously) a Walmart manager’s pep talk to his employees just before the grand opening than a new mayor addressing the inaugural council meeting of the country’s largest city. Then some quick business was done like voting in the mayor’s all-male, all-right wing executive committee before the gavel came down to adjourn the proceedings until the real fireworks being tomorrow.

We’re now through the looking-glass here, people. Our new mayor, well-to-do through an inherited family business, speaks for ‘the little guy’. Mr. Cherry, a well-to-do sports commentator, lashes out and ‘artsy, left wing kooks’ and thinks “It’s time for some lunch pail, blue-collar people.” All pronounced while wearing an embroidered pink blazer that would make a geisha blush and his dapper Tom Wolfe high collar. Both men preach the neo-conservative gospel of small government (except for police and military, natch), and both have done alright for themselves, pocketing their fair share of government largesse.

And somehow, pinkos are the bad guys. We left leaning, bike riding, oh-so-privileged, downtown elites, bereft of the common touch and without our finger on the pulse of real Torontonians. We don’t understand the plight of the working people. The mayor does because he employs 350 of them in Toronto, New Jersey and Chicago. Don Cherry talks to millions of them directly through the camera, for a whole 8 minutes every Saturday night. Regular Joes, the two of them. Full fledged members of the lumpen proletariat, they is.

You know what? I say, fuck that. Much discussion has gone on since the new mayor’s been sworn in about how those standing in opposition to him should react. Take the high road. Don’t take the bait. Take a pill and chill-ax. The world’s not coming to an end because the likes of Don Cherry brought his schtick live to City Hall chambers.

All true but we’ve seen this movie before and it never, ever turns out well.

Every time a right wing populist is elected, they claim a ‘mandate’ (sometimes even from as on high as heaven itself) and immediately take the offensive, declaring a state of unilateralism. It’s My Way Or The Highway. You’re Either With Us Or A’gin Us. All Hail And Bow Down Before Me, Minions.

We’ve watched it for the past 4 years or so in Ottawa. A minority (A Minority!) Conservative government has browbeaten the opposition into simpering obsequiousness, giving way on almost every important issue that has emerged. Even the stands they’ve managed to take like on the long gun registry have tied them into paroxysms of soul-wrenching angst, leaving them to look defeated in the face of victory.

It’s a tactical strike adopted from right wingers in the States. George W. pulled it off masterfully throughout his term in office. The Tea Party led Republican congress is following suit. Not even sworn in yet and they have a Democratic President turning on his base. To seek bipartisanship where none is on offer doesn’t make you look evenhanded, open-minded or apolitically above the fray. It makes you look weak, unprincipled and unfit to hold public office.

Now comes Rob Ford who has not made one conciliatory gesture to his opponents since being elect mayor. His executive committee is exclusively right-wing, inner suburban (or from wards that Ford won) and male. He’s been blowing smoke about his power to end Transit City, going as far to say that council never voted about Transit City (it did), so it doesn’t have to be consulted to terminate it. The voters gave him a mandate, you see. Normal democratic principles no longer apply.

Bringing in Don Cherry to introduce him was just another aggressively defiant gesture by Ford. To all those who disdainfully dismiss the outrage that greeted Grapes’ council speech as unimportant, much ado about nothing, an overblown sticks and stones scenario, not worth the media attention, well, you’re diminishing the symbolism of it. “You never know what he’s going to say,” shrugged our mayor about Cherry’s speech. Not the exact words maybe but the intent was going to surprise no one. It was a big ol’ fuck you to anyone and everyone who doesn’t think exactly like the mayor and Don Cherry, pinkos or not.

Imagine if David Miller, re-elected with a larger percentage of the popular vote for his 2nd term, had proclaimed a ‘mandate’ and brought in, say, Naomi Klein to introduce him. She proceeds to say something to the effect of: Eat it, corporate right wing shills. Not political? Unimportant and beside the point? I don’t think so.

Mayor Rob Ford has come out of the gate with no intention of making nice, seeking compromise or trying to find the middle ground with his opponents. Why is the onus on them to reach out? It’s not obstructionist to stand up for your principles and beliefs. It’s called democracy. In a democracy, winning an election is just the 1st step. It doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want and everyone else has to go along, no matter how much right wingers would like to believe that.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr

A Crisis Not Of Our Making

Earlier this year city of Toronto officials announced that if more child-care money wasn’t forthcoming from senior levels of government the city would have to close some 5 000 subsidized spaces over the next two years. As the budget process kicks into high gear this month, we will be hearing a lot of such talk: monetary shortfalls and program/service cuts. That will be followed by the inevitable calls for restraint and the getting of the fiscal house in order, especially with it being an election year.

I think it a good opportunity, however, to point out the way in which this exemplifies the off-kilter political dynamic at work and how municipalities as the street level, day-to-day providers of such things like day-care work at a disadvantage while facing the brunt of the public’s displeasure with decisions that are not, ultimately, made at a local level.

Upon coming to power four years ago, the federal Conservatives led by Stephen Harper rolled back the five billion dollar national child-care plan that the previous Liberal government had proposed, and replaced it with a more modest, shall we say, approach. Part of this new day-care tack on the Conservative government’s part was a one time grant to the provinces, totaling just over $250 million for Ontario. In turn, the Ontario government split that amount into four $63.5 million annual payments to municipalities; payments that run out on April 1st. Already the provincial government has had to pay out an additional $18 million to avoid disruptions during the current school term.

The second key decision in the equation was last fall’s announcement by Queen’s Park that it was going to fund full time kindergarden for the province’s 4 and 5 year-olds. In and of itself, this plan would seem to be unrelated to the day-care cash crunch. However, the removal of older children from day-care, in fact, makes day-care services more expensive because older children, in needing less hands-on attention, are less costly units. In their absence, it will require more money to provide and run day-care centres, therefore making day-care more expensive.

So, what you have is a day-care crisis in the making precipitated by decisions made by the two levels of senior government who do not provide the services. This is your asymmetrical, inverted democracy at work. Individual Canadians, 80% of whom live in urban municipalities, hand over the majority of their taxes to senior levels of government in the form of income and sales taxes. These levels of government then divvy up their expenditures based on whim and political necessity which, oftentimes, are diametrically opposed to the needs of individual Canadians.

This structure represents the height of inefficient governance and lies at the root of much of our municipalities’ money woes. Too much of our taxes go to where it is least needed and is doled out in an ad hoc, politically motivated manner. Yet, it is a situation that largely goes unremarked upon during the course of election campaigns. Rather than pointing fingers at each other, screaming waste, fat, inefficiency, municipal candidates should be aiming their fire at those who are truly responsible up on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and in the country’s provincial legislatures.

Thank you for reading.

submitted by Acaphlegmic