The Moth-like Politics of Dalton McGuinty

A debate has been raging around the office in recent days… OK, not so much raging as dribbling out in fits and starts. If not fits and starts, at least, bored bouts of opinionated discussion. And even the word ‘discussion’ gives too much a sense of engagement in the topic.

You see, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have been pondering on Dalton McGuinty. So you understand the complete and utter ambivalence and passionate disinterest at the core of the subject. The room was far from electric when talking about the provincial premier.

The two sides can be summed up as follows: Dalton McGuinty, evil Machiavellian political operator masking as country bumpkin or just plain country bumpkin? Andy Taylor of Mayberry or Barney Fife? Andy Taylor of Duran Duran or Simon LeBon?

Frankly, I don’t buy the Machiavelli angle. There’s no convincing proof. Stephen Harper is nothing but Machiavellian with a little sliver of ideology to give him direction. Dalton McGuinty possesses neither. He doesn’t machinate nor does he even so much as dabble in the cold, cold waters of doctrinairism. Dalton McGuinty simply is.

It is my contention that Dalton McGuinty is the luckiest politician going. He took over his late father’s seat at Queen’s Park in 1990. He took over a dispirited provincial Liberal party who’d just been caught flat-footed by the Common Sense Revolution. He was fourth on both the 1st and 2nd ballots of the 1996 leadership convention before finally lurching to victory in the 5th and final ballot, ultimately backed by the Red Tory contingent of the party. He was summarily defeated in his first provincial election as Liberal leader by a far from popular Progressive Conservative government but retained the leadership reins with little struggle. He became premier next time out with the collapse of the Harris-Eves government under the weight of its own malicious incompetence.

As the premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty has successfully governed by being perceived as a better fiscal manager than the NDP and a more humane overseer of social services than the PCs. It is a baffling perception. The province has a record deficit. (Yeah, yeah. They’re dealing with a nasty recession. Where was that slack cut with Bob Rae back in the early 90s? Or the present city budget?) In terms of social spending and provincial downloading of services onto municipalities, well, the Liberals have hardly restored matters to anything close to pre-Harris Tory levels.

One of the most telling shortcomings of the McGuinty government is in terms of education funding. With the devastation of the provinces manufacturing sector, all the talk is about the new, high tech information age. For that to happen, we need heavy investment in education at all levels. Yet, Ontario remains last in higher education spending per capita of all the country’s provinces. Yes, that was a trend started under the Tories in the 90s but more than a decade later we are still last.

Excuses only go so far. For McGuinty, first it was that the preceding government had left a bigger deficit than expected. Now it’s the economic downturn. He’s trying his best but let’s be reasonable, people.

It is my hypothesis here that the success of Dalton McGuinty is due to the fact that he governs as a moth flies. His is an unpredictable, random approach that is near impossible to pin down. He zigs when you think he should zag. And like the moth, McGuinty has no control over it. It’s like punching water or putting the squeeze on jello.

Hey, don’t worry Toronto voters. If I’m elected premier I will upload all those services that mean nasty Mike Harris burdened you with. Eventually. Maybe. Transit City? You bet. Or maybe not. Times are tough all over. The cupboard’s bare.

You can never tell when the man will stand firm or fold up like a card table made of a deck of cards. He’s remained staunch in the growing outrage over the harmonized sales tax that’s coming down on us in July, possibly risking what should be an easy re-election. But with a minor peep of protest from a small contingent, he quickly backed off the proposed sex education grade school curriculum.

There’s no rhyme nor reason to it. It’s a governing style impossible to engage with rationally. At least with the stridently ideological bent of Mike Harris, you knew what to expect and (usually) prepare for the worst. With Dalton? He’ll stab you in the back without apparently even knowing he’s doing it. Apparently, it’s a method conducive to political longevity but impossibly difficult to work with or count on.

musingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Sneering Smitherman

OK. So when can we expect to start hearing some positive tones coming from the George Smitherman campaign? Almost from the get-go there’s been nothing but invective spewed forth, denigrating anything and everything to do with City Hall. Yeah, we got it, George. The place is a nest of under-worked and over-paid politicians and bureaucrats alike, and you’re the tough guy who’s going to knock heads and make things fly right. City Hall is Jack Palance. George Smitherman is Shane.

Not that he’s alone wallowing in the bile. Rocco Rossi is no slouch himself when it comes to matching Smitherman in heaping sneering superciliousness upon Toronto’s public servants. Together they are proving to be the Beavis and Butthead of the 2K10©®™ campaign trail, sitting around watching the proceedings and yelling: Fire! Fire!! Burn! Burn!!

As we have said in these pages relatively regularly, criticism’s the easy part. Solutions aren’t so simple. Unless of course you are George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi who have both displayed an easy affinity for right-wing, neoconservative/liberal platitudes and claptrap.

Rossi thinks that if we just sell everything, it’ll be clear sailing ahead. Along with squeezing out ‘efficiencies’, that’s the heart of his multi-year plan to restore fiscal health to the city. It’s like listening to a panicked investment advisor when he hits a rough patch. Sell! Sell! Sell!! And the next thing you know, you’re looking at a Great Depression.

Smitherman, having learned firsthand from his former boss at Queen’s Park, is pitching himself just slightly less fiscally conservative than his opponent. It’s not that he is against selling public assets per se (he couldn’t be, what with Ralph Lean as his chief fundraiser). He just thinks it should be done in a more orderly fashion than Rossi’s willy-nilly, fire sale approach. Aside from that, the two candidates are pretty well marching in campaign lockstep.

Smitherman’s response to the city’s proposed budget is all dismissive snarl, manly chest beating and empty campaign rhetoric. Cuts, slashes, freezes and a general shaking up of the sense of indolent entitlement George perceives City Hall to be full of. No more ‘hobby horses’ under the responsible leadership of a Mayor Smitherman. It’s all about long term thinking replacing stop-gap measures with a dollop of ‘innovative models’ and ‘new approaches’. It’s a campaign strategy of can’t and cant.

To Rossi and Smitherman, it’s as if the last 12, 13 years never happened. For both, Toronto’s fiscal problems are all its own doing. Never mind that structural deficits really started in earnest when the provincial government massively downloaded social services on municipalities in the late-90s without the corresponding money to run them. Never mind that the same government pulled out of the traditional 50-50 funding of operational costs for the TTC at the same time. Never mind that all those annual savings from amalgamation never materialized. I mean, come on. That’s so last century.

Of course this heavy tilt to the right is made possible in the absence of any credible progressive candidate in the race since Adam Giambrone’s flameout. Oh wait. Who’s that over there? Right, right. Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone and his 30 years of municipal experience. But come on. He’s not really plausible for mayor. I mean, look how short he is and he’s got that funny accent.

Pantlone is either proving to be an ineffective candidate or he’s just being bulldozed past in what, according to the cold, logical analysis of the National Post’s Terence Corcoran, is Toronto’s “… momentous shift to the right”. Either way, until someone is able to step up and be heard above the shrill din of hard conservative blather, Smitherman and Rossi (sounds like the name of an appertif) are going to continue battling it out to prove who can be the meanest, nastiest, slashiest-and-burniest neo-con on the block. Or until Rob Ford enters the race and assumes control of the hardcore spectrum of the right wing, making the other two seem almost reasonable by comparison.

This anti stance by the likes of Smitherman and Rossi with some similar haymakers thrown by Giorgio Mammoliti may sound good to receptive ears but it really amounts to little more than a cancer on the body politic of Toronto. It’s self-immolation and makes it impossible to see how any candidate who gets elected on such a platform could govern properly. Who wants to work with or for someone espousing dismissive, malicious attitudes towards you and what you do? While George Smitherman may think such hard-nosed tough talk exemplifies leadership, it’s nothing but cold calculation and mean-spirited posturing which will repel more voters than it attracts.

City building it’s not and shouldn’t that be the one thing we demand from our mayor?

testily submitted by Cityslikr

Toronto Centre: A Request

Dear Voters of Toronto Centre,

As you go to the polls tomorrow, please consider this request from us interested Toronto outsiders observing the proceedings.

Would you mind electing either the NDP’s Cathy Crowe or Stefan Premdas of the Green Party please? (We would never endorse a PC candidate, still smarting as we are from the Mike Harris downloading and enforced amalgamation.) It would be most appreciated if you would take a pass on Liberal Glen Murray.

Why, you ask?

Well, we’d like him to rethink the idea of running for mayor. I know, I know. Talk about awkward, him throwing his hat into the ring against George Smitherman whose provincial seat he wants to fill.. I know where you’re going with that but don’t.. It’s just that George seems to have disappeared. Is he still in the race? Even if he is, we think Glen would be a better a mayor.

He’s already been one once, over yonder in Winnipeg. And by all accounts, he was quite good. Murray was certainly a leading advocate on the national scene, pushing for increased municipal powers back in the day. We could certainly use more of that here now.

It’s true, having a strong municipal advocate in the provincial government might be beneficial, but we’re talking this particular provincial government. This blandly innocuous Liberal brand of being only slightly less destructively neoliberal than their predecessors. Maybe if Glen could be guaranteed the Ministry of Urban Affairs and Housing (our evil overlord), there might be a little more enthusiasm for a Murray win on Thursday. But it’s hard to think that they’d move Jim Bradley after just giving him the portfolio 3 weeks ago.

Besides, no one entering this government emerges the same or at all useful. They are immediately submerged into the goo of McGuinty mediocrity and wind up skittish, craven and ultimately ineffectual. Glen Murray deserves to be steered clear of that sad, sad fate.

So, good voters of Toronto Centre, do us all a solid and don’t elect Glen Murray as your M.P.P. tomorrow. Leave him to run for mayor. Do it for Toronto. Do it for yourselves.

Thank you for your consideration.

beseechingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat