A Year On

August 22, 2012

Tommy Douglas. David Lewis. Jack Layton.

Something didn’t quite sit right with me when Olivia Chow talked about the giants of this country’s progressive movement while discussing her husband on the first anniversary of his death today with Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway. Sure, Layton took the NDP to political heights it had never achieved before. The outpouring of grief, admiration and outright love toward him in the days leading up to his funeral was immense. It was hard to fathom such a positive reaction to a politician in these our cynical times.

But, Tommy Douglas, David Lewis, Jack Layton?

Now, I’ll grant you the problem of perception could very well be my own. I was much younger during the twilight of Douglas and the Lewises. Everything seems bigger seen through youthful eyes. Politics and politicians operated on a grander scale. At least, that’s how I remember it.

Arguably the last successful politicians that swaggered onto the stage, full of big, world changing ideas were conservatives, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Brian Mulroney. Think about their respective successors. Tinkerers. Technocrats. And much, much worse.

Yeah, and the music, movies [fill in the blank with whatever cultural reference] were all better back in the olden days too, right old man?

No. But here’s the thing.

The last of the big politicians with their big ideas brought with them the one big idea which would diminish future big ideas and big politicians. That was the triumph of the free market. The abstract, Milton Friedman theory of unfettered capitalism that, if untouched by the soiled hands of regulation, would float all boats. From which sprang the sentiment of government being the problem not the solution. Or, “… there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.”

Everybody for themselves. Success measured not by contribution to the greater good but by accumulation of stuff. The triumph of the private over the public sphere.

Ironically, this political-economic philosophy supposedly based on the centrality of the individual actually reduced the majority of people to little more than supporting roles. They became merely part of the process rather than the focus of it. In the parlance of our times, we aren’t viewed as citizens but consumers or taxpayers. The strength of our neighbourhoods, communities, towns, cities, countries is now measured by the health of our healthiest members not by that of our weakest.

That is where Jack Layton comes in.

His big idea was really quite simple and revolutionary too, when it was introduced more than 2000 years ago. When we turn our backs on the welfare of others, we turn our backs on the very thing that makes us human. Thatcher’s notion that there is no such thing as society is total revisionist bunk as anyone who takes even a moment to glance through our history can see.

We did not prosper as a species because of herculean individual efforts or personal feats of wonder. Left alone to fend for ourselves, we would’ve been picked off one by one on the savannah. Humans succeeded through a group effort. The group is only as strong as the health of each member.

In fact, we are at our worst when we idolize the individual. Such idolatry leads to demagoguery. Clans clash with clans. Tribal warfare brings out the most inhumane in us.

It’s not lost on me that I write this in praise of, well, a particular individual. But Jack Layton was one who dedicated his life to public service in pursuit of bettering the lives of all and not just the few with the vain hope that the benefits would rub off or trickle down. This is what unites him with past leaders of his party, his movement. Strengthening society by strengthening the opportunities and possibilities of every member of it.

If we strive to achieve in spite of others, the benefits are of limited value. To strive to achieve because of others, with the help of others, that creates a lasting ripple effect that outlives any one individual. A year on, and that is Jack Layton’s continuing legacy.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr


With Admirers Like These…

August 29, 2011

In the week between Jack Layton’s death and his funeral, I heard a lot of ‘While I disagreed with his politics, I admired the man’ sentiments. A nice — generous even – way of saying that you could like a person without ever agreeing with them politically. The much sought after bipartisanship in a time of official mourning.

Watching the proceedings on Saturday and digesting all that was said over the flag draped casket on stage at Roy Thompson Hall, I began to wonder about the above view. I admired the man but disagreed with his politics. What was there to disagree with?

Yes, yes. There’s always a reflexive dismissal of the concept of redistribution of wealth, fear of the cessation of mindless tax cuts, class warfare in a real pinch. All those left wing bogeymen that are dragged out from under the bed to scare us with. Slogans most but even those with a modicum of truth to them are simply means to an end, processes toward a goal. That goal sits at the heart of a person’s ‘politics’.

And Jack Layton’s politics?

Reading his letter to Canadians and listening to the words spoken in eulogy, his politics sought ‘a more inclusive and generous Canada’ with ‘greater equality, justice, opportunity.’ According to Stephen Lewis, Jack Layton wanted ‘an economy that would embrace equity, fairness, balance and creative generosity.’ Jack Layton represented the ‘politics of respect for all, respect for the earth, respect for principle and generosity.’

Again, what’s not to agree with?

I guess there are those out there who dismiss all that as pie-in-the-sky fantasy, naïve, granola crunchy utopianism. Pure sophistry in some cases. For them, inclusiveness, generosity, equality, justice, fairness and respect are all either not achievable or desirable. Thus, they disagreed with Jack Layton’s politics.

I could be wrong and simply give my fellow Canadians too much credit but I assume that those holding such beliefs are in the minority. That most of us, ultimately, see such things as respect, fairness, justice, equality as not only desirable in theory but absolute necessities for a society to function at its highest level. When we say that we disagreed with Jack Layton’s politics, what we mean is that we disagreed with the methods of achieving all those lofty goals.

Fair enough. But I think it’s well past high time that those disagreeing with the politics of Jack Layton start laying out their plans on how to create a more just, equal, fair and inclusive society because, after nearly 30 years of decidedly non-Jack Layton politics, we are further from those qualities than we have been in a generation. We’ve been told how tax cuts create jobs which, in turn, increases government revenue. We’ve been told how open and unfettered global markets create increased opportunities both at home and abroad. We’ve bashed unions as obsolete. We’ve been assured that a rising tide will raise all boats.

Looking around at the evidence, I’d suggest we’ve been sold a bill of goods. The global economy teeters on wobbly legs sinking into part two of what could be a double dip recession, brought on by unregulated financial behemoths run amok. Income concentration is at the highest it’s been in some 80 years. We’ve gutted our manufacturing sector and, not coincidentally, our middle-class, exchanging good paying jobs for cheap consumer goods. Yet, household debt is perilously elevated. University education – the cornerstone of our future well-being, living as we are in the information age – is becoming more and more of a luxury item. Even our public school system is creeping toward a have versus have-not status. Pensions, once a rock solid contract between employee and employer, are now viewed as relics of past prosperity, unaffordable in these days of austerity.

We live in society that has become less generous, less fair, less equal with fewer opportunities for fewer people. Pretty much the exact opposite of everything Jack Layton stood for. So it’s all well and good to wrap yourself in the admired the man, disagreed with his politics warm and fuzzy coat but it’s ultimately facile to the point of meaninglessness. By disagreeing with Jack Layton’s politics, you are, in fact, in agreement with systemic unfairness and inequality, injustice and a blatant disregard for the well-being of your fellow citizens.

So admire away. But it would be better for all of us if you put more thought into your politics.

submitted by Cityslikr


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


The Real Swing Factor In Trinity-Spadina

April 20, 2011

[Yesterday our email inbox contained a message that so nailed how we were feeling about the federal campaign going on in our riding that, with the author’s permission, we wanted to share it with all of you. Plus, it gave us the day off to head out and enjoy our lovely spring weather.]

*  *  *

I am exasperated!

Today I read yet another article about how the Liberals and the NDP both need to court the centre-right condo vote in order to win Trinity-Spadina. But the “conservative condo vote” has been mentioned for almost a decade as a swing factor, only to disappear when the votes are counted. It is a cliché and it is wrong.

The real swing voters in Trinity-Spadina are independent progressives.

The NDP does not own the progressive vote in Trinity-Spadina, and cannot take it for granted. Many progressives grimaced as the NDP dithered over the long gun registry, or adopted the Tory anti-tax talking points on the Green Shift, or called for cheaper fossil fuels, or sided with conservative unionists who fear environmentalism costs jobs. These progressives really like Olivia Chow, but they also worry that the NDP is perhaps less a party of urbanists and environmentalists, and more that of culturally-conservative rural unionists who think Toronto pinkos can go to hell.

These swing progressives are the people who voted for Adam Vaughan over the NDP-endorsed Helen Kennedy municipally in Ward 20 (Jack Layton had reportedly threatened to “bury” Vaughan if he ran against Kennedy – nice!). These are also the people who voted for Karen Sun over Jack Layton’s son in Ward 19 last year. These alone represent about 12,000 T-S votes, or one-fifth of the voting electorate. These are the people who will decide the results in Trinity-Spadina, not the “conservative condo vote.”

And yet the condo cliché remains. Here’s the Toronto Star talking to Sean McCormick, an inexperienced Fordesque fiscal conservative who had been bizarrely endorsed by the federal Liberal T-S riding association in last fall’s municipal election for Ward 19 councillor. Not only did McCormick place third, even with the supposedly-mighty conservative condo vote, he was so incompetent that he defaulted on his campaign financials, the only front-running council candidate in the City to do so. (Liberal donors to McCormick’s campaign: according to City bylaw, this default means you are no longer eligible for the City’s 75% donation rebate). Bad enough that these Liberals endorsed an incompetent candidate, but the real stupidity is that they are chasing after conservative voters in Trinity-Spadina, and not progressives.

Clearly, the T-S Liberal riding association is still gripped by the dead hand of Tony Ianno, who was the Liberal MP from 1993-2006. He is famous around here for the contrast between his ruthless hold on power locally, and his lack of presence in Parliament. In 1988, he pioneered some disgraceful practices in the nomination process, practices that William Johnston said “strike at the legitimacy of the most fundamental process of our democratic system.” In 1996, as the feds were turning over harbour commissions to municipalities elsewhere, Ianno fought to create the Toronto Port Authority and put it under federal control. One of its first acts was to sue the City of Toronto for a billion dollars, and the TPA has been a continuous “fuck you” to the city ever since. In 2003, Ianno also pioneered new ways of getting around his own party’s campaign finance law, by creating a secret trust fund that was described in the Montreal Gazette as “a recipe for corruption.” In 2006, he shut down campus polls at U of T, the same thing Iggy slammed the Tories for doing in Guelph. To top it off, Ianno now faces stock manipulation charges.

After this Liberal stronghold fell to the NDP in 2006, you might have hoped the Trinity-Spadina riding association would seek a fresh face who could win back progressive Liberal voters. Next door, in Parkdale-High Park, the Liberals replaced a similarly defeated, similarly uninspiring Liberal with progressive Gerard Kennedy, who was able to defeat the popular and hard-working NDP MP Peggy Nash and retake the riding (some people say, “what a waste,” but why shouldn’t voters get to choose between good candidates?). You might also have thought the T-S riding association would be especially sensitive to the fact that their former MP was now facing an OSC probe during a recession caused by securities shenanigans.

Instead, just weeks before the 2008 election, the Liberals replaced their irritating former MP with Christine Innes, the MP’s wife. If you’re a registered Liberal but can’t remember when you agreed to this nomination, it is because you were not exactly asked. The couple apparently decided this between themselves. “It’s my time,” said Innes. This reminds me of how Andersen Consulting changed its name to Accenture following the Enron scandal.

The role of a riding association generally does not come up in election coverage. And perhaps the distastefulness of the Ianno/Innes family compact is simply how the sausages are made. Voters are also expected to vote for the party and not the local representative. But who advocates for the community’s priorities in a party’s caucus if not the MP? Who sets the direction of a party in Parliament if not its caucus? And as the TPA issue shows, federal politics can indeed be local. MPs matter.

Christine Innes seems quite nice, and she is not her husband. But she is not a fresh start either, and her riding association’s overtures to hard-right fiscal conservatives should worry Liberal progressives. Is Ms. Innes herself centre-right politically, or does she just think the voters are? Either way, how can progressives trust her?

Why won’t the Liberals nominate a progressive in this progressive riding? Where’s our Gerard Kennedy? Where’s our Martha Hall Findlay?

It’s time to drop the conservative condo cliché, and its time for the Liberal riding association to pull its head out of Tony Ianno’s ass. Independent progressives are the real swing voters in Trinity-Spadina, and we are the ones who should be courted.

submitted by John Bowker


Whither You Progressives

October 18, 2010

Here’s where the numbers don’t add up for me. (Nice cold start. No mucking about with wordy intro.)

In the 2006 municipal election, incumbent mayor David Miller was re-elected with nearly 57% of the vote. According to the latest poll from Nanos, the outgoing mayor’s endorsed candidate, Joe Pantalone, is pulling in 15%. My very unscientific reading of that suggests over 40% of a supposed left of centre, progressive voting bloc has dissipated somewhere into the ether. Where to, is what I’m wondering.

It’s hard to imagine that even with all that alleged anger manifesting itself post-09 civic workers’ strike, there’d be such a stampede across the political spectrum toward the decidedly un-progressive Rob Ford. George Smitherman has run a very right of centre campaign, tossing out the occasional lefty crumb to keep up liberal appearances. So where are those 40% of David Miller voters?

Granted, not everyone who ever voted for David Miller would consider themself progressive or left of centre. In 06 there was the power of incumbency and, arguably, a weakness of opponent. In 03 Miller was deemed the agent of change who would undo the disrepair wrought on City Hall by the Lastman gang. Change seems to be a major player again in this campaign. Regardless of ideology, the electorate has moved to candidates they think will bring about the biggest change for the city.

Still, it’s hard to reconcile the Pantalone 15%. As we have stated on more than one occasion here, Mr. Pantalone is not a strong campaigner. So, that must be factored into the equation. He’s simply been unable to rally the troops under his candidacy’s flag. But with no other viable left of centre candidate (at least in the mainstream media – and thus, a majority of voters’ eyes) on offer, 15% seems like a very, very low number.

Yes, there is the Ford factor. Many who would naturally tend Pantalone-sque are so violently appalled at the prospects of the Etobicoke councillor becoming mayor that they have abandoned their natural base in order to stop that from happening. The Deputy Mayor simply never polled high enough to be considered the candidate to defeat Ford. That simply takes us back to the question, why?

What’s taking place here in ward 19 may offer up a possible answer.

Two progressive candidates are fighting it out for the council seat that opened up, appropriately enough, when Joe Pantalone decided to run for mayor. Michael Layton has been endorsed by the former councillor and is back by the legendary local NDP machine including his father’s wife, Olivia Chow, the M.P. for the area. Karen Sun is an independent voice who has spent the last decade working on a series of municipal level matters both at City Hall and outside, ranging from environmental to governance issues.

The division between these two candidates, I think, represents the ongoing transformation of progressive thought, and may help explain Joe Pantalone’s anemic showing in the campaign so far.

Mike Layton epitomizes the old school, left wing coalition of urban elitism, the “ethnic vote” (for lack of a better term), unions and Tommy Douglas-like grassroots populism. The “ethnic vote”, I would suggest, is fairly disparate at this point that doesn’t vote en masse for a single candidate. Ditto, the union vote. Populism has become largely right-wing recently. And us elites can only be counted on not to vote too far right. That’s a tough group to stitch together in hopes of gaining a plurality. A little of each may not be enough to secure a victory.

Especially if you’re vying with a candidate who is offering up a similarly progressive but far more urban oriented platform. For a candidate growing up with a father and stepmom both city councillors, Layton the Younger displays remarkably little affinity for local, urban specific issues. Check out his Community Experience under the About link on his website. A camp councillor?!

In comparison Karen Sun represents the face of urban progressivism. Her work has been focused almost exclusively at the municipal level. This is vitally important since we as a nation are becoming increasingly urbanized. With over 3/4s of us now living in what are considered urban environments, it is becoming more critical for us to elect those well versed on those issues to represent us. Progressive values have become increasingly linked to urban values.

Bringing us back to the flagging Pantalone support. While he can rightfully boast of a number of progressive initiatives he’s helmed or supported, his endorsement of Michael Layton displayed a proclivity for stale thinking. Whether he believed Layton was the best candidate on offer for ward 19 or if it was just a case of mutual back-scratching with the NDP powers-that-be, Pantalone showed himself to be out of step with where much of the progressive, left of centre is at the moment. He may be the most left leaning voice still in the mayoral election (that is within the realm of the remaining 3 front runners. Perhaps if the wider voting public had been allowed to see more of Himy Syed, the city would be in the throes of the same deliberation we here in ward 19 are currently in the midst of between Layton and Sun) but Pantalone simply is not in step with the wider progressive movement.

Thus, leaving much of the left limply unenthusiastic and prone to drifting reluctantly to where they think they’re needed most.

unsupportively submitted by Cityslikr