The Day Conservatism Died

April 19, 2011

Does anyone know the exact date when conservatism ceased operations as a productive, positive contributor to society? At what point of time in its supposed illustrious history did it stop offering up ideas and solutions that consisted of more complex notions than could fit perfectly on a placard, bumper sticker or that a two year-old could remember and recite? Was it a sudden jolt like a meteor strike that made the post-Enlightenment air toxic to the more progressives in their movement or did they just gradually rid themselves of reason, rational thought and a belief in the common good?

Was the last true conservative of the Burkian mold in the plane with Buddy Holly that fateful night in February 1959?

We know traditional political conservatism has been under attack in the U.S. since the crushing defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. It was put on the endangered list under Richard Nixon and the last species spotted during the Reagan Revolution. Our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents’ conservatism went extinct when George W. Bush move into the Oval Office in January 2001.

But here in Canada, conservatism survived a little longer, dying a slower death. Perhaps it was fatally infected with the 1988 Free Trade Deal and our closer integration with the United States. The ‘neo’ in neo-conservatism began to rub off on us. With the rise of western alienation, the Reform Party and Alberta with its U.S. style conservatism as an oil producing, economic force. The progressive in the Progressive Conservative leaked away, lapped up by the Jean Chretien-Paul Martin Liberals, eager to bolster their right flank.

Ontario dipped its toe into the new conservative waters when it embraced Mike Harris’s Common Sense Revolution in the mid-90s, rejecting and ultimately putting a bullet in the head of the red Toryism that had ruled the land for over 40 years until 1985. After 8 years, the province return to its traditional progressive conservative roots when it elected Liberal Dalton McGuinty. The actual Progressive Conservative now exists in name only.

Unlike their neo-conservative soul mates at the federal level who, with the PC-Canadian Alliance/Reform Party amalgamation, jettisoned any last vestige of progressive thought or policy. Finally, it’s Morning in Canada. Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem. Taxes are bad. Science is bad. Peacekeeping is for pussies. In-depth gathering of data in order to more thoroughly define and guide public policy is an invasion of privacy and must be eliminated. An added bonus if you’re planning to build more prisons and get tougher on crime in the face of evidence pointing to dropping rates of criminal behaviour.

Statistics and facts be damned when we’ve got naked ideology to propel us forward back to the 17-century!

It wasn’t too long ago that kind of political thinking would’ve relegated you to the fringes. Yet now the Conservatives are within serious striking distance of securing a majority victory, able to count on a third of the electorate for steadfast support for what can only be described as an antediluvian outlook. Hell, in the so-called liberal hotbed of Toronto, nearly 50% of the voters rallied behind Rob Ford – the poster child for narrow-minded, anti-government, pithy slogans as policy platforms politicians — as their choice for mayor last fall. We are now in the process of witnessing up close and personal just much how respect we taxpayers should expect from neo-conservative politicians.

Which, judging by the craziness going on to the south of us at the hands of the self-proclaimed Tea Party movement, should be next to nil. The thing is, when conservatives abandoned their core principle as stated by Glen Worthington, “…the essence of conservatism lies not in a body of theory, but in the disposition to maintain those institutions seen as central to the beliefs and practices of society”, the day traditional conservatism died, all bets were off. Neo-conservatives bear no responsibility to anyone aside from themselves. What’s good for them as individuals is good for society. End stop. Edmund Burke and the like deposed by Ayn Rand. Ask not what your country can do for you because it’s going to do fuck all. And certainly don’t ask what you can do for your country as, well, that would just be an imposition, an impingement of my individual freedom and liberty.

And those of us not sharing that particularly libertarian worldview have much blame to shoulder for the current conservative-less situation. By accepting any tenets of the faith, from its creeping anti-governmentalism to the bogus trickle-down economic theory, we lent it credibility and gave it traction. We helped make the lunatic acceptable and now find ourselves having to defend against what is essentially an alternate reality where up is down, black is white and tax cuts generate increased revenue for the public purse.

An alternate reality where the likes of Ezra Levant are considered worthy of having a spot on television to discuss politics. Yes, as a matter of fact, he did compare the CBC to a North Korean state run broadcast. With a straight face!

Watching what I could stomach of yesterday’s launch of Sun TV, two words immediately sprung to mind: cable access. Back when honest to god conservatism was still alive and well, that’s where crackpots like Mr. Levant et al would’ve been relegated if they wanted to air their fetid, malignant views out in public. Or a soapbox in the corner of a park.While it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly how it is traditional conservatism died, I think we can officially call time of death. It was April 18th 2011, 4:30pm EDT.

sympathetically submitted by Cityslikr


Running On Empty

October 16, 2010

Sitting alone (again, naturally) on a Saturday morning in the office, my 2nd cup of tea still refusing to warm me up. I will not turn on the electric baseboard heating and give our landlord the satisfaction or the cash. I will not!

I am pondering the rightward tilt the race for mayor seems bound and determined to follow and for the life of me, I cannot figure out why. OK, so people are angry. I get it. The recession lingers on like the first autumn cold that will not quit regardless of what you throw at it. (My suggestion? Plenty of booze and cigarettes. Take it out for an all-night bender. Show it just how unwelcome a host you really can be.) We’re told that we’ve weathered the blow but that the turnaround is going to be painfully slow and drawn out. There’s still some bloodletting to be done in order to get us back to fighting weight.

We’re looking for somebody to blame for this mess and who better than government? There is an orderly process in place for us to make our displeasure known: voting. The alternative is dicier and slightly more involved as it would mean gathering together in groups and tearing some shit up. But, judging by the reaction to things in June during the G8 meeting here, such recourse is frowned upon in official circles.

For us in Ontario, the first crack we’re getting at expressing ourselves at the ballot box is at the municipal level, by-elections aside and who really counts those? The thing that’s baffling me about how it’s all playing out, at least in Toronto, is why are people reacting so, well, reactionarily? We’ve been down this road before, people. Remember?

That hapless and spendthrift Bob Rae government at Queen’s Park in the mid-90s? We ushered in the fiscally austere and oh-so competent Mike Harris Conservatives to clean up the mess. They didn’t. Or how about the corrupt and profligate Jean Chretien/Paul Martin team up there in Ottawa, blowing through all our hard earned dollars on pet projects like… what was it called again? Shawinigate? Time to bring in the restrained and prudent sensibilities of the conservative Harperites to restore order. Except, ooops, they didn’t.

Modern day conservatives never solve problems. They only exacerbate them, deepen them and create ones where none existed. It is a bankrupt ideological movement that successfully achieves two objectives, and two objectives only. One, to roll back any and all social and economic gains made over the last 80 years or so. Two, to dismantle the mechanisms of government in order to render it inoperable for society as a whole so they can turn around and parrot the empty words of their patron saint, Ronald Reagan. “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

After that? They’ve got nothing but a dog whistle to call forth the furies of outrage and resentment lurking just below the surface.

Rather than spend time and space today running down the shortcomings, lies and delusions of the anti brigade vying to retake City Hall for us here come October 25th, let’s take a glance south of the border to our American neighbours who are taking neoconservative/libertarian thinking to its illogical extreme.

Watching the last couple episodes of Real Time with Bill Maher, we encountered 3 cases in point. There was P.J. O’Rourke, the satirical lion of Reagan era libertarianism now simply looking old and tired, stating emphatically that ‘governments don’t create jobs’. When questioned by co-panelist Andrew Ross Sorkin, author of Too Big To Fail, an account of the economic meltdown of 2008, that if by choosing to build, say, a bridge, wasn’t government creating jobs? O’Rourke’s response? Don’t get him started on bridge safety. He was all for bridge safety. Aren’t we all, P.J.? Now, would you please answer Mr. Sorkin’s question.

Next up on the same show was one S.E. Cupp, a shiny-faced conservative pundit star on the internet. In the midst of a discussion about America’s need to start investing more fully in developing alternative sources of energy, she declared that alternative energy solutions were a rich country’s concerns. Again, somewhat flummoxed, Sorkin pointed out that China had surpassed America in pursuing alternative energy solutions which only seemed to prove Cupp’s point. For her, China is now a rich country because it owns a big chunk of U.S. debt and it was the U.S. that was broke. So no alternative energy for America. By reducing a complex economic system to one single factor, this conservative mind believed China was rich and the United States poor. O’Rourke then piped in with the view that we couldn’t do anything about climate change anyway because everyone in China ‘wanted a Buick’. Seriously, kids. He used to be funny.

Last night’s episode featured another conservative internet star, radio show host and proud member of the Tea Party party, Dana Loesch, “… the sweet Midwestern goth version of Laura Ingraham.” Railing against the bailouts and stimulus spending as un-American, she was unimpressed by the notion that the move probably helped staunch the bleeding and ward off another Great Depression. “Why does the government get to decide who succeeds and who doesn’t?” she responded. Uhhh… well, I guess since the private sector was collapsing in on itself, somebody had to step up and try to avoid long breadlines and overcrowded soup kitchens. When Dan Neil, a Wall Street Journal writer, corrected her earlier assertion that more money was spent on the bailout and stimulus then on the war in Iraq, she countered that ‘there are a lot of figures out there that dispute that’.

Ah, yes. Those mystical, magical ‘figures out there’ used to dispute whatever needs disputing in order to keep the belief system going. Or what rational people call, clutching at straws. Because that’s all modern conservatism is capable of anymore. Clutching at straws.

And yet, we keep turning back to it attempting to solve our problems. Our delusion seems to be mutual.

consternatedly submitted by Cityslikr


I Got The TPA Porter Air Blues

February 24, 2010

I cannot lie. I like to fly as much as the next guy. As well as rhyme unnecessarily.

Aviation fascinates me. The sight of a plane either touching down or taking off still stops me in my tracks and fills me with childlike wonder. No matter how much I understand the science behind flight, there remains a little part of me that sees it as nothing short of a miracle.

In my line of work outside of contributing to these pages, I am often called on short notice to hop a plane and deliver my expertise all over the globe. Air travel is a regular part of my life. I view it as a blessing not a curse.

I live in downtown Toronto, close enough to the island airport to make it convenient to get to but not close enough for its aeronautical comings and goings to bother me if I were the kind of person put off by such things. As stated above, I’m not but the point I’m trying to make is that in terms of the island airport, on most accounts, I am simply an objective, outside observer. I have no vested interest one way or another in it.

Yet, I cannot bring myself to fly from this airport using Porter Air.

It’s not an environmental thing. Hell, I fly a lot. Clearly I’ve rationalized that as a major component of my carbon footprint. So I will not weigh in about the island airport’s impact from a pollution standpoint. I also think that an airport does not have to necessarily be detrimental from a waterfront redevelopment perspective. It could be a signature landmark; its presence felt like the planes from LaGuardia flying overhead Flushing Meadows during the U.S. Open tennis.

My aversion to the island airport, Porter Air and the federal agency that oversees both, the Toronto Port Authority (TPA), is purely political. The continued presence of the airport on the island represents the height of backroom cronyism, the influence of money and power, and serves as a prime example of the contempt in which our local government is held by their federal counterparts. Bay Street trumps Main Street to use a hoary cliché. Or should that be whore-y?

Now I’ve never actually seen a poll even from the committed anti-airport group CommunityAIR backing up their claim that a majority of Toronto residents want to see the airport shuttered. My thought is that a majority of residents don’t really think about it at all as it has no effect on their lives. It is the perpetually sneaky and underhanded behaviour of the TPA and Porter Air, however, that makes one wonder if there’s not something to CommunityAIR’s assessment of the situation.

One of the most recent examples of the TPA’s slipperiness was its announcement last Christmas Eve of a major expansion of the island airport. Now, major news releases are not made on Christmas Eve if the news contained within them is targeted for a wide audience. Just the opposite, in fact. This might be referred to as burying the news. Then, this past week with most eyes turned westward to Vancouver, Porter Air unveiled its new $50 million terminal that will greatly expand the number of flights going in and out of the airport. These are the kind of surreptitious PR moves that suggest a fear of an open and honest debate.

But that is just par for the course ever since the inception of the Toronto Port Authority in the 90s. The then federal government of Jean Chretien underwent a re-assessment of the country’s ports, wanting to maintain control only over those that were financial viable. Any that weren’t were to be handed back to the municipalities where they were located. Which is where Toronto’s port was headed until a late minute amendment by two local Liberal MPs, Dennis Mills and Tony Ianno, was added and the TPA was formed and the port and its property remained in federal hands.

No satisfactory reason for the change has ever been provided, adding to the furtive nature of the beast on the lake. One of the first moves the TPA made after it was formed was to sue the city for land that had been given to it by the federal government in the new port act. Take a moment to let that sink in. A federal agency sues a local government over land that the federal government had granted to the local government?!? The TPA backed Porter Airlines suit against the city when Mayor David Miller swept to power and overturned the previous council’s decision to allow a bridge to the airport. It is recalcitrant in paying taxes it owes the city. Basically, the TPA is a bad neighbour.

According to CommunityAIR, since the formation of the TPA in 1999, the city has doled out some $27 million to cover operational losses of the airport. Again, stop and let this sink in. The city is handing over money to a federal agency that was supposed to be financially self-sufficient. In a 2002 report that the TPA commissioned, the only solution to becoming financially self-sufficient was through an expansion of the airport which they have done, little by little, brick by brick, under the cover of darkness.

What it ultimately the most bothersome to me about the whole thing is that some people I know and like and who seem reasonable in every other sort of way, love flying Porter Air. “How can you pass up the convenience?” they’ll ask. “It’s such a pleasant experience compared to going all the way out to Pearson and being treated like cattle.” “They serve free liquor on board!”

It seems that, at least when it comes to flying, our democratic ideals and notions of participatory government can be purchased on the cheap. For a tiny bottle of airplane liquor and a little extra leg room, we’ll happily shrug our shoulders and give a pass to those determined to fleece government coffers and ignore the rule of law. Who knew it would be that easy?

submitted by Urban Sophisticat